Technology & Trade
Op-Ed

Defense industry cheers as the Trump administration is poised to loosen restrictions on drone exports

The U.S. needs to make export decisions based on what is in its best interests – which are not solely limited to economic opportunity.

Part of the Drones Project

This article was originally published in Responsible Statecraft.

Last week, Reuters reported that the United States was set to reinterpret a decades-old international agreement that would allow the U.S. defense industry to sell drones with less restraint and fewer restrictions. While drone manufacturers — who have long pushed for the loosening of such restrictions — greeted the announcement with cheers, the decision could have serious consequences for international and U.S. security.

In short, the United States has decided to use its unilateral national authority to interpret its responsibilities under the Missile Technology Control Regime — a politically-binding, voluntary association that was founded in 1987 and is comprised of 35 states that share common interests in limiting the risk of WMD proliferation by imposing export restraints on potential delivery vehicles (other than manned aircraft). The MTCR established a common control list for member states, classifying relevant technology as Category I and/or Category II items.

At the time of the MTCR’s negotiation, states were particularly concerned with mitigating the spread of Category I systems — which are capable of delivering at least a 500 kilogram (1,000-pound) payload to a range of at least 300 kilometers (180 miles) — and placed the greatest export restraints on these systems. Much of what we think of today in terms of lethal drone systems that are hallmarks of U.S. counterterrorism operations fall under Category I of the MTCR.

The MTCR requires that Category I items be subject to a strong presumption of denial for export licensing. To be clear, this presumption of denial is not a prohibition on the sale of Category I systems. Instead, it means that governments must work to yes before exporting these systems.

Read the full article in Responsible Statecraft.

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