As we find ourselves bearing witness—even in our own backyards—to what is increasingly being referred to as the “drone revolution,” it might be a good time to turn our attention back in time and figure out how, exactly, we got here. The large-scale use of drones for national defense and law enforcement is a relatively recent development, but unmanned aerial surveillance draws from a doctrine that is as old as flight itself. Though the fundamental logic of aerial surveillance has remained the same—to put an eye in the sky so that one may look down upon one’s enemies—the technology has evolved dramatically over this period, driving shifts in aerial surveillance theory and practice. New technologies enable new techniques that, in turn, inspire new ways of thinking about how to spy from the sky, and produce new experiences for those being watched. Our present drone revolution, which has itself driven what is being called the “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) revolution,” is the result of this process played out over an entire century. The unmanned aerial spying efforts of the United States military and intelligence community have a particularly long and influential history, beginning with the Union Army’s manned observation balloon corps of the Civil War. Our story begins, in earnest, with fragile and failure-prone “aerial torpedos” in the First World War and an innovative and overlooked live video transmission system from the 1930s, through the CIA’s little-known—and radically forward-thinking—Samos spy satellite program of the late 1950s and a series of extraordinarily ambitious Cold War drone programs, up to the adoption of drones over Bosnia in the 1990s. Together, these episodes show how we got the drones of today and realized the core principles that define aerial spycraft (that is, how to find and watch “the bad guys”) in the 21st century: cover as much ground as possible; process and disseminate what you collect as quickly as possible, ideally, as close as you can get to real-time; and be as persistent as possible. The drones and high-resolution aerial cameras that are finding their way into the tool-kits of police departments will bring these principles along with them. Even if the growing number of law enforcement officers now using this technology aren’t fully aware of the long legacy of aerial surveillance that they are joining, the influence of this formative history of surveillance on their aerial crime-fighting operations is evident. Just as aerial surveillance transformed the battlefield, it will have a similarly profound effect on the experience and tactics of those operating the cameras, as well as, crucially, those individuals being watched by them. By grasping this history, we can better understand not only why and how drones are being used to fight crime, but also what to expect when every police department in the country owns an eye in the sky.
Arthur Holland Michel
Although legal principles to govern space were discussed as early as the mid-1950s, they were not formalized until the Outer Space Treaty (OST) 1967 was adopted and came into force. The OST establishes a number of principles affecting the placement of weapons in outer space. In particular it provides that “the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes” and prohibits the testing of any types of weapons on such bodies. More generally the OST forbids the placement of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in outer space. In addition there are a number of disarmament treaties and agreements emanating from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the Conference on Disarmament that are relevant to weapons in space. Although the disarmament provisions and international humanitarian laws place some restrictions on the use or manner of use of space weapons, none prohibit space weaponization. The absence of such prohibition is not due to many attempts over the years to prevent an arms race in space. Notable among these are Prevention of an Arms Race in Space Draft Treaty and the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Space Draft Treaty. In considering the laws affecting space weapons a fundamental question that arises is what constitutes a weapon and does its placement in space breach the requirement that outer space be used exclusively for peaceful purposes? As an example, does a satellite used to control and direct an armed drone breach the peaceful use provision of the OST? There may be risks that without international norms governments and substate groups may acquire and use armed drones in ways that threaten regional stability, laws of war, and the role of domestic rule of law in decisions to use force. Given their orbital velocity, any object in space could be a weapon with capability to destroy a satellite or other space object. There is also a growing population of dual-use satellites with military as well as civilian applications. These present great difficulty in arriving at a workable definition of a space weapon in the formulation of a generally acceptable treaty. In addition, there are divergent views of the meaning of peaceful use. Some, in particular the United States, consider the meaning to be “nonaggressive” rather than “nonmilitary.”
Michael J. Boyle
Unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, are one of the most important developments in global security in the 21st century. Drones, which can be operated remotely from ground pilots, are now in use by more than 100 countries and a growing number of non-state actors, such as terrorist groups. Some of this is driven by a booming export market in drones, with countries such as the United States, Israel, China, and Turkey becoming the world’s leading suppliers of the technology. Drones have begun to alter the course of conventional wars, as seen in Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine, and also have enabled new practices such as targeted killings of terrorist operatives either on their own territory or, in the case of the United States, on remote battlefields. Drones are also shifting how states attempt to deter and coerce each other and also enabling non-state actors such as terrorist groups to strike at opponents in new and surprising ways. As drones have begun to affect the security of individuals, non-state actors, and states, they have also yielded a number of legal and ethical controversies about when and where they should be used. In particular, the remote nature of the technology raises questions as to whether the distance of their pilots from the battlefields that they fight on is producing the “push-button warfare” mentality or otherwise lowering the barriers to the use of force. Future trends in the technological development of drone warfare, including swarming and the use of artificial intelligence–enabled drones, will only make coming to grips with the impact of drones on global security more important.
