America's Hot New Export: Flying Killer Robots

But only to the right countries, they promise!


The American government thinks drones are too dangerous for private citizens to fly them after dark, but strap some missiles on them and it'll let defense companies cash in selling them to foreign governments.

Just days after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its first efforts at regulating the use of commercial drones, the Obama administration announced it has hammered out a plan to allow the export of their armed big brothers to allied nations. But there will be rules! They're not just going to hand off drones to just any old murderous warlord. Here is the Department of State's "Principles for Proper Use of U.S.-Origin Military Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)":

  • Recipients are to use these systems in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as applicable;
  • Armed and other advanced UAS are to be used in operations involving the use of force only when there is a lawful basis for use of force under international law, such as national self-defense;
  • Recipients are not to use military UAS to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations; and
  • As appropriate, recipients shall provide UAS operators technical and doctrinal training on the use of these systems to reduce the risk of unintended injury or damage.

So, uh, would the United States qualify for drones from itself under these guidelines? I mean, after all, we're still killing teenagers in Yemen and simply declaring that they're terrorists, but not providing any substantive proof of these claims. Often times, America doesn't even know who it has killed in drone strikes in Pakistan. We also know that surveillance drones from the United States are already being sold to countries with poor human rights records like the United Arab Emirates.

There's something particularly creepy about a country whose president has claimed the authority to decide on his own—without due process—who may be droned based on an Authorization for Use of Military Force that really should no longer even apply, playing arbiter over who else should get these machines. The Washington Post notes:

Under the new rules, which remain classified, foreign governments' requests for drones will be examined on a case-by-case basis, officials said. In addition to regulations governing all military sales, the sale of armed drones would be subject to Cold War-era rules establishing a "strong presumption of denial," meaning that foreign governments would have to make a strong case for acquiring the aircraft.

Pardon me for my cynicism, but given that defense companies stand to make money from the sales (the Post notes that each drone can cost between $10 and $15 million), I'm going to suggest that the heaviest lobbying for approval of the sales will not be originating from foreign governments. Congress can also potentially get involved with drone sales above a certain amount, which could mean some potential oversight. Or it could just mean even more lobbying and money changing hands. Hey, the whole thing could end up being a jobs program for retiring members of Congress.

(Hat tip to Ken C.)