Prone to Drone: Unmanned Aircraft Systems' Effects on Public Support for the Use of Force

William Shelby, Purdue University


Unmanned aircraft systems (drones) have seen widespread use by the United States in the "War on Terror." Drones keep soldiers out of harm's way and they reduce the financial cost of military operations, all while maintaining high levels of precision like regular soldiers. Because they provide the benefits of using force without the risks, drones could make the public more willing to support the use of force. If true, the public may be more prone to support using force rather than seek out other alternatives to solve a foreign policy crisis because they perceive less risk involved in using force. I tested this hypothesis with a series of experiments with varying amounts and types of risk. I find that individuals see drones as less risky than using ground forces, which led to a higher support for military force, meaning drones make it easier to engage in conflict. These results suggest that policymakers could utilize drones in some cases where they want to increase support for a military operation by highlighting the low risk involved in using drones, but it is important to highlight the double-edged nature of drones. The rest of the world is developing their own drones, and if the United States can carry out an action, soon, the rest of the world will be able to do the same. To ensure that the rest of the world does not indiscriminately use drones, the United States could take steps to establish social and institutional norms that govern actor behavior for drones.




Hoffman, Purdue University.

Subject Area

International Relations

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