Carla Martinez Machain
Since the inception of air power as a technological innovation, both scholars and military practitioners have given much thought to the use of aircraft during conflict settings and how it might influence both outcomes and the way states fight. Air power can greatly expand the targets that are available to an attacker, making it so that it is not necessary to get through the opponent’s military defenses in order to target their population centers or other centers of gravity. At the same time, air power can reduce the costs of the attacker, allowing them to potentially achieve their coercive aims without necessarily incurring the costs, both financial and in terms of casualties, that a ground invasion can entail. Though the writing on air power from the theoretical and military strategic perspectives is vast and informative, there is also a relatively new research agenda focused on empirical work on air power within the field of international relations. This work has expanded in the last 20 years but still has much room for growth. Traditionally, air power has been thought of as a tool used by major powers, the states with the largest militaries and also the most economic resources. Work on air power has found that particularly major powers that are sensitive to incurring costs through military interventions, such as democratic powers, are prone to using air power. The reason for this is that these states perceive air power as a low-cost and low-commitment way to engage in international coercion. More recent work on air power supports some of these expectations, but challenges others. As scholars collect new data on coercive episodes of aerial bombing, evidence shows that air power is also used by powerful autocracies, and that as technologies develop, minor powers may also become involved in the use of coercive air power, particularly when it comes to the use of remotely piloted aircraft (drones). New research has also engaged the question of how different aerial strategies can affect the duration and outcomes of aerial campaigns. Recent work moves beyond traditional distinctions between punishment and denial strategies and considers cases in which mixed strategies are used, as well as distinguishing between how discriminate the cases of bombing either civilian or military targets are. In addition, new research shows that the use of air power during intrastate conflict and against non-state actors such as insurgent groups or terrorist organizations is prevalent and a topic that should be studied by political scientists.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not-for-profit groups, which are independent of commercial businesses and government agencies. They claim to serve various notions of the public good, including advocacy and service delivery. So the definition of an “NGO” is broad, including many different kinds of organizations, such as aid agencies, human rights, indigenous, feminist and environmental lobby groups. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the predecessors of NGOs—pressure groups—tried to advance their cause by cultivating close relations with the mainstream press, and/or publishing their own periodicals. But from the late 20th century onward, many NGOs started routinely producing their own news content, including written text but also photojournalism, video, and sophisticated interactive projects. Some of this material is disseminated through “alternative” outlets, social media and activist hubs. But it is difficult for NGOs to gain a mass audience in these ways, so most major NGOs recruit or commission experienced journalists to carry out this work for them. Much of the research in this area has focused on either journalists’ increased dependence on NGOs, or on the restructuring of NGOs’ resources, priorities and working cultures in accordance with news norms. Most scholars have also focused on the work of international aid agencies and/or human rights organizations, as well as particular kinds of crises, such as famines, hurricanes and conflicts. The extant literature is heavily weighted toward organizations which are based in North America or Europe. However, a small but growing number of scholars are challenging this, exploring the news work of other NGOs and/or news outlets, in other countries, and during other kinds of news-making periods, including conferences, summits and “quiet” news weeks. These more diverse approaches to studying NGOs as news organizations have led to the theorization of NGO journalism becoming more nuanced. Researchers have shifted away from polarized, and somewhat over-generalized, assessments of the effects of NGO news-making, toward a greater awareness of complexity and heterogeneity. This has involved them using theory about organizations, institutions, fields and moral economies. However, the kinds of power which NGO workers are able to acquire by becoming news reporters is still under-theorized, and scholars still tend to avoid examining the frameworks they use as a basis for normative evaluation. Finally, changing media practices (including social media practices) and NGOs’ adoption of new communication technology (including satellite and drone imagery) means that this area of news work is still evolving very rapidly.
Current communications research takes up the political and ethical problems posed by new surveillance technologies in public space, ranging from biometric technologies adopted by state security apparatuses to self- and peer-monitoring applications for the consumer market. In addition to studies that examine new surveillance technologies, scholars are tracking intensive and extensive expansions of surveillance in the name of risk management. Much of the scholarship produced in the last 15 years looks at how the establishment and expansion of the Department of Homeland Security within the United States and its international counterparts have dramatically altered security, military, and legal practices and cultures. Within this context what were once science fiction dystopias have become funded research and development projects and institutionalized practices aimed at remote data collection and processing, including facial recognition technology and a variety of remote sensing devices. Private-public partnerships between companies like Google and Homeland Security fusion centers have made it possible to use GPS technology to network data that promises to help manage a variety of natural and man-made disasters.