The increased U.S. reliance on unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more colloquially known as “drones,” has been controversial in the United States and around the world. Although drones have many peaceful applications, most policy attention is focused on the proliferation and use of armed drones, particularly away from traditional battlefields.
In February 2015, the United States announced a new export policy for U.S.-origin military and commercial drones. The new policy assesses each potential transfer on a case-by-case basis, includes the potential for enhanced end-use monitoring, and could require all sales through the Foreign Military Sales program. Commercial U.S.-origin drones are to be reviewed under the Export Administration Regulations. In addition, drone transfers will require recipients to agree to “Principles for Proper Use” before the export is authorized. These four principles require compliance with international legal precedents focused on human rights, international humanitarian law, privacy and use of force regulations. Implementation of these principles will be crucial and enforcement key to ensuring the technology is used with transparency and accountability.
Eighty-five countries are estimated to have armed and unarmed drones in their military arsenals and for commercial purposes. The United States has already sold sophisticated drones to close allies such as the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, France, and South Korea. Experts and market forecasters estimate that the market for drones will double in the next decade and other governments are eager to enter the drones market. As the use of drones in commercial and military realms increases, governments and other relevant entities will need to develop international norms and policies governing drone use and transfers to address proliferation challenges and appropriate standards of use.
This article originally appeared in the Forum on the Arms Trade on March 11, 2015.