Technology & Trade

Rachel Stohl’s Influential Drones Work Recognized by Prospect Magazine

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Prospect magazine in the United Kingdom recognized Stimson Senior Associate Rachel Stohl’s innovative work on drone policy in their 16th annual Think Tank Awards, held this week in the Speaker’s rooms inside the House of Commons in London. The Prospect Think Tank Awards were founded in 2001 and are an annual recognition of the important and influential work carried out by think tanks across the globe. The awards are judged by a cross-party panel looking for evidence of influence on public policy and on the public discourse. Prospect praised Stimson’s work on drone warfare and shortlisted the Center in the category of “U.S. International Affairs.”  

The Stimson Center’s research has achieved significant milestones in efforts to ensure U.S. drone policy is transparent, accountable, and consistent with long-term U.S. national security goals, and is setting appropriate international precedent for the use of drones internationally. 

Led by Project Director Rachel Stohl, in 2014 the Stimson Center released a landmark report from a senior-level, nonpartisan task force co-chaired by Gen. John P. Abizaid (Ret.) head of U.S. Central Command from 2003 to 2007, and Rosa Brooks, counselor to the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2011. The task force was composed of senior military and intelligence officials as well as legal experts from the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. Their report offered eight pragmatic recommendations to reshape U.S. drone policy — from fostering the development of appropriate international norms for the use of lethal force outside of traditional battlefields to improving transparency in targeted UAV strikes. The report drew significant global attention, including in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Financial Times.

Commenting on the report, Guardian journalist Spencer Ackerman noted,“While most think tank reports command little attention in Washington, the Stimson Center report… indicates a shift in elite consensus in national security circles around drones. It challenges some of the central premises behind the embrace of drone strikes.” The report also resonated culturally, and was used to inform the production of the hit off-Broadway play GROUNDED, directed by Julie Taymor and staring Anne Hathaway as a drone pilot suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

On February 23, 2016, Stimson released a follow-on report: Grading Progress on U.S. Drone Policy. The report reviewed the recommendations from the 2014 Task Force and assigned a letter grade to evaluate progress in each category. The Obama administration received poor grades — including three F’s — in implementing the nonpartisan Task Force recommendations to reform U.S. drone policy. Importantly, the report offered six recommendations the Obama administration could consider prior to leaving office without significant delay or cost to ensure a sensible and comprehensive U.S. drone policy.

While reform of the U.S. drone program has been halting, the continued spotlight by Rachel Stohl and the Stimson Center has resulted in adoption of increased transparency measures and continued to heighten public awareness on the implications of the international precedent being set by one of the U.S. government’s most sensitive programs.

2016 — Report — Grading Progress on U.S. Drone Policy
2016 — News, NPR — Report: Obama Administration Makes ‘No Progress’ On Drone Program Transparency
2016 — News, AFP — US failing to explain deadly drone policy: report
2016 — News, Washington Post — ‘Virtually no progress’ on making Obama’s lethal drone strike policy more transparent, report says
2016 — Op-ed, Cipher Brief — Drones: A Challenge to the Law of Armed Conflict
2016 — Op-ed, WIRED —
The Feds Just Put the US Back in the Global Drone Race
2016 — Op-ed, Defense News — New Draft on Drone Export Rules ‘More Problematic’ Than Original
2016 — Op-ed, Breaking Defense — Halfway To Transparency On Drone Strikes
2016 — Op-ed, Lawfare — Grading the Obama Administration’s Progress on Drone Policy
2016 — Statement — The Obama Administration’s New Declaration on Export and Use of Drones
2016 — Event — Drone Data and Transparency: Putting New Drone Casualty Data into Perspective
2016 — Event — Grading Progress on US Drone Policy
2016 — Event — Drone Proliferation: Impacts on Security, Strategy, and Policy
2014 — Report —  Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy  


Photo Credit: New York National Guard

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