A Transatlantic Drones Dialogue: Towards International Standards

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A Transatlantic Drones Dialogue: Towards International Standards

On the same day that President Obama announced that a U.S. drone strike in January killed two humanitarian aid workers — American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto — the Stimson Center and the Heinrich Boell Foundation hosted a seminar to discuss transatlantic views on drones and explore the potential for developing international standards and norms to guide the sale, transfer, and use of armed drones in the future. The seminar — influenced in part by the Recommendations and Report of the Stimson Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy — brought together U.S. and European experts to discuss the current state of drone policy within the United States and Europe, the legal frameworks that underpin current use, and the challenges presented by uncontrolled proliferation of drone technology worldwide. The report of the April 23 expert seminar lays out the complex issues related to lethal drone use that were addressed by seminar participants and the potential ways forward for developing international standards and norms with regard to drone use.

In addition to the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, the White House revealed that two more Americans — Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn — were killed via U.S. counterterrorism operations “in the same region.” Farouq was killed in the same strike that killed Weinstein, and Lo Porto and Gadahn were killed in a separate operation. Both Farouq and Gadhan were known as members of al-Qaida but had not been specifically targeted in either of the strikes. These revelations renewed calls for increased transparency and oversight over the U.S. drone program. The calls for more accountable and transparent policies or regulations reflect a desire for more clarity of the U.S. program from U.S. domestic audiences, as well as international partners and allies. To date, the United States has done little to explain its use of and rationale for lethal drone strikes to even its closest partners and allies. European Union (EU) countries, for example, have welcomed the U.S. promise of greater transparency and are keen to move to develop greater international norms and standards for drone use.

The Stimson task force report recommended the development of international norms regarding use of lethal force outside traditional battlefields. The development of such norms would allow states to respond to nontraditional threats from nontraditional actors while ensuring compliance with rule of law principles and respect for human rights. Such norms would also promote the development of a useful precedent for drone use. Current U.S. drone policy suffers from a lack of transparency and accountability, and the ad hoc way in which the United States has implemented its nascent policy has negatively impacted U.S. and international perceptions of drone technology. Indeed, the lack of a clear U.S. policy undermines U.S efforts to support the international rule of law.

Follow Rachel StohlStimson's Managing Across Boundaries Initiative, and Stimson on Twitter.