Press Release

Trump Administration Backsliding on Establishing a Responsible U.S. Drone Policy

in Program

For Immediate Release
June 7, 2018
Audel Shokohzadeh, [email protected], 202.478.3419

Washington, DC- Drone use has expanded over the last year, while becoming less transparent and less accountable, according to a new report from the Stimson Center, An Action Plan on U.S. Drone Policy. The report examines worrying trends surrounding the U.S. drone program, with a particular view towards the Trump administration’s use of lethal drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields.
“The United States is setting the de facto international standard for drone use,” said Rachel Stohl, Managing Director at the Stimson Center and the reports project director. “The lack of a clear drone policy risks leaving a legacy on drone use that is based on secrecy and a lack of accountability that undermines efforts to support international law.”
The report finds that the Trump administration is using armed drones in an increasing number of strategic theaters, while at the same time reducing transparency of and accountability for the U.S. drone program. The backslide within the United States is occurring alongside international efforts to advance global standards for the responsible transfer and use of armed drones. As lethal drone technology rapidly proliferates around the world, the United States has yet to develop a comprehensive U.S. drone policy and ensure that U.S. policies and practices set an appropriate international precedent to guide drone transfers and use.
Among changes to U.S. drone policy, it is reported that the Trump administration is increasing the tempo of lethal strikes, granting greater strike-decision authority to military operators, lowering the threshold for lethal strikes outside of war zones, and potentially broadening the CIA’s role in conducting drone strikes.
“More than 16 years after the first U.S. drone strike, the U.S. drone program remains shrouded in secrecy,” said Stohl. “A lack of transparency complicates effective oversight and makes independent assessments of the legitimacy and efficacy of the U.S. drone program extraordinarily challenging.”
The report makes some of the following recommendations:

  • Publicly release and explain any new policies, principles, standards, or procedures on U.S. drone policy.
  • Retain and adhere to all requirements under Executive Order 13732 on Pre- and Post-Strike Measures to Address Civilian Casualties, in U.S. Operations Involving the Use of Force, including publicly releasing an annual report on strikes undertaken by the U.S. government outside combat zones, or outside “areas of active hostilities,” and on casualties resulting from such strikes.
  • Undertake a strategic assessment concerning the efficacy and long-term impacts of the U.S. drone program.
  • Work with recipients to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties by sharing lessons learned, best practices, and greatest risks associated with the use of drones.
  • Uphold international human rights law and international humanitarian law through the continuation of written assurances on use from U.S. drone export recipients.

 The report contains a total of 18 recommendations for the Trump Administration and Congress. “The recommendations represent practical and tangible steps the administration can and should take to create a more transparent and accountable U.S. drone policy,” said Stohl.
Notes to Editors

The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan policy research center working to protect people, preserve the planet, and promote security and prosperity.
An Action Plan on U.S. Drone Policy was written by the Stimson Center, which is responsible for its content and recommendations. Members of the study group, who provided expert insight and advice, and served in their individual capacities, included: John Bellinger, III; Mary (Missy) Cummings; Brett Holmgren; Peter Lichtenbaum; Dan Mahanty; Wendy Patten; Andrea Prasow; Paul Scharre; Hina Shamsi; Jeff Smith; and Christine Wormuth.
This report follows a rich catalog of analysis by Rachel Stohl and the Stimson Center that has examined U.S. drone policy. The first report, The Stimson Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy (2014) recommended eight steps for the Obama administration to make America’s drone policy more transparent, accountable, and consistent with long-term U.S. national security priorities, foreign policy objectives, and commercial interests. The second report, Grading Progress on U.S. Drone Policy: Report Card on The Recommendations of The Stimson Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy (2016) graded the Obama administration on its implementation of the eight recommendations outlined in the Task Force report, and gave the administration poor grades in its implementation of the recommendations, including three F’s.

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