The United States and 40 other countries have issued a Joint Declaration calling for the responsible trade of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
Named the “Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles”, the Joint Declaration outlines the following (summarized) principles:
Among the 40 countries to have joined the U.S. in this endeavour, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom could be counted as countries engaged in – or at least capable – of producing armed UAVs in the short and medium-term. Israel, Russia, China, France, Turkey, India, and Pakistan have not (yet) signed onto the Joint Declaration.
Notes & Comments:
The United States had begun proposing to a number of countries the notion of international norms to guide the trade of armed UAVs in September. As evident in the Joint Declaration, these are not binding rules, but broad principles that ought (on the part of the declaring states) to be considered best practices.
Some policymakers hope this could translate into a firmer regulating body (akin to the MTCR), though others are skeptical that such an entity would see sufficient traction considering how profitable the sale of armed UAVs has been for the current market leaders – i.e. China and Israel. The industry analysis firm Avascent projected that the armed UAV market will expand to a volume $1.7 billion U.S. per year by 2024.
U.S. policymakers and industry players are hopeful the Joint Declaration and the subsequent potential for a standardized set of trade rules would provide a strong entry point for the U.S. UAV industry (Aviation Week). However, the reality of armed drone exports today is that the bulk of buyers are not only engaged in contentious counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, but the vast majority of them would not readily pass in terms of the human rights standards a firm body would require of them. For example, Saudi Arabia is among China’s leading armed drone buyers.
The incentive for the likes of China or Russia to enter into such an agreement is, at best, minimal. However, as with the MTCR, the U.S. may be able to pull a large number of other adherents by offering favourable concessions in exchange for tighter trade controls. India, for example, could conceivably further its own UAV programs (especially in possible beyond-line-of-sight applications) if it abides by an MTCR-like UAV trade body.