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Gettysburg College

Publication Date

Spring 2013

Program Name

Switzerland: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy


The first use of the modern day attack drone by the United States was in Afghanistan in mid 2002, and for the past 11 years attack drones have been used by the United States in as many countries as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. When considering the alternatives to using drones, such as sending marines on the ground to complete a mission or flying a piloted jet over enemy territory to gather intelligence, as well as the military power that the use of these vehicles projects, the attack drone has become the weapon of choice in the war on terror for both the Bush and the Obama administrations. The continuous use of these attack drones for the past 11 years can be defined as the Bush-Obama drone doctrine, a doctrine that has become an important part of US foreign policy, and thus, has had international repercussions. To explore and examine these international repercussions, and apply the lessons learned from reoccurring drone strikes in Pakistan, is the purpose of this paper.

As pilotless drone attacks are a relatively new phenomena, the topic of drone attacks and reviews of the drone doctrine are relatively new to the academic community. That being said, there have been several important works discussing the legality and morality of the drone policy.[1] Yet, the majority of works, including the aforementioned, have analyzed the policy either from a United States domestic perspective, a bilateral perspective between a state and a transnational non-state actor, or by case study. In sum, there has been little work in the academic field addressing the drone policy from a truly international perspective.

This paper approaches the Drone Doctrine from an international perspective, and does so by incorporating several international legal principles and customary norms, the reports and statements of international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights, as well as present and past members from these organizations, and other experts and scholars across the international community. The Drone Doctrine itself is an international policy, affecting the whole international community, and thus, to fully understand the doctrine, it is advantageous for it to be viewed from an international vantage point.

[1] See Daniel Statman’s essay Can Just War Theory Justify Targeted Killing?, Jeff McMahan’s essay Targeted Killing: Murder, Combat or Law Enforcement?, and Andre Altman’s book Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World.


Defense and Security Studies | International Relations | Law and Politics | Military and Veterans Studies | Military, War, and Peace | Other Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Public Policy