June 26, 2017

Drones aren't missiles, so don't regulate them like they are

By Michael Horowitz

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary arrangement founded by seven countries in 1987 to prevent the spread of longer-range cruise and ballistic missiles with the potential to carry weapons of mass destruction. Today, the MTCR has 35 member states, and while containing cruise missile proliferation has proven difficult, it has effectively slowed the spread of long-range ballistic missiles.

With any regime focused on controlling specific technologies, though, there is always a risk that advances in the field will outstrip the initial regulatory framework. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened to the MTCR in at least one respect. When the regime was set up in the 1980s, remotely-piloted aircraft—better known as drones—had a lot in common with missiles. They were generally either target drones with limited utility, designed for one-way missions to test missile accuracy, or very short-range surveillance platforms. The MTCR was therefore set up to control them too.

Read the full article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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