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Report: International rules needed for armed drone use

Airman 1st Class Justin Cole, Tech. Sgt. Marcus Cottengim and Chief Master Sgt. Roy Cupper conduct a pre-flight inspection on an MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Nov. 5, 2007, at Ali Air Base, Iraq, in 2007.

JONATHAN SNYDER/USAF FILE PHOTO

By MARTIN KUZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 3, 2015

WASHINGTON — The future of global warfare will be dominated by long-range drones operated by any number of rogue states engaged in an apocalyptic battle to control the world.

Or perhaps not.

A new report from the Rand Corp. challenges several popular ideas about the impact of drones on armed conflict, and without dismissing the strategic and tactical advantages of the weapons, the study suggests that unmanned aerial vehicles “do not win wars, and wars can be won without them.”

Three of the report’s six authors, speaking Tuesday in Washington, detailed their findings and asserted that the U.S. military, as the world’s leading producer and supplier of armed drones, should pursue policies that would help establish international rules for when they can be used.

“Ultimately, the U.S. faces this balancing act,” said Michael McNerney, a senior defense research analyst with Rand, a nonprofit research and policy think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif. The country’s military and political leaders need to “create norms that would preserve legitimate uses against, for example, al-Qaida while at the same time constraining others from using these systems in an illegitimate way.”

The authors also contend that selling drones to U.S. allies, if not entirely without risk, has military and political benefit.

“To me, the United States wants to sell in order to reinforce its dominance — not just in a commercial sense, but especially in a diplomatic and strategic sense,” said Daniel Byman, one of the report’s authors and a professor in the security studies program at Georgetown.

“We can say, ‘Here are the rules for using drones. You will use them under these circumstances and not under these. And if you do, we will sell them to you.’ The caveat is, we actually need rules.”

The authors referred to a speech made by President Barack Obama two years ago in which he discussed the need to clarify when drones can be used inside and outside of war zones and how to reduce and potentially eliminate risks to civilians. But McNerney said questions remain.

“How is the effort made to avoid civilian casualties? What’s that process to make sure? And how does the U.S. investigate claims of civilian casualties after the fact?”

Lynn Davis, a Rand senior political scientist and a former under secretary of state, added that U.S. military and political leaders need to lay out “how these systems are used with leadership that will shape international norms and prevent their misuse by others.”

kuz.martin@stripes.com
Twitter: @MartinKuz

 

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