Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, continue to shape how, when, and where the United States conducts military and counterterrorism operations around the world. Yet the United States’ use of armed drones remains controversial, in large part because of ongoing secrecy surrounding the use of lethal drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields and the resulting lack of accountability that often goes hand in hand with the absence of transparency. Currently, the U.S. drone program rests on indistinct frameworks and an approach to drone strikes based on U.S. exceptionalism. Ambiguity surrounding U.S. drone policy has contributed to enduring questions about the legality, efficacy, and legitimacy of the U.S. drone program. The United States has an opportunity to be a leader on developing appropriate policy frameworks to guide the transfer and use of armed drones and setting a responsible international precedent, but current efforts undermine existing international law and practice.
The Drones project seeks to ensure that U.S. drone policy and practice is responsible and transparent and serves as a useful benchmark in the pursuit of appropriate international standards to guide drone transfers and use in ways that do not weaken current international norms.