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Technology has made its mark in every aspect of human life, to say the least, from day to
day activities to communication, arts, education, and so forth. But maybe nowhere else has
technology advanced so quickly as in the military field, changing the face of war as well as its
scale and impact, and most notably techniques. War has never been the same from the first gun
In this context, technology with its volatility fits in quite nicely as it offers faster and
more efficient solutions to threats belonging to the areas mentioned above. In particular, what
military advancement has drawn attention and debate in the media, in international law, in the
public sphere, are drones.
Named as such because of their once disposable nature, drones have emerged as the 21 st
century innovation in military, providing with a very wide scope of action, a tactical solution to
asymmetric warfare and even changing strategies of war, but little has been done to define them
much more than Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which is a concept in itself and not a definition.
The wide variety of options which are now available on drones make them the perfect
weapon but as easily targetable, so there is a double sidedness to them. Either way the way in
which we use them makes for visible changes in the way in which a war is carried out, how
strategies which were once specific to some conventional weaponry or military formation have a
wider scope of action.
Seeing as the United States has passed through quite a change of positioning in the
international relations theater, the emergence and growing use of UAVs have made for a multifaceted weapon which helped the U.S. carry out its national strategy overseas. Since the 9/11
attacks the U.S. has been involved in several wars under the War on Terror and others, and I
believe that the use of new technology has facilitated its ongoing efforts.
In this paper I will try to explain how drones fit in the U.S. Grand Strategy starting from
2001 and continuing until today. Its drone program has seen a major makeover and investments
in the last almost 15 years due to the nature of the threats that had to be fought. Besides their
functional role, I will try to see how drones fit with the ideology at the basis of U.S. Grand

Strategy in the aforementioned timeframe and how such technology was to some level expected
to be used seeing the conditions. For this I will first look at the history of drones in order to best
identify their main traits, then look at the approach at an international level. The chapter
regarding the legal framework helps define the functionality of drones and thus acts as an
instrument in order to receive public support for war efforts. In a certain sense, drones, besides
their military functionality, serve as a strategic instrument at policy and government level, which
actually enables their usage, which in turn is another function of drones because of the way they
are thought.
then try to encompass them and see if they fit in the theoretical framework of the current U.S.
Grand Strategy.

History of UAVs
As with the debate on any new technology, drones have had their fair share of opposition
in time. Since the beginning of plane use in wars and with their tactical solutions and faults, the
idea of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle wasnt far behind. As early as the end of the 19 th century, it
was predicted that aerial power, if indeed implemented, was going to change the face of war and
the tactical advantage for whomever possesses such technology.1 At least these were the
predictions. So it is common that at first any new technology be disregarded. This whoever does
not impede human ingenuity and imagination, such that even as soon as that very period
explosives were being sent to remote locations by balloon, which can hardly fit in the concept of
UAV since its not a proper vehicle, but does demonstrate the idea very clearly.2

1 David MacIsaac, Voices from the Central Blue-The Air Power Theorists, Makers of
Modern Strategy--From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Peter Paret,Princeton
2 Thomas Ehrhard, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the United States Armed
Services: A Comparative Study of Weapon System Innovation, Johns Hopkins
University, USA, 2000,pp. 656-702

Of course the abovementioned concept translated more likely into flying bomb instead
of an automated vehicle carrying bombs, so the first evolution from there were the missiles. This
is due to the fact that in order to decrease mortality of pilots in the First and Second World War
bombs had to be delivered pilotless. Also, as with airplanes, the military usage of such a concept
was not very clear so it had to be explored. At first the idea was simple, get a bomb from point A
to point B without a pilot or even a plane, since those were expensive too, which also opened up
the mindset more towards remote attacks. At the brink of WWI the United States were
researching just that, the idea of an automatically controlled missiles, which would be sent long
distances to a precise location. Of course, precision wasnt a fortitude of drones or bombings for
that matter at the time. This mentality was due to the domino-effect mindset at the time, which
continued and actually expanded later on in WWII, meaning there was a belief that one strategic
point in a country could be hit, say a very important factory or very important human hub, which
would have the consequence of, if not halting all together, crippling the attacked countrys
economy, thus regressing the war effort and giving the attacker an advantage. 3 However again
accuracy was difficult to obtain because technology was lacking since all the war effort was
redirected from research and development towards materials and resources, but also because
there was actually little information on such locations, there were no eyes in enemy territory.
Since research and development was lacking in tangible results, efforts were abandoned soon and
retaken when the possibility of incorporating a gyroscope and an altimeter was present. Thus the
predecessor of the cruise missile technology was born, and allowed the bomb to reach the target
more effectively, more precisely than the previous missile, which only flew a straight line of a
determined distance and when the distance was reached it would collapse from the sky onto the
target. With the advancement of using a gyroscope and an altimeter, the bomb could determine
its height and speed and sustain it until its destination. But again, after the war, the research was
By 1944, a few years after the research was rekindled, armies were able to use a remote control
in order to better guide the so-called UAVs, which by now are approaching the meaning of the
concept, but are not quite there yet because the carrier itself was also the bomb. Until this
3 David MacIsaac, Voices from the Central Blue-The Air Power Theorists, Makers of
Modern Strategy--From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Peter Paret,Princeton

