> our title:

Drone Proliferation and the Use of Force

> original title:

Drone Proliferation and the Use of Force

(Source: Center for a New American Security; issued March 07, 2017)


As more countries acquire drones, will their widespread availability lead to greater military adventurism and conflict? Will countries be more willing to put a drone in harm’s way? If so, how will other nations respond? Would they be more willing to shoot down a drone than a human-inhabited aircraft? And if they did, are those incidents likely to escalate?

To help answer these questions, in 2016 the Center for a New American Security conducted a survey experiment to better understand how experts and the general public viewed the use of force with drones. The survey evaluated expert and public attitudes about the willingness to use force in three scenarios: (1) deploying an aircraft into a contested area; (2) shooting down another country’s aircraft in a contested area; and (3) escalating in response to one’s own aircraft being shot down. For each scenario, half of the survey respondents read questions where a drone was used and half of the survey respondents read questions where a human-inhabited aircraft was used.

This experimental design was intended to better understand how the introduction of drones into militaries’ arsenals might change expert and public attitudes about the use of force relative to human-inhabited aircraft. Given the continuing integration of robotics into national militaries, as well as the proliferation of drones, this is a critical question for global politics. Moreover, while several studies approach the topic by looking at public opinion in the United States, we know less about how communities of foreign policy experts view drones.

Survey Scenarios

CNAS’ survey analysis centers on how respondents answered the following set of three hypothetical questions. Respondents were randomly selected into one of two experimental conditions: “drone” or “inhabited.” In both conditions, the hypothetical scenario was the same except the version in the “drone” condition asked about drones being deployed or shot down and the version in the “inhabited” condition asked about manned military aircraft being deployed and shot down.

The three questions are listed below:

1. Your country (or a close ally) is in the midst of an important territorial dispute with another country. Your military proposes deploying [unmanned military drones/manned military aircraft] into the disputed territory. The probability that those [unmanned military drones/manned military aircraft] will be shot down is 50%. What is your opinion of deploying the [drones/aircraft]?

2. Your country (or a close ally) is in the midst of an important territorial dispute with another country. The other country deploys [unmanned military drones/manned military aircraft] into the disputed territory. Your military proposes shooting down the other country’s [unmanned military drones/manned military aircraft]. What is your opinion of shooting down the [drones/aircraft]?

3. Your country (or a close ally) is in the midst of an important territorial dispute with another country. Your country deployed [unmanned military drones/manned military aircraft] into the disputed territory. The other country shot down one of your country’s [unmanned military drones/manned military aircraft]. In response, your military proposes shooting down the next military plane flown by the adversary country into the disputed territory, whether unmanned or manned. What is your opinion of undertaking this action?


Click here for the full report, on the CNAS website.

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