Drone Warfare

Ulrike Franke has written the Oxford University Press bibliography for 'Drone Warfare', which can be accessed through Oxford Bibliographies.

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Drone warfare, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones” in public parlance) in military operations, goes back centuries, with heated discussions regarding the correct start date and relevant technological breakthroughs. Modern drones developed around the year 2000; in 2001 the notorious US Predator was fitted with missiles and used for a targeted killing for the first time in 2002, thereby starting what most consider “drone warfare.” By the first few years of the 21st century, unbeknown to the general public, dozens of militaries around the world already used drones for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The public and academic debate, however, gained momentum only near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, when it became known that the United States used armed drones for targeted killings at large scales—and outside official warzones. Brookings Institution scholar Peter W. Singer was highly influential in shaping the debate through the publication of his book Wired for War (see Singer 2009, cited under Textbooks and General Overviews). Since then, the body of literature on drone warfare in the social sciences has grown exponentially.

When more became known about the US drone operations, drones quickly began to capture the public’s and policymakers’ imagination. Articles about “robot wars” or “terminator wars” abounded. At the same time, anti-drone groups formed that protested the US use of drones for targeted killings.

Because of the way the debate on drones began, the focus of the literature has for years been firmly placed on issues surrounding the use of armed drones by the US armed forces and intelligence forces, neglecting other actors and uses, such as the use of surveillance drones in military operations by actors other than the United States. As a growing number of states (and, increasingly, nonstate actors) use drones, attention is slowly moving to other types or drone use and other actors.

Because the topic, and hence the literature on it, is comparatively new, there are not yet properly defined schools of thought with specific authors firmly associated with them. Accordingly, this article is structured not by schools of thought but by themes, to reflect the ongoing discussions and to give the reader a good idea of the debates and controversies.

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