concept changed, UAVs were considered of disposable nature and thus of one-use only. Germany
had high success in using this type of weapons, especially in the bombing of British cities,
including London in repeated rounds.4 The Germans, perhaps for the very first time,
demonstrated the extended use of such technology and its promise. Of course soon after the U.S.
started its own use of such technology following the German model. 5Even since then it could be
predicted that a shift will be made in emphasis from airplanes being controlled by humans to
airplanes being controlled by scientists and engineers. More authors than one speculated the
replacement of at least some parts of human control over weapons in war, by machines.6
As early as the 1930s cameras could be attached to these flying bombs. Perhaps Americans used
it first, in order to more precisely locate the target. However the mindset and the doctrine did not
change much in military, and although this tactical solution was to be used as preparing the
entering of troops, thus preparing battleground, destroying cities, economy, etc, its complete
potential was reduced by the same thinking that accompanied the use of planes in war for the
first time: that UAV had the role of support much rather than a role in itself, for the core army,
and that in a war it only served as accompanying the main army body, meaning the infantry,
cavalry, tank commands and so on. This hindered much the development of multi-use capability
of drones and the expansion of their scope, therefore even if such advancements as a gyroscope,
altimeter and even camera were mounted, they were pinned only to support role.
Following that, strategists realizing the importance of the ability to attach cameras to
UAVs, assault drones, much slower and of smaller range than the missile, were brought in first
attention. They were re-delegated towards information and intelligence gathering during the Cold
War because other, more effective, fast and which packed more power, types of flying weapons
were in first sight at the time. The idea of separating man from weapon became more obvious
4 Richard K. Barnhart, Eric Shappee, Douglas M. Marshall, Introduction to
Unmanned Aircraft Systems, CRS Press,USA, 2012,pp. 5-14
5 Claus Reuter, The V2, and the Russian and American Rocket Program, S.R.
Research & Publishing, USA,2002, p.163
6Brian Holden Reid, J.F.C. Fullers theory of mechanized warfare, Journal of
Strategic Studies, vol I,is.3, 1978, p.301

with this line of technological evolution. Also, the increasing of strike capability, which always
was and always will be an essential element of UAVs, was closer since information could be
gathered first handedly now and intelligence was more available.
Still despite this drones were associated strongly with the idea of flying bombs and since
the finality of these bombs was destruction, drones were seen as disposable and it was a difficult
idea to change at the time.7
The Vietnam War followed after that, which allowed this concept to be put in a new light and
redefine the use of drones. A new role was assigned to drone usage, which was that of
reconnaissance flights because of pilots being taken down during such flights, thus drones
acquiring a role higher than support during combat. New functionalities were assigned to drones
because of this, apart from the obvious camera feature, a drone was now jet powered and could
launch missiles and bombs, and a variety of other weaponry.8 Now drones had the ability of
doing damage assessment and also with this, a new role had been discovered, that of unmasking
the enemys available anti-aircraft devices, their position and type, in order to develop
countermeasures. This period also marked the beginning of CIA usage of drones in order to
gather intelligence, a role which has stuck with drones for the most part of the late 20th century.9
With these developments the shift was starting to occur in drone role, and made a significant gap
between man and weapon, as predicted earlier on, which gave rise to questions on whether man
will be separated from war by technology, and drones received the appellative of remotely
piloted aircrafts, or RPAs. 10With this shift there are important notes to be made, such as the shift
of applicability of drones from support role to replacing roles previously held by man, and from
7 Jeffrey M Sullivan, Evolution or Revolution? Rise of UAVs, IEEE Technology and
Science Magazine, is.25,vol3, 2006, pp.43-49
8 Thomas Mahnken, Technology and the War in Vietnam 1963-1975, Columbia
University Press, USA,2008, p. 113
9 Idem.
10 Idem

