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The Consequences of Drone Proliferation: Separating Fact from Fiction

International Security, Forthcoming

38 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2016 Last revised: 19 Oct 2016

Michael C. Horowitz

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science

Sarah E. Kreps

Cornell University

Matthew Fuhrmann

Texas A&M University

Date Written: January 25, 2016


What are the consequences of drone proliferation for the international security environment? Despite extensive discussions in the policy world concerning drone strikes for counterterrorism purposes, myths about the capabilities and implications of current-generation drones often outstrip reality. This paper separates fact from fiction by examining the effects of UAVs in six different contexts — counterterrorism, interstate conflict, crisis onset and deterrence, coercive diplomacy, domestic control and repression, and use by non-state actors for the purposes of terrorism. We show that, while current-generation drones introduce some unique capabilities into conflicts around the world, they are also unlikely to produce the dire consequences that some fear. In particular, drone proliferation carries potentially significant consequences for counterterrorism operations and domestic control in authoritarian regimes. Drones could also enhance monitoring in disputed territories, potentially leading to greater stability. However, given their technical limitations, current-generation drones are unlikely to have a large impact on interstate warfare. Our analysis has important implications for a range of policy issues, including the management of regional disputes, the regulation of drone exports, and defense against potential terrorist attacks on the homeland.

Keywords: drones, UAVs, terrorism, military innovation, proliferation

Suggested Citation

Horowitz, Michael C. and Kreps, Sarah E. and Fuhrmann, Matthew, The Consequences of Drone Proliferation: Separating Fact from Fiction (January 25, 2016). International Security, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Michael Horowitz (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Sarah Kreps

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Matthew Fuhrmann

Texas A&M University ( email )

College Station, TX 77843
United States

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