Technology & Trade

Rachel Stohl Statement: The Obama Administration’s New Declaration on Export and Use of Drones

in Program

As the Obama administration is set to release today a new joint declaration with more than 40 countries on the export and use of drones, Rachel Stohl, Director of the Conventional Defense program at the Stimson Center, released the following statement:

“Today the United States is expected to release a joint declaration on the import and export of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). The effort to develop high international standards on drone exports and use is a welcome step and is both desirable and needed. However, the joint declaration does not go far enough to ensure that the standards are meaningful, nor does it set a high enough bar to ensure responsible transfer and proper use of military drones. 
More than forty governments have joined this declaration, including some of the United States’ closest allies and recipients of the most sophisticated and lethal U.S. systems – including Australia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. However, absent from the declaration are major armed drone producers and exporters including China and Israel. Also missing from the signatories are importers such as the UAE and France, both of whom receive sophisticated U.S. systems (and France exports drones as well).
While the United States has an idea of what the standards should look like, the joint declaration does not provide the specific guidelines as to how these standards will be developed, nor what they will include. A long-term and sustained commitment to the development of these principles is required. And because this is a long-term process, the development of these drone rules will be the responsibility of the next administration, which may not place the same priority on developing high standards.
Although the State Department sees the joint declaration as the first step toward creating global norms for drones, in practice, governments may not feel an incentive or urgency to do more to establish global drone rules. Governments can claim they have acted responsibly because they have signed on to this joint declaration, and can therefore check this box and focus their attention on other priorities.
For the joint declaration to have its desired impact, the United States will need to work domestically and internationally with its partners to ensure the standards are robust and comprehensive. Moreover, other stakeholders, such as industry and civil society, must be included in the process to avoid unintended consequences. While the development of global standards for drone export and use could stem dangerous proliferation and help mitigate unlawful (or at the very least irresponsible) use, if done poorly, they risk standardizing questionable practices and creating an environment of impunity.”

Read more of Stohl’s analysis on the joint declaration in her recent Defense News op-ed, “New Draft on Drone Export Rules ‘More Problematic’ Than Original.”

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sabrina Johnson
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