this sole point onward, the change in strategy that was about to occur because of that. Basically it
meant that the presence of drones could multiply forces which, if before could be organized by
tasks, so could these, making way for new modes of operation prior and during battle. In spite of
much promise, this technology was set aside as new technology usually encounters resistance
within fixed military institutions and structures, but more than this, mindsets, doctrine and
In the 1970s, much at the same time drone technology was being forgotten in the U.S. for
example, a fine example of its strategic use re-brought the subject to the surface, namely the war
between Israel and the Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria, also known as the 1973 Yom
Kippur War. In this case drones have been used in tandem with manned aircraft in order to
provide intel beforehand and give the Israeli Defense Force an advantage over the Arab army,
thus being able to stop their advancement and finally repel them. As drone technology has been
resurfaced so was its fame so that Israel received requests to sell the technology. The U.S. in
particular developed its own drones and used it in the same way, as well as for damage
assessment and target clearance, in the 1991 Gulf War. 12 But apart from this, the main focus for
drone usage continued mostly for intelligence gathering and status checking by a number of
institutions, such as the U.N. and the CIA. Although the role and use of drones was limited once
again, this time by the need of clarity regarding its scope, the technology has made its way as a
separate technology into the military strategy, although even if mostly as a tactical instrument.
The need for more such UAVs was soon to follow so much so that after the demonstration in
1991, many militaries began to acquire and invest in research of this new technology.
Following the technological boom of the 1990s and 2000s, drones began having more
and more complex and independent features, mostly because of the emergence of global
positioning system, or GPS, the micro-chip, and so on, which increased two main functions
11 Idem p.114
12 Rodman, David, UAVs in the Service of the Israeli Air Force, Gloria Center,
(September 7, 2012),
accessed 8.04.2015

commonly present throughout the evolution of drones: remote control and precision. 13 These
features needed to be tested somehow, and the best occasion was in the Afghanistan and Pakistan
wars following 9/11. It is impossible to talk about modern day drones without talking of these
The emergence of a new threat, which was present throughout the years but never as present and
as in reach, terrorism, urged research and development of new technologies to reassess tactical
and strategic use of what was already available. Thus investment in the U.S. drone program is
probably the most advanced in the world due to motivation, during the Bush mandates and even
more so during the Obama administration, which saw the need to resolve the international law
and public debate issues stressed by drone usage. The surveillance period, or reconnaissance
role, of drones came to an end in this period, and the new more functional high target strike
function was emphasized.
Of course, in other parts of the world in which conflict was present, such as Rwanda with
its recent genocide, Congo, even unrest in South-East Asia, prompted for more surveillance
usage of this technology, so that U.N. consistently used it in order to gain insight into the
situations at difficult to penetrate scenes.
If this technology was to be used more, spirits had to be settled.

The legality of drones the political instrument

In a strategic framework for drones within battle, the need to also consider the funder of
wars is crucial. As we know governments fund wars in the classic case with declared war
between two countries. When situations of terrorism and insurgents appear, however, which
affect interests of a foreign state, the lack of clarity on who is fighting whom and with what
increases because there is no functional definition of all parts of the war. Since the war effort has
13 Christopher A. Jones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): An Assesment of
Historical Operations and Future Possibilities, Air Command and Staff College,
Research Department, 1997,, pp. 3-5, accessed 8.04.2015

to be justified every step of the way a legal framework which comprises new technologies can
shed light on such matters. The military can use it to argue for the continuation of a war, whilst
the government, against it.
Also, legal frameworks define how a state perceives a certain issue, and that framework
also generally translates into public opinion, be it for or against the framework, but still it helps
define it. In this scenario, by tying the three elements together, namely government, which is
withheld by the people, which are influenced by the legal framework which is created by the
government, we see a vicious circle being created around an issue.
First positive aspect found in state law which defends the ethical use of drones is the
value put on human lives, on less collateral casualties by increased strike accuracy, and the less
obvious role of being the eyes and ears of the military thus leading to more informed and
effective operations which translate into less loss of human lives. 14 The greatest debate in this
sector was again of the U.S. for its strikes in Pakistan, and Yemen, which the latter was also was
a no-war zone at the time. The U.N. indeed declared this as problematic alongside other cases of
which Russian seek and destroy units in Chechnya were mentioned quite largely. The main
common argument here is the use of drones or UAVs in the targeting and elimination of terrorist
activities or high profile terrorist members. While the document that analyzes these incidents is
not a law per se, it explains how existing regulation already gives a framework for use of such
weaponry. 15
The debate reaches also negative aspects when self-determination and intervention in domestic
affairs of other states come into play, principles which are thoroughly described in the U.N.
charter for example, as well as in international law generally, being also present in the sources of
14 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 999
U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976, art. 6 (ICCPR); UN General Assembly,
Resolution on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While
Countering Terrorism, A/Res/51/191, 10 Mar. 2005, para. 1
15 U.N. General Assembly 28th May 2010, Report of the Special Rapporteur on
extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston,
df accessed 8.04.2015

