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Research Report

UAVs and Force:: Current Debates and Future Trends in Technology, Policy and the Law

Ben Lerner
Copyright Date: Oct. 23, 2013
Pages: 104

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-2)
  2. (pp. 3-4)
  3. (pp. 5-10)
  4. (pp. 10-10)
  5. (pp. 11-12)

    The attacks of September 11th, 2001, brought home to Americans the devastating effect with which asymmetric non-state actors—belligerents bent on and capable of waging war using unconventional tactics, but not necessarily belonging to an identifiable nation-state’s armed forces—can inflict massive casualties and infrastructure damage onto a target population. In the years following those attacks, the United States has continued to combat asymmetric belligerents in the form of al Qaeda and its affiliates, and in doing so continues to face the challenges associated with fighting an enemy that conforms to neither the rules nor conventional structure of warfighting.


  6. (pp. 12-23)

    The United States began experimenting with pre-aviation UAVs as far back as the Civil War, with World Wars I and II seeing further experimentation in this area with limited success.³ As technology developed, UAVs were deployed over North Vietnam in large numbers for reconnaissance missions, and further deployed in Operation Desert Storm as well as over the skies of Bosnia in the 1990s, in the form of the Predator.⁴ The first armed modern UAVs were flown in Afghanistan in 2001, combining surveillance and attack capabilities.⁵ Today, the United States continues to deploy Predator and Reaper UAVs against targets in Afghanistan,...

  7. (pp. 23-74)

    The future of how the United States deploys UAVs with respect to the use of force abroad will not be determined solely by the evolution of UAV technology, as significant as that may be for American intelligence and warfighting capabilities. The deployment of UAVs to undertake or assist in the use of force will also be guided by whether such operations comply with the laws governing their use for such purposes. For this reason, it is critical to examine the range of opinion on the extent to which American use of UAVs overseas complies with present international and domestic law,...

  8. (pp. 74-93)

    Quite apart from the ongoing debate over the legality of United States deployment of UAVs to undertake force abroad, experts are also debating the advisability of UAVs as a counter-terrorism tool and more generally as an increasingly prominent feature of America’s defense/intelligence arsenal.

    As noted previously, UAV strikes on foreign targets abroad have eliminated leadership and other key figures of al Qaeda and its associated forces. Professor Daniel Byman of Georgetown University elaborates on the ways in which UAV strikes degrade the capabilities of groups such as al Qaeda:

    “…In 2010, Osama bin Laden warned his chief aide, Atiyah Abd...

  9. (pp. 93-94)

    The preceding pages have sought to provide readers with a representative sample of the major legal and policy debates that surround United States use of UAVs for lethal force abroad, and to offer insights from experts as to what the future may hold for the deployment of this technology in the military and intelligence arenas. Additionally, the concluding pages of this study give a brief window into the thinking of some experts on the policy consequences of placing further restrictions on the use of UAVs for such purposes.

    By design and by necessity, this study is not comprehensive and does...

  10. (pp. 95-104)