Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2012

Capstone Advisor

Bartosz Hieronim Stanislawski, Ph.D.

Honors Reader

Stuart Thorson, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science

Capstone Major

Political Science

Capstone College

Citizenship and Public Affairs

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

American Politics | Other Political Science | Political Science


Wars and the strategies used to fight them have constantly evolved throughout the history of mankind, simultaneously revealing our innovative brilliance and our inherent inability to avoid conflict with one another. The current state of the United States’ “War on Terror,” composed of the Afghanistan conflict and outlying operations in countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere around the world, has spurred exemplary advances used to combat a new type of enemy. Thus enters the drone, a remotely piloted aircraft that can be used for reconnaissance purposes or offensive targeting operations.

The drone is unique in that the pilot is not located in the aircraft, but instead remotely controls the aircraft from a distance that can range from a few miles to halfway around the world. At a cruising altitude, cameras on the drone can zoom in on an object or person with such clarity that they can read license plate numbers and even allow the pilot to identify individuals on the ground. Such a tool has infinite uses in warfare, particularly against the insurgent enemy that the United States fights today. However, since their debut to the battlefield, the use of drones has been met with skepticism and claims of illegality.

The purpose of this capstone thesis will be to analyze the drone as an instrument of warfare and to determine: (1) whether drones are even a “legal weapon” to use in war; (2) whether the manner in which the United States’ drones are being used in the Middle East today is legal and ethical; (3) and lastly, if indeed drones are a legitimate weapon of war, are they an effective contribution to the United States’ strategy of counterinsurgency and counter-network operations worldwide.

To accomplish these three goals, an analysis will be conducted of both domestic and international laws regarding the conduct of warfare to establish whether drones and the manner in which the United States has been employing drones are legal. Secondly, this thesis will break down the United States’ strategy and tactics in combating hostile non-state actors worldwide to first see what the objectives and end goals are, and then to see if the benefits of using drones outweigh the costs.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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