law. The debate arises from its counterbalance to the right to protect principle in international
law, which is highly volatile as a principle, serving as the main argument in actions such as the
war on terror, justifying U.S.A.s right to intervene in Afghanistan and later on Iraq and
legitimizing its actions. On the other hand there is the Rwandan case where this principle, albeit
highly applicable, was counterbalanced against the principle of non-intervention, resulting in the
Rwandan genocide with no reaction from the international community. Many more examples of
this exist, proving indeed that as in the case of conflict situations with intervention of regular
military, drones find their place at the borderline between justified and legitimate actions
involving such technology, and a violation of international law.
One of the most outstanding cases in this regard was always regarded the drone strikes in
Pakistan, which were held as illegal but then regarded as legal because the Pakistan Army
recognized the strikes as approved beforehand. 16
In the legal debate of drones there is to be identified two aspects which resound, drone
characteristics which make the difference between its morality/legality. This aspect is the type of
drone, armed or not. Drones which do not possess the capability to strike are regarded more
friendly as those which are armed, but even the ones that do not have arms raise the question of
the destinations of the information that they collect. An example of this is the 2013 Congo drone
surveillance carried out by the U.N. in order to gather data for risk assessment in the area, which
sparked an opposition from the Congo government. It was settled in the end but the issue raised
is still of debate regarding regulation. 17
Another type of debate regarding drones relates to collateral damage. The U.S.A. is cited as an
example here again because their drone program is the most outstanding and while other
countries are only yet to acquire drones or have acquired them recently U.S.A. holds the lead in
16Jack Serle, PODCAST Pakistan Army increasing cooperation with CIA on drone strikes after
Peshawar massacre, accessed

17 UN Starts Drone Surveillance in DR Congo, 2013, accessed 8.04.2015

this technology. Even though the use of drones has given troops an increased tactical advantage
and allowed them to act on more intelligence than before, collateral damage is inevitable, as
drone strike precision is still an aim which has not yet been reached. The best example would be
the case of the Yemen strikes, in which many attempts have been made to kill al-Qaeda member
Salim Sinan al-Harethi, as many as around 250, with success in the end, but with little civilian
casualties in comparison to the overall success rate if drone strikes in this particular case, 18[24]
making drones recognized as efficient but still debated. In this regard the obvious defense of
drone use in conflict situations can act as a political instrument at home, providing people in
general with reasons a war is to be supported, besides the initial motivation.
In order to sum up this chapter, in the legal framework there already are general provisions
which apply to UAVs and which offer a general legal framework under which they can operate,
such as article 51 of the U.N. charter on the use of force within a state if the state has consented
to it or if there is a threat coming from within its borders, towards the outside, or the Treaty of
Open Skies. What distinguishes drones from other more conventional weapons is their very wide
scope of operation, but also maybe their biggest feature in any role, be it surveillance or strikes,
is that it puts military out of harms way. Again the argument of cutting down on human loss is
risen, while other weapons have efficiency in battle and are measured by kill rate and, in some
cases, there is even possibility of remote attack, such as with several types of arms, drones offer
the unique capability to transfer some of the human components which werent possible before,
onto them, such as sight, visibility, and even precision, ruling out what before was human error.
This can give the army that holds this technology a great advantage. While conventional arms
need troops to locate to the conflict area, drones remove this possibility.
The legal framework then does not provide with a framework which regulates the risk of
expansion of the conflict area because of that, nor does it cover the risk of civilians living in the
area from where drones are operated, be it the case.

18Drone Strikes Yemen:Analysis; , accessed

In situations of great need on the battlefield, drones can prove to be a valuable asset,
while as a political instrument in war they are regarded as dangerous because of the power they
posses for a countrys goal. The ability to strike at a distance, with more precision, gives leaders
and army men the possibility to follow their own set of ideas in which targets to select and when
to strike, making for a whole new level of the political game. This aspect is the one that
international law is trying to control, alongside collateral casualties and breaching of
international law principles which, as we have seen above, have been resolved one way or
another. In this sense, drones give a political strategic edge to goals pursued.

