U.S., Other Nations Sign Declaration on Armed Drone Exports

 - October 5, 2016, 4:21 PM
A U.S.-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper participated in a demonstration at Cannon Air Force Base in May. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

More than 40 nations have joined the U.S. in a joint declaration aimed at controlling exports of armed or weapons-capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Major UAV-producing nations such as Israel, Russia, China and India are not among signatories to the declaration of broad principles, which is a precursor to setting more detailed standards.

“The declaration is a political commitment by its signatories that underscores growing international consensus that UAVs are subject to international law,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman with the U.S. State Department, announcing the agreement on October 5. It “stresses the need for transparency about exports and represents, we believe, an important first step toward comprehensive international standards for the transfer and subsequent use of UAVs.”

The signatories and other nations that wish to participate will begin meeting next spring to hash out specific standards, Toner said.

The “Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled UAVs” allows that individual nations may already have laws or policies in place to control the export of armed unmanned aircraft. “However,” states the preamble, “recognizing that misuse of armed or strike-enabled UAVs could fuel conflict and instability, and facilitate terrorism and organized crime, the international community must take appropriate transparency measures to ensure the responsible export and subsequent use of these systems.”

The signatories agreed to five principles: to apply the law of armed conflict and international human rights law to their use of armed drones; to engage in “responsible export” of such aircraft in line with existing arms control and disarmament norms; to stay consistent with existing multinational export-control and nonproliferation regimes; to practice “appropriate voluntary transparency measures” in reporting military exports; and to continue discussing how nations can transfer and use such technology responsibly.

Reacting to the declaration, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) said that it expects the agreement will lead to “more efficient review and approval of  U.S. exports of these systems,” and that international adoption of guidelines for armed drones will help smooth exports of military surveillance drones as well as unmanned aircraft sold for civilian or commercial purposes.

But the AIA called upon the U.S. government to make its own interagency review and approval process “more transparent, predictable and efficient” to ensure that American-made systems remain competitive against foreign competition.

In addition to the U.S., there are 44 other signatories to the declaration: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uruguay.