A Sign of the Times? UN Launches First Drone

For the first time, peacekeepers with the United Nations launched a surveillance drone on Tuesday.

The UN’s UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, is being deployed over the Democratic Republic of Congo “to monitor the volatile border with Rwanda and Uganda.”

Though a reportedly peaceful mission, today’s launch is another example of the mass proliferation of drones, a technology that has grown at a “geometric pace” and, as civil society groups warn, has outpaced any attempt to regulate their use.

In addition to the UN, over 70 countries in the world now deploy drones. As Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Conn Hallinan notes, drones today have become a “multi-billion dollar industry” with countries across the globe “building and buying them.”

The proliferation of drones is staggering. In 2001, Hallinan notes, the U.S. had 50 drones; today it has over 7,500. And between 2005 and 2011, the number of drone programs—public and private initiatives—worldwide jumped from 195 to 680.

“Occupying someone else’s lands is dangerous and expensive, hence the siren lure of drones as a risk-free and cheap way to intimidate the locals and get them to hand over their land or resources,” Hallinan writes, noting that the number of killer drones in development are “expanding at a geometric pace,” with 16 countries currently owning “the lethal variety.”