Jun 14, 2018

Under Trump, U.S. drone strike policy is looser and less transparent

U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) at an air base in the Persian Gulf region. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. use of armed drones remains controversial, in large part because of ongoing secrecy surrounding the use of lethal drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields and the lack of accountability that goes hand in hand with the absence of transparency.

Why it matters: In the first 18 months of Trump's presidency, U.S. drone policy appears to have become less restrained, transparent and accountable.

The Trump administration has:

  • Reversed course on measures designed to bring drone use out of the shadows and make it more responsible. It has expanded the possible targets of armed strikes by eliminating the requirement that the person pose an "imminent threat" and has loosened the requirement of "near certainty" that the target is present at the time of the strike to "reasonable certainty," all while refusing to confirm or deny that changes to such policies and procedures have been made.
  • Increased the frequency and geographic scope of lethal drone strikes, especially in areas where stricter rules around the use of force were previously in place. Between 2009 and 2017, President Obama authorized more than 550 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. In his first year in office, President Trump authorized more than 80 strikes in those three countries alone.
  • Lowered the threshold for strike-decisions and broadened the role of the CIA.

What's next: The U.S. has an opportunity to be an international leader in developing policy frameworks for the transfer and use of armed drones. This is particularly important as U.S. policy and practice also impact how our allies, partners and enemies use drones. Both the administration and Congress have a role to play in ensuring that the U.S. drone program serves U.S interest and remains lawful, appropriate, accountable and transparent.

Rachel Stohl is managing director and director of the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center.

Go deeper: The Stimson Center’s Action Plan on U.S. Drone Policy

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

More than 62,300 U.S. health care workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and at least 291 have died from the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday. COVID-19 had infected about 9,300 health professionals when the CDC gave its last update on April 17.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

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World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

There are no COVID-19 patients in hospital in New Zealand, which reported just 21 active cases after days of zero new infections. A top NZ health official said Tuesday he's "confident we have broken the chain of domestic transmission."

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.9 million tests).