Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Blog

By Maha Elsamahi
Winter Intern, 2015

Last week the State Department announced that after a long internal review, the U.S. would now allow for the sale of armed drones to allied countries. While the U.S. has sold unarmed drones—utilized mostly for intelligence purposes—to allies such as Italy and France, this is the first time that armed drones would be sold to a country other than the UK. Along with the announcement of this new policy, the State Department also provided some troubling guidelines about how the U.S. would vet its potential buyers, a process it described as being “months, not years-long”. Combined with their ambiguous nature, these new guidelines call into question whether or not the U.S. has the ethical credibility that would allow it to regulate the sale and monitor the use of armed drones to other countries.

The administration insisted that the review process would ensure that potential buyers would have to meet a rigorous standard, requiring that they have a consistent record of respecting international human rights and humanitarian law and would agree to use them in accordance with international law. However, these standards requiring adherence to international human rights law in regards to their use have raised some eyebrows. While the White House has insisted that its own drone strikes are carried out when there is “near certainty” of the identity of the target, the U.S. has faced criticism of the high civilian death toll from U.S. drone strikes, particularly in Yemen.

While the new policy requires that drones not be used to surveil or to enact violence towards domestic populations, the U.S has a lengthy record of violating their own policies in regards to traditional arms sales. The U.S. has been criticized by human rights groups for its export of arms to the Egyptian and Bahrain governments, who are notorious for using them against their civilian populations—most notably against peaceful protestors during and after the uprisings of 2011. And of course we cannot forget that U.S. weaponry sold to Israel, which has been used against the Palestinian people for 67 years, and most recently used in the Gaza war this past summer that resulted in the deaths of almost 2,100 Palestinians, including 495 of children.

There is speculation that the buyers who purchase drones may be monitored on how they in turn use the drones. If this were to be the case, the U.S. would be positioning itself as a de facto monitor of armed drone use while at the same time not holding itself to the same standard. However, the U.S. does not even consistently monitor its own drone strikes. As President Obama stated last September, airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria are not being held to the same stringent standards and the U.S. would not be tracking civilian deaths. Based on its requirements for allies to abide by international humanitarian law, if the U.S. were selling to itself, it would not meet its own standards.

comments powered by Disqus