Behind The Magical Thinking: Lessons from Policymaker Relationships with Drones

What are the blind spots, lessons learned, and good and bad habits in the relationship between US policymakers and military drones? What effects is the use of drones generating, what are they achieving, and are they the best means to accomplish set goals? The Centre for New American Security has delved deep into the relationship between policymakers and drones, and found several disconcerting issues.

For example, policymakers are concerned about the way in which they are constrained in discussing drone strikes publicly, about how detached they are from the aftermath of such strikes, and about the lack of transparency. CNAS has also provided a list of recommendations to officials of the Trump administration in order to make sure drones are used effectively in pursuit of set goals while limiting civilian casualties. These include among others:

  • The establishment of public and realistic security strategies, including goals and objectives around the use of force and associated security activities.
  • Increasing understanding of how drones can be used most effectively, and of what alternative strategies or complementary non-military tools will be necessary.
  • Invest in reviewing assumptions around counterterrorism targeting, including how artificial intelligence will be integrated into this process.
  • Increasing public oversight, and investing more attention to strategy and non-military tools to combat micromanagement of drone operations.
  • Launching a review of non-kinetic counterterrorism tools, including legal, policy, and process barriers that unintentionally discriminate against non-kinetic approaches vs. kinetic approaches.
  • Studying how shifts from heavy to light-footprint approaches have impacted U.S. ability to prevent and measure civilian casualties.
  • Starting internal and external oversight and review processes on civilian harm, how government and non-government organizations can work together in measuring it, and its impact on national security interests.
  • Publicly announcing current drone employment policy and reverse decisions to limit publicly available data on drone strikes and civilian casualties.


The entire report is well worth a read and can be found at CNAS or by clicking the button to the right.


Author: CNAS
Date: 31/Jul/18

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