Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

Do Armed Drones Reduce Terrorism? Here's the Data.

| Aug. 18, 2022

This research analyzes patterns of terrorism in the 18 countries that utilize drones

At 6:18 a.m. on July 31, a CIA drone fired the two Hellfire missiles that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a former deputy to Osama bin Laden. Since 9/11, the United States has conducted over 14,000 drone strikes like this against suspected terrorist targets. Countries such as Iran, Turkey, Nigeria and Egypt­ have also acquired armed drones and conduct their own strikes.

But do armed drone operations reduce terrorism, or do they actually make countries more vulnerable to it?

To find out, we analyzed patterns of terrorism in 18 countries — every country that has fielded armed drones to date. The evidence reveals that obtaining armed drones reduces the amount of terrorism a country experiences. Armed drones may raise ethical concerns but appear to be an effective counterterrorism tool.

What drone pessimists believe

Some analysts argue that the use of drones increases terrorism for two main reasons.

First, drones can cause "blowback" among civilian populations, when drones kill or psychologically terrify noncombatants and violate countries' sovereignty. For example, data collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests that U.S. drone strikes have killed up to 2,220 civilians since 2010, including up to 450 children. Blowback from drone strikes could motivate civilians to directly aid terrorist groups by joining them, providing material support or even carrying out lone-wolf attacks....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Schwartz, Joshua A. and Matthew Fuhrmann. "Do Armed Drones Reduce Terrorism? Here's the Data." The Washington Post, August 18, 2022.

The Authors