Are post-election changes to the US drone program in the forecast? Two Washington projects are key to the future of the drone program. The first is the codifying of Washington’s use of “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAV’s). The second is the new pick for the CIA directorship recently vacated by General Petraeus.
The New York Times has reported that in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election, the Obama administration and the CIA accelerated their work on creating a formal code book for the use of drones by the United States. The goal was to hand off a set of “clear standards and procedures” to the incoming president, in the case of Obama’s failure to be reelected. Now that Obama has won four more years, work still continues on the codification, but the goal has shifted. Instead of focusing on a legacy to be handed to a new president, the codification seeks to resolve internal disputes about the program. One such dispute central to the process is the discussion of when drone strikes are justifiable. Connected to this dispute is this debate over where the drone program will go from here: will drones be used as a last resort or will they become a flexible tool in the fight against the enemies of the US and her allies?
Aside from the codification of formal rules, the drone program may see changes depending on who is picked to replace General Petraeus as director of the CIA. Three individuals–John Brennan, Michael Morell, and Michael Vickers–are in the running. Brennan is widely considered the top contender. Brennan has recently begun to express concern over the government’s reliance on targeted killings, but he presided over the expansion of the drone program under Obama. Regardless of who is appointed, the next director “will face immediate pressure to improve intelligence gathering in places beyond those patrolled by drones.”
Outside of the US, the United Nations is considering using unarmed drones to better monitor armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). And while the discussion is limited to monitoring purposes, the UN has hinted that it would be legal for the drones to be armed, if it was deemed necessary. The UK Defence Select Committee has decided to launch an investigation into the use of armed drones. The inquiry will focus on the use of UAV’s in Afghanistan. Finally, the use of drones has come into the spotlight recently thanks to their use in last week’s Israeli-Gaza conflict and to revelations of Pakistan’s endeavors to develop it’s own armed drones (it already uses drones for monitoring purposes).