U.S. and its drones

Even though the U.S.A. had a drone program underway in their research and
development sector of the Army, it has seen a very quick growth under the two presidencies
covering the period from 2001 9/11 attacks until today, namely the Bush administration and the
Obama administration.
Under the Bush administration drones were mainly used in the War on Terror to target
high-profile suspects pertaining to terrorist organizations. From 2001 to 2008 drones were used
in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq, all with the same feature of targeting terrorists. Bush
was often criticized on the intervention in Iraq since 2004 because of the high number of
American troops casualties and unclear and unverified motives for doing so, but also because
troops and resources were growing thin from the war in Afghanistan. 19 Nevertheless drones
provided a two-way solution to both problems, being a weapon to be used remotely it could
salvage lives of soldiers, and being reusable and highly adaptable, they could be reused in the
new conflict. A total of around 75 drone strikes20 were reported between 2001-2008, but with a
significant increase in their usage towards the end of the Bush administration, 37 of the total
19 Leila Hudson, Matt Flannes, Colin Owens, Drone Warfare: Blowback from the
New American Way of War, Middle East Policy, vol 3,is.18, Fall 2011
accessed 9.04.2015

some 75 drone strikes occurring then.21 The drone program itself in this period was controversial
because of the increasing need for a legal framework for them, but also because the idea of
UAVs have expanded in other sectors such as commercial, or for homeland surveillance, which
raised concerns at home about privacy.
In 2008 the Obama administrations turn came to administer U.S.A.s wars and approach towards
the international environment. In this period the drone program saw a significant growth and so
did drone strikes.22 However this was not the only change occurring. Under the Obama
administration the drone target list has been expanded to contain also other suspects, considered
by the administration as potentially dangerous for its national security, and also the frequency of
attacks, so much so that in total more than 370 drone strikes are known to have been approved.


The countries in which drone strikes by the U.S.A. have occurred have expanded in number, for
instance strikes have occurred in Libya and Somalia in addition to the three mentioned earlier.
A common trait of both administrations is that strikes have not only been approved for war
declared zones but also in non-combat zones, which raised issues on an international level of
legality. Somalia and Yemen both were not declared combat zones by the U.S., although Yemen
did publicly say that it had approved of the strikes on its territory, and in Somalia the motivation
was that of strikes against terrorist leaders.24

USGS since 2001 to the present

21 Leila Hudson, Matt Flannes, Colin Owens, Drone Warfare: Blowback from the
New American Way of War, Middle East Policy, vol 3,is.18, Fall 2011
22 accessed 9.04.2015
23New America Foundation, Year of the Drone, Counterterrorism Strategy
Initiative, accessed 9.04.2015
view=all accessed 9.04.2015

Since the 9/11 attacks the U.S. has been confronted with a number of changes in its
external policies and actions.
During the Bush administration the most noticeable event is the terrorist attacks on the
World Trade Center buildings, as well as the start of the War on Terror. Characterized by an
expansion from fighting only al Qaeda to fighting all terrorism, the Bush administration was able
to pursue the war not only in Afghanistan, but also to Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and so on, wherever
there was the threat of terrorism.
But in order to start from the beginning, lets understand a bit the main approaches
present in the Bush administrations foreign policy. It is well known that the biggest influence in
the carrying out of the war on terrorism was that of the neo-conservatories. Far from being a very
visible group before this event, the neo-cons surely have made their way up the decision-making
ladder with their argument of the powerful United States in the period of the 9/11 attacks.
The main theme of the neo-conservative train of thought is the placing of the U.S. into
the centre of the international relations arena because of its status as the unchallenged superpower, in what is so-called the American Unipolar Moment 25. Following the neo-con discourse
the United States was losing ground in terms of military and power, with reduced spending and
interest, thus was beginning to see the end of its unipolarity and had to rebuild its status and
image. The neo-cons reacted to the 9/11 attacks precisely as a consequence of this laissez faire
attitude and demanded that the U.S. react in this situation in order to re-establish its position in
world affairs and recommit to its ideals. Also, the neo-cons, much as Wilsonianism, were in favor
of spreading American ideals overseas as a peace to solution. The active involvement in world
affairs was required in order to keep the U.S. safe, and because it was the only state capable of
sustaining such an effort overseas in any location in the world it chooses to do so. By these
characteristics, it was also the U.S.s job and duty to act as an international policeman, assisted
by its allies. 26
25 Charles Krauthammer, The Unipolar Moment, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 1,
1990/91, pp. 23-33
26 Maria Ryan, Neo conservatives and the American public, The US Public and
American Foreign Policy, ed.Andrew Johnstone, Helen Laville, Routlege,U.S.A., 2009,

