Armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—often referred to as drones—have become a prominent and sometimes controversial means of delivering lethal force in the 21st century. Yet the international community is some way from reaching consensus on how established international principles are to be interpreted and applied to the use of armed UAVs. This situation is unsatisfactory for promoting civilian protection in conflict, the maintenance of peace and security, or the rule of law. Moreover, UAVs have unique characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to misuse in comparison to other technologies, at the same time as their capabilities are growing rapidly. Taken together, these factors add up to a pressing need for further development of international understandings related to transparency, oversight and accountability in the context of UAV spread and use.
Building on a prior United Nations publication in 2015, this UNIDIR study assesses the current situation and suggests ways to strengthen shared understandings of transparency, oversight and accountability to address challenges raised by armed UAVs.