Discussion paper

The drone debate: sudden bullet or slow boomerang?

International relations Defence North America New Zealand

Introduction: Growth in the manufacture, military use, and transfer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) and their associated systems proceeds apace. UAVs were initially employed on an intermittent basis for search and reconnaissance purposes, but it took the New York attacks of September 11 2001 to galvanise their production, proliferation and weaponisation. Since then the expansion of this technology has been remarkable. But so, too, has its accompanying controversy, both aspects explored in this paper which tests a claim that the drone phenomenon has become a lightning rod illuminating a range of hard legal, ethical and policy differences.

Although expansive, the current UAV discourse amongst concerned interests has revealed some conspicuous gaps. Absent are appraisals to adequately link key legal, foreign policy, security, and domestic political considerations emerging from drone proliferation. A composite perspective on the drone question is needed and that is the objective of this paper. After further introduction, topic headings include utility which will embrace relevant security and foreign policy concerns; legality; accountability; ethical considerations; scope for possible controls; and summary conclusions.

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