This train of thought continued through most of Bushs administration, even if such elements
were not visible at first, they soon became so because of this event and because there was a
consensus from both the political elite and the public to pursue American interests overseas and
defend its right to security at home, as they saw it at the moment. 27 This concluded in another
principle visible within U.S. foreign policy at the moment, namely the unilateralism with which
U.S. followed its interests. By this logic any matter that threatened the U.S. national security and
interests was to be treated directly an assertively by the U.S. In this regard, intellectuals were
aware that the unipolarity of the international arena would not last, but were heading their
arguments towards a benevolent hegemon. Concerning human rights the neo-cons have included
it into their agenda as one of the values to be promoted by the U.S. 28
In the meantime although the main threat against which the War on Terror started was achieved,
the U.S. continued to implicate itself in different war theaters and pursue its interests overseas. In
2008/2009 administrations changed and president Barack Obama was elected. A general
overview of the U.S. would show that its unipolar moment has passed, with China rising as an
economic power and Russia straightening its economy, the world is becoming multipolar.



role of the U.S. as the international policeman was coming to an end because of the ability of the
world to solve its own problems. Despite this the following of its interests offshore offered the
U.S. an important role in international affairs, also because regarding military it still has the most
advanced one in the world.
When speaking about U.S. Grand Strategy it is important to notice the above effects because it
determines the way the U.S. positioned itself in the world afterwards. In this regard, the U.S.
sought to act as an off-shore balancer. Having still the most expanded experience and the
27 idem
28 A.E.Campbel, Richard D.Burns, Balance of power, Encyclopedia of American
Foreign Policy,vol I, ed.Alexander DeConde,Richard D.Burns,Fredrik Logevall,Charles
Scribners Sons,U.S.A.2002,pp.137-138
29 Fareed Zakaria, The Post American World, Norton, Norton,2009, U.S.A.,p.215-217

achievements to have credibility it can implicate itself in matters of conflict with credibility that
it can solve it. Although the anti-American sentiment is strong because of the secrecy of some
foreign actions by the U.S. because of which the Americans lost credibility, their capacity to
intervene in certain situations and their required presence when things get out of hand makes
them a first choice by other states.


The policy followed by the Obama administration

internationally makes for a number of theories related to its behavior, the main ones are the U.S.
a benevolent hegemon, which is a view not so widely accepted; and off-shore balancer. As a
benevolent hegemon the U.S. has again the responsibility to create collective assets which may
prove detrimental to its own state, reason for which nowadays for example the people are
unsatisfied with the way things are being run at home and have a negative sentiment of all of
U.S.s involvement abroad.31 But as an off-shore balancer the U.S. can remain more detached and
therefore concentrate on the problems at home. Off-shore balancing works by preventing the
system to become unipolar again, meaning that the emergence of a new hegemon is the only
interest followed. This strategy sets aside the possibility of the U.S. to act unilaterally, mainly
because it favors the lack of necessity of such actions, and favors the development of multiple
powers, interrelating states on levels such as economic, interdependent, cultural, political,
security, and so on. The promotion of American values overseas is still pursued but the policy
isnt so aggressive like in the case of the neo-cons.
Ideologically speaking there is a tendency to go towards isolationism because of internal
disapproval and economic struggle, which means that safeguarding immediate local pressures
have to be prioritized. With the economic crisis starting in 2008, the year the Obama
administration started, there was no doubt that keeping the U.S.s interests safe by this method,
of intervention, had to have serious up-sides in order to continue functioning. The liberal views
which dominate American history in general are kept, meaning that the promotion of human
rights and democratic values continues as it always has, but this time by using more effective
measures. Although the anti-American sentiment has grown in this period because of the secrecy
30 Idem.
31 Carl Conetta,Something in the Air: "Isolationism," Defense Spending, and the US
Public Mood, Oct.2014, accessed

of objectives followed, the U.S. has always legitimized its actions. In the spirit of spreading
democracy as a means to peace, the U.S. had to stay involved and maintain credibility.32

Multi-faceted capabilities of drones

As the debate goes on about how drones are used and what it actually implies for the territories,
peoples and nations in which they are used, the practical aspects of drone capabilities are
defining their role within the military and their roles on the battlefield.
If we compare the capabilities of traditional military technology and assets such as cruise
missiles, bombers, troops with a wide array of guns, fighter planes and so on, they all aim at
fixed targets rather than individuals or scattered organizations, which is the case nowadays in
asymmetrical threats, and have limited to no visibility in some geographical locations for
instance, which are hard to reach.33 A concrete example of this are the NATO air strikes in
Kosovo against the national army which was attacking villages and cities by foot, being able to
stay scattered and very mobile, not to mention lightly armed, and making a for a very difficult
target for the NATO bombers and airplanes. The success of the campaign rose only when the
Kosovo Liberation Army assisted the bombings from the ground.34
One of the main features, which is also a big plus for drones tactically as well as ethically, is
their ability to watch and wait for the best moment to strike a target, thus to receive confirmation
of the target, allowing the operator to discriminate between civilians and militants. Before, wars
were indiscriminate in this regard, now having the ability to discriminate more. This impacts not
32 Daniel Deudney,John Ikenberry, Democratic Internationalism An American Grand
Strategy for a Post-exceptionalist Era, Council on foreign relations, USA, 2012,p.15
33 Sherrill Lingel, et al. Methodologies for Analyzing Remotely Piloted Aircraft in Future
Roles and Missions. RAND Corporation, Project Air Force. USAF, 2012.
accessed 9.04.2015

