The US, which has been at the forefront of unmanned aerial vehicle technology, will soon have to adjust to a world in which a wide range of armed forces and potential adversaries have drones as well.
According to Ian Bremmer, president of political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group, the technological gap that allowed the US to enjoy coercive diplomatic advantages over its rivals is rapidly shrinking. Drones are no exception.
“The knowledge gap between the United States and other actors is far more limited than with coercive tools in past decades,” Bremmer told Business Insider via email.
Although the US pioneered the use of military drones and has been hesitant to share offensive-capable drone technology with its allies, rival nations and groups have started to produce unmanned military aircraft of their own.
“China has moved the most quickly to develop significant drone capabilities and will start deploying them to support their national security capabilities,” according to Bremmer. “China will also face much the same backlash from the international community as we start to see unintended civilian casualties as a consequence of expansive Beijing-led drone use. But it will set off the strong proliferation of another disruptive technology.”
Bremmer believes that Beijing will start using drones for missions ranging from drone strikes against potential Uighur separatists and alleged terrorists in China’s Xinjiang province to surveillance over Hong Kong and Taiwan, to providing aerial support over contested regions of the South China Sea.
China is not the only dubious or adversarial entity to have started using drones. ISIS, Bremmer notes, has made use of “drones to prepare for its attacks, including its recent offensive on theBaiji oil refinery.”
ISIS’ use of drone technology should startle the global community, in Bremmer’s mind. “As terrorist organisations can limit their need for trained men, their disruptive reach will grow significantly,” writes Bremmer.
Bremmer believes that the US has failed to claim a moral high-ground from which to dictate other nations’ drone policies. A tangle of laws allow the president and the executive branch to carry out strikes in a way that critics allege to have needlessly endangered civilians while shielding US leaders and drone policies from scrutiny.
Last month, a US drone strike targeting al Qaeda members in Pakistan killed an American and an Italian who the militants were holding hostage.
As of April 2014, 23 nations around the world had acquired armed drones, including China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. In addition, the Lebanese sectarian militant group Hezbollah has constructed a drone air base with likely Iranian assistance.
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