Trump Drone Policy Taking Shape

By Rachel Stohl

Rachel Stohl is a senior associate with Stimson's Managing Across Boundaries Initiative. Prior to joining Stimson she was an associate fellow at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, from 2009-2011.  Stohl was the consultant to the UN ATT process from 2010-2013 and was previously the consultant to the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2008 and the UN Register for Conventional Arms in 2009.

Less than two months after taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach to drone strikes appears to be taking shape. Although the Trump Administration has yet to articulate a comprehensive drone policy, recent actions and reports demonstrate Trump’s intentions to roll back some of the procedures and restraints put in place by the Obama Administration.

Early in his tenure, former U.S. President Barack Obama cultivated a policy for the use of armed drones that was based largely on rhetoric and characterized by secrecy and limited accountability. Under Obama, the number of drone strikes increased and targeted strikes were launched in countries where the U.S. was not at war, such as Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, or places deemed “outside areas of active hostilities.” In 2013, the Obama Administration established rules to guide counterterrorism operations and drone strikes in these theatres, which were outlined in the Presidential Policy Guidance. The document revealed the procedures for the use of force against terrorist targets “outside areas of active hostilities” and provided a requirement of “near certainty” that civilians will not be killed in targeted strikes.

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