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Murky U.S. drone-strike policy threatens to backfire as other nations acquire technology


On the surface, it may sound inconceivable: a foreign nation dispatching an armed drone to assassinate a fugitive or a political dissident on American soil.

But such a scenario may not be as far-fetched as it seems, analysts and legal scholars say.

The rapid proliferation of military drone technology is reaching the point that other nations — and even non-state actors such as Mexican drug cartels — could engage in the kinds of deadly strikes that the U.S. pioneered more than a decade ago and has increased under presidents of both political parties.

“It’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone flies a drone across the border from Mexico and takes someone out,” said Rachel Stohl, managing director at the Stimson Center, a leading Washington think tank.

“I think that’s the reality we’re going to face,” said Ms. Stohl, who specializes in drones and international arms policy. “I think we will see countries more emboldened to cross borders, and maybe they’re taking out a terrorist actor who happens to be on our soil and they say, ‘Look, you’ve done that as well.’ That’s the tension.”

Critics contend that American policy on drone strikes is murky at best and that the U.S., perhaps unintentionally, has laid out a blueprint that the rest of the world could follow — with potentially chaotic results.

The U.S. led the way in the use of cross-border drone strikes in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While wildly controversial abroad — and especially reviled in parts of the world because of the civilian deaths that sometimes result — drones are seen within the White House, Pentagon and CIA as invaluable tools to conduct precision strikes against terrorist threats with little to no direct danger for U.S. personnel. Drones can also operate in theaters or sanctuaries that conventional forces could never reach.

But specialists say the near-monopoly America had on drone technology last decade is evaporating and the seemingly lax rules could be used as guiding precedents by Russia, China and other nations that are rapidly advancing their own unmanned systems programs. Read more

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Murky US drone-strike policy threatens to backfire as other nations acquire technology