34 Daniel L. Byman and Matthew C. Waxman, Kosovo and the great air power
debate, International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4. Spring, 2000, pp. 5-38

only the strategy used, but also the efficiency of the operators, which constantly contribute to the
effort by their experience.
Another feature is their ability to give alternative solutions to operations which normally
would have to be carried out by humans, ranging from surveillance to strikes, thus again
eliminating human losses on both sides, the attacker and the target. In this way attacks are more
efficient if such capabilities are employed, making for shorter campaigns, raids, giving the ability
to use a raid strategy, or a waiting strategy, rather than setting on to a covert operation or surprise
attack with troops which may lack coordination and is more error prone.35
Cost-wise, a ground attack would be in the detriment of the attacker in human lives,
military and as noted in the previous chapter, in political and international law terms, if drones
would not be employed. Another factor to take into account here is the unreliability of the ground
forces which can increase costs also, and as a final factor cost-related, from a summary analysis
one can conclude that building a drone, and employing it with its advantages, not requiring hours
of training and simulation for a pilot, not to mention his/her living costs at this time, means that
drone technology is also in itself cheaper to use, allowing for funds to be transferred towards
As regarding functionality, the obvious uses have already been mentioned above to be
detailed here, namely surveillance (target acquisition, target confirmation, damage assessment,
information gathering, here may be included discovering new enemy defense technology), and
strike, but there is another functional role, that of providing relief to mostly anyone in dire need
of some supplies or others. Drones are also capable of acting as messengers between posts
regarding food, ammo, other necessities, but also to provide relief to civilians in war affected
zones or other difficult to reach areas, where the functionality of a drone changes from
suspicious to humanitarian. As a quick side note, here, oddly enough, the international
community isnt vocal towards a set of regulations on humanitarian aid. From this role the multifaceted part of drones are revealed since it has so many capabilities.


Main improvements

brought and continuously developed on drones generally are the capability of longer flight
35 Mary Kaldor, Elaborating the New War Thesis, Rethinking the nature of war,
Duyvesteyn Isabelle, ed.Frank Cass, USA, 2005, pp.211-217

periods, of carrying heavy payloads, helicopter-like vertical take-off from ships and other
platforms, thus increasing their presence in a multitude of environments and situations, and
deployment to more areas of the world because of advanced remote control capabilities.
The risks of using drones are fairly limited in the sense that the capabilities outrun any
downfall. Drones, as any air-born vehicle, can be shot down, or if containing or transmitting
important info, their signal could be intercepted. 37

By analyzing the reasons which made the use of drones so preferable we can see the attributes
that the world has attached to them in terms of war, but not only. By taking the most common
uses in conflict areas an overview can be achieved. Also, their use has also defined a new
strategy, mainly targeting high profiled criminals as the need has risen since 9/11, which is not
only effective militarily speaking, but also politically.
As the functionalities of drones have been established, it can be seen how they have been
used and where in the past 13 years in conflict situations by the U.S. Even if drones were first
used successfully by Israel in the Yom Kippur War, the U.S.A. has the biggest drone program and
their exponential increase in use and spreading in the last 13 years (the first strike in Yemen)
should give a better overview in which conditions drones were adopted, for what reason, and the
end result of the situation. From this data then I can argue how drones fit in with U.S. Grand
In the following section I will try to see how drone technology has been used and what
implications this had, and see how this technology fits in the framework promoted by the U.S. .
page=full accessed 9.04.2015
37 Christopher Layne, The Strategy of Offshore Balancing, Cornell
Univ.Press,2006,U.S.A., pp.159-170

Criteria establishment
Drones uses:

Surveillance usage: since the attachment of the first television device on a drone, it
gained the capability to gather intelligence in an effective way, with people safely
remotely controlling the drone. Various bodies still use this feature exclusively with
drones in their operations.

Strike capability: probably the most important feature in a drone, strike capability was
dominated and still is by target precision, a feature which has always been prioritized for
improvement, alongside other features such as travel range, carriage capacity,
diversification of the weapons it can support and ways of deploying them, etc. 38

Humanitarian/aid role/carriage role: here the function of simply carrying supplies to

conflict areas will be noted.

Cost/efficiency ratio: drones as a technology stand high on this plane.

