Texas A&M Law Review


David E. Graham

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Much has been written over the past several years regarding the increased U.S. employment of UAVs as a weapon system against both combatants on a battlefield and terrorists far removed from an active zone of military operations. As an element of this dialogue, there has occurred a growing discussion as to whether, given what some view as the appearance of new threats to national security—existing in the form of al-Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations—there is now a need for enhanced clarity and transparency concerning the legal principles applicable to when, where, and how such systems might be used. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that, if, in fact, uncertainty exists as to the legal norms to be applied in the employment of UAVs against those who threaten U.S. security interests—it is an uncertainty of a U.S. self-inflicted nature. In truth, the old law, i.e., currently existing codified and customary international legal principles, can quite sufficiently regulate the lawful use of these systems. Any confusion surrounding this subject is, in reality, due to the consistently self-serving and highly questionable manner in which the U.S. government has both interpreted and applied these norms. Before turning to a discussion of the relevant legal issues, however, it would be helpful to briefly examine the basic nomenclature of commonly U.S.-deployed UAVs.

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