Droning on: Explaining the Proliferation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
30 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2014 Last revised: 26 Jan 2016
Date Written: October 1, 2015
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as "drones," have become emblematic of 21st century military technologies. Yet scholars have yet to convincingly explain the drivers of UAV proliferation. This article makes sense of the intensifying global interest in UAV technology. We develop and present initial evidence on four theoretical arguments for why countries pursue UAVs, utilizing a new comprehensive dataset on UAV proliferation. Our data underscore the vital importance of understanding drone proliferation: 87 countries have some UAV capability, 23 possess more sophisticated drones, and 30 have armed UAV programs. Our analysis reveals some important findings. First, countries that experience security threats – including territorial disputes and terrorism – are more likely to seek UAVs. Second, prestige-seeking countries are especially likely to obtain tactical UAVs, but prestige is less relevant for acquiring more sophisticated drones. Third, we find a "U-shaped" relationship between a state's regime and the spread of armed UAV programs, suggesting that autocracies and democracies have their own unique incentives to acquire this technology. Fourth, supply-side factors play a major role in the UAV proliferation process. A state's level of technological sophistication and its alliance relationships with major suppliers are strong predictors of unarmed drone proliferation. The theories and evidence presented in this article challenge emerging wisdoms about UAV proliferation, and shed useful light on how and why drones spread.
Keywords: drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, proliferation, diffusion, technology, military
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