Political instrument: although their very nature makes them a good argument in any
pursuit, their unaccountability makes for great risk of abuse.
This criteria will now be put in comparison to the main principles of the U.S. grand

strategy present in the Bush and Obama administrations to see how they have served their

Neo-conservative context:

The strike capability satisfies the need of the neo-cons to be assertive

38 Note: surveillance and strike capability are characteristics often used together
but for the purpose of the paper I will track them as separately and consider that
strike capability will automatically entail some kind of surveillance.

The surveillance capability in the situation of being a hegemon of a unipolar world, it

gives legitimacy to targets killed, distinguishing from civilians, rules out tendencies of

Humanitarian/aid role/carriage role the promotion of the U.S. principles to be exported

as human rights, democratic values of liberating people from aggression

Cost/efficiency - cost was not a pressing issue at the moment and the upside of drones
was improving the war capabilities of the U.S.

Political instrument - unfounded claims for entering Iraq, even though proven later, made
for a difficult situation internally in terms of accountability. Also, their usage was mostly
in countries which had terrorist links within its borders and being tied to U.S. interests, it
gave them leverage to use them even in undeclared combat zones.

Off-shore balancing context:


The strike capability rapid expansion of the drone program made for better technology
so more accuracy

The surveillance capability suspicions of spying and an internal debate over their use at
home made this feature controversial

Humanitarian/aid role/carriage role a compelling argument when dealt with drone

legality because of the possibility to distinguish between targets.

Cost/efficiency the economic crisis beginning in 2008 made for debate at public and
Congress level to opposing intervention in other countries

Political instrument because of secrecy of drone program and actual casualties,

accountability was diminished and drones no longer represented a good political
instrument to gain support. The theme of American interests which transcend borders
(terrorism affecting American security) stands.

The preliminary conclusions to be drawn from here is that drones have been used little during
the Bush administration but were emerging as a democratic weapon because of their capability
to distinguish between targets and because of the nature of the attack (targeting particular
individuals). During the Obama administration their use has increased exponentially due to the
multiplication of war theaters and their overall increase in usage in the world. 39 Their political
instrumentality has become rather ineffective after 2008 because of the management of the drone
project but was still effective in terms of being easily defendable because no specific legislative
framework exists to the moment, existing laws accommodating this technology for the moment.
In terms of ideology, the drone encompasses features such as being a more human weapon
because it can distinguish between targets and thus reduce civil casualties. Also it can be
effectively used for carrying aid to troops or areas in which it is needed. Legally speaking,
drones can also be seen as a means to intervene as a peacekeeping party, because of the case in
which Yemen declared to have authorized drone strikes on its territory. Also because the main
theme of drone usage was of the War on Terror, it allowed the U.S. to use it well as a political
instrument internationally.
An interesting comparison of characteristics is that of the drones ability to be piloted and
controlled remotely, which synchronizes with the concept of off-shore balancing, which by its
nature represents the safe-keeping of the home base and the pursuing of interests from a distance.
In the overall strategy of the U.S. drones have proved a valuable multi-faceted asset in their
struggle to make the transition from one unipolar political system to another, in which foreign
policy goals have become increasingly difficult to pursue. By their very nature drones were never
meant to be solely a weapon, as is the case for example for tanks or machine guns, but an ally in
pursuing their interests and arguing their position internationally.
39 accessed

From the political level to the legal and military one, drones give the possibility of
adaptability in an array of contexts. U.S.A.s positioning towards its pursuits on an international
level has benefited from the development of such a technology because it can uphold the
principles that the U.S. is trying to spread in accordance to its beliefs and orientation.
In the first case of the neo-cons drones were able to provide a means to express an assertive
American stance and policy, unilaterally, since the targets dont get to interact with a soldier in a
conflict. Furthermore the characteristic of a drone is, as shown above, to wait and strike, which
does not imply a decision from both sides. This adapts to the modus operandi of the asymmetric
targets U.S.A. was faced with.
In the second case this technology provided with a means to appease public opinion, argue in
front of international law and give the army a clear advantage in face of threats, thus withholding
the American army superiority in the conflicts it has engaged in, but also set standards regarding
this technology on an international level. Despite conflicts, many other countries are adopting
this technology which could translate into an approval of what the U.S. is trying to stand for by
acting in this manner.
Drone technology is a technology that can successfully ply, more than any other, to the needs
and values of the current U.S. Grand Strategy. It is a weapon with much more than tactical and
strategic implications, but represents values and principles which comply with the current
American foreign policy approach and U.S. general ideology. This technology can also set the
pathway for other technology, a sort of ethical code in developing new military technology.


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