Set Clear Rules for Drone Strikes

Target: U.S. Department of Defense

Goal: Standardize a clear, internationally accepted set of rules for lethal drone strikes.

America’s ongoing War on Terror, facilitated by the rapid spread of technology, has turned to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones. Without a human pilot on board the vehicle, which is controlled by autonomous computers or a separate pilot, drones can serve a variety of needs that are too dangerous, particularly remote sensing and armed attacks. A clear set of internationally accepted rules is needed for the use of drones to kill since arbitrary killing and collateral damage have become recurrent problems.

The military takes strikes against terrorists who pose a “continuing and imminent threat,” which is not clearly defined and has led to thousands of deaths abroad. Many of these drone strikes are classified, thus operations are sheltered from public scrutiny. Greater transparency and public engagement are necessary. Additionally, the use of drones for lethal strikes remains questionable on moral, ethical, and political grounds, and much damage has already been done to America’s image and international diplomatic standing. Furthermore, if the U.S. does not set and follow clear, internationally accepted standards for the use of drones in foreign countries, the possibility of other nations in partaking haphazardly in lethal drone strikes grows.

Arguably, the use of lethal drone strikes should be completely banned. With mounting concern and disapproval among Americans and abroad, the minimal action that the U.S. government should take is to closely review the process and criteria used to authorize strikes, and codify appropriate and publicly approved standards. President Obama considered the creation of a distinct court with the sole power of authorizing targets and lethal strikes, as well as an independent overseer of drone operations within the executive branch. Urge him to follow through with the establishment of clear guidelines for drone strikes.


Dear U.S. Department of Defense,

The use of drones for lethal strikes against continuing and imminent threats has led to numerous arbitrary killings and casualties. Support for the U.S. military and its use of drones has been declining domestically and abroad. The use of such technology alone remains ethically and politically questionable, and the lack of transparency and unclear procedures and criteria that authorize lethal drone strikes exacerbates this issue. President Obama demonstrated his support for codified standards, offering options that could better define authority for lethal strikes.

I urge the Department of Defense to take action in support of President Obama’s direction toward greater oversight and authority over lethal drone strikes. Establishing clear, internationally accepted rules through a process that engages the American public, foreign partners, and key international bodies could improve America’s diplomatic standing and prevent future misconceptions and casualties.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Sarah Lovejoy via Wikimedia Commons

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