from Center for Preventive Action

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies

Council Special Report
Concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contributions to current policy dilemmas.

More on:

Drone Strikes

Defense Technology

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Military Operations

Overview

Over the last ten years, drones have become a critical tool in the war against terrorist and militant organizations worldwide. Their advantages over other weapons and intelligence systems are well known. They can silently observe an individual, group, or location for hours on end, but take immediate action should a strike opportunity become available--all without putting a pilot at risk. This combination of capabilities is unique and has allowed the United States to decimate the leadership of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and disrupt the activities of many other militant groups.

Yet, as Micah Zenko writes in this Council Special Report from the Center for Preventive Action (CPA), drones are not without their drawbacks, especially with regard to targeted killings. Like any tool, drones are only as useful as the information guiding them, and for this they are heavily reliant on local military and intelligence cooperation. More important, significant questions exist about who constitutes a legitimate target and under what circumstances it is acceptable to strike. There is also the question of net utility: To what extent are the specific benefits derived from drone strikes offset by the reality that the strikes often alienate the local government and population? And there is the reality that drones are proliferating but, as is often the case with new technologies, the international legal and regulatory framework is lagging behind.

Zenko puts forward a substantive agenda. He argues that the United States should end so-called signature strikes, which target unidentified militants based on their behavior patterns and personal networks, and limit targeted killings to a limited number of specific terrorists with transnational ambitions. He also calls Congress to improve its oversight of drone strikes and to continue restrictions on armed drone sales. Finally, he recommends that the United States work internationally to establish rules and norms governing the use of drones.

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies raises an important and underexamined set of issues. It analyzes the potentially serious consequences, both at home and abroad, of a lightly overseen drone program and makes recommendations for improving its governance. The result is a provocative report that is well worth reading and contemplating.

Professors: To request an exam copy, contact publications@cfr.org. Please include your university and course name.

Bookstores: To order bulk copies, please contact Ingram. Visit https://ipage.ingrambook.com, call 800.234.6737, or email orders@ingrambook.com. ISBN: 978-0-87609-544-7

In the News

Brennan Faces Drone Attack from Senators

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Brennan's Confirmation and Where CIA Drones Go From Here

Council on Foreign Relations Press

If You Thought Obama's Drone Godfather Was Powerful, Wait 'Til He's at the CIA

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Drone Strikes Under Scrutiny

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Micah Zenko's CFR Report on Drones Policy

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Senators, John Brennan Brace for National Security Showdown in CIA Hearing

Council on Foreign Relations Press

U.S. Drone Strikes Increase With Start Of New Year

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Open-source Data Contradicts Feinstein on 'Single-Digit' Civilian Drone Deaths

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Reforming U.S. Policies on Drone Strikes

Council on Foreign Relations Press

On Drones, Obama is Bush

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Drone Strikes and Congressional Power

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Legal, Ethical, And Political Issues In Use Of Drones – Analysis

Council on Foreign Relations Press

America is Setting a Dangerous Precedent for the Drone Age

Council on Foreign Relations Press

U.S. Drone Strikes Ineffective Solution To Combat Militants In Pakistan's Tribal Areas, Report Says

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Pentagon Calls Civilian Casualties "Bug Splat"

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Drone Strikes and Diplomacy, from Yemen to Pakistan

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Armed Drones Could Target President: Former U.S. Intelligence Chief

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Debate Aside, Number of Drone Strikes Drops Sharply

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Former Obama Official Defends Drone Program, Calls For More Transparency

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Discussion about President Obama's speech

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Obama Overseas: Speak Loudly And Carry A Smaller Stick

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Add Morality to List of Drone Victims

Council on Foreign Relations Press

New U.S. Counterterrorism Guidelines Face Questions

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Zenko: 'Unbelievable' that U.S. killed only one civilian in drone strikes

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Ten Questions for Chuck Hagel

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die

Council on Foreign Relations Press

Targeted Killings: Obama's Endless War

Council on Foreign Relations Press

U.S. Drone Strategy Draws Home-grown Criticism Over Lack of Transparency

Council on Foreign Relations Press