'World on Trial' to debate United States' use of Drones

The next episode of "World on Trial", an international human rights public television and Web-based interactive series produced by Penn State University Dickinson School of Law, the School of International Affairs and WPSU, will examine the legality of the use of unmanned drones by the U.S. government to target suspected terrorists. The new episode will be filmed in the fall and information about specific air dates will be announced as it is available.

In recent years, the U.S. inventory of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has grown from the 167 in 2002 to more than 7,500 today and accounts for approximately 30 percent of all military aircraft. The U.S. military now trains more unmanned pilots than traditional fighter pilots. At least 40 other countries, including Russia, China and Iran are developing unmanned systems technology. The reach of this technology goes beyond military use, and spans civil law enforcement and commercial uses.

Although drones have been credited with effectively targeting suspected terrorists and dramatically lowering the risk to U.S. service members, considerable criticism has accompanied these achievements. Scholars and activists have denounced the use of drones by the U.S. government as unethical, counterproductive and in violation of U.S. domestic and international law. Specifically, critics have argued that the use of drones by the U.S. government violates:

-- international law principles of territorial integrity and state sovereignty;

-- international humanitarian law principles of distinction and proportionality;

-- international human rights laws mandating due process and the protection of human life; and

-- domestic U.S. laws governing the use of force and the prohibition on assassinations.

To join a discussion on this topic or to view the first episode of World on Trial, which focused on the French Headscarf law, visit

Professor Randall Robinson, distinguished scholar in residence at Penn State Law, is creator and host of 'World on Trial.' Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated July 12, 2021