The Obama administration is using drones to kill militants the world over. But what happens when drones come into wide usage by countries other than the U.S.?
That's already happening in northern Israel, the only place in the world where both sides of a conflict are using drones of growing sophistication and lethality. Israel is using armed drones to fire missiles at militants on the ground in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and unarmed ones to fly surveillance missions along its increasingly-unstable borders with Syria and Lebanon. Hezbollah has begun flying unarmed drones into Israeli air space, and American and Israeli officials believe that the Lebanese-based militia is working with Iran to develop drones capable of dropping bombs on targets within Israel proper. Officials in Jerusalem and Washington say that there are also early indications that Iranian-mode drones are making their way to Hamas militants as well.
The intensifying drone war between Israel and Hezbollah is a harbinger of what will come in the years ahead as more and more nations begin fielding drone fleets. Earlier this year China openly admitted that it considered using a drone strike to kill a wanted drug lord in Myanmar, only to abandon the plan at the last minute. Russia, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea have fielded drones or are in the final stages of putting them into use. The Gulf states, meanwhile, are trying to buy American drones. Failing that, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have said they will build drones of their own.
All of that raises a host of tough questions for the U.S. How should the White House respond if it found concrete evidence that Russia was selling advanced, weaponized drones to Hezbollah or Hamas? Should the U.S. try to develop a non-proliferation regime for armed drones, and if so, how would it be enforced? More fundamentally, what could the U.S. do to prevent foreign governments from using drones to kill targets inside other countries given the precedent set by Washington’s willingness to do exactly that same thing for nearly a decade?
In this project, journalist Yochi Dreazen's reporting offers some answers to those questions.