October 23, 2013

Report questions drone use, widely unpopular globally, but not in the U.S.

TO GO WITH: Pakistan-unrest-Afghanistan,
Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan aimed at targeting al Qaeda and Taliban is again coming under intense scrutiny, and the debate comes against a backdrop in which U.S. public opinion about the use of drones in general sharply differs from the widespread opposition to the missile strikes among other nations.

A new report from Amnesty International investigating the strikes in Pakistan said its findings raised “serious concerns” over whether some of the killings have been unlawful and “may amount to extrajudicial executions or war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.” The report comes at a time when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a critic of the drone campaign, is to meet with President Obama, and when the United Nations has also raised questions about civilian deaths and U.S. transparency about the underpinnings of the program.

Americans largely support the use of drones to target extremists in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. A March survey found 61% overall supported the strikes while 30% disapproved. The drone program had bipartisan support – majorities of Republicans (69%), Democrats (59%) and independents (60%) approved.

However, the drone operations are widely unpopular in the rest of the world. In 31 of 39 countries surveyed last spring, at least half of the publics disapproved of the attacks. At least three-in-four held this view in 15 of the countries. Aside from the U.S., the only countries where majorities supported the drone strikes were Israel (64%) and Kenya (56%). In Pakistan, they were opposed by 68% of the public.

A February survey of Americans did find that 53% were “very” concerned about whether drone strikes put the lives of civilians in danger, an issue raised by both the Amnesty International report and by a UN human rights investigator. Even among those who approved of the program, 42% say they are very concerned the attacks risk lives of innocent civilians.

One of the lesser concerns among the U.S. public at the time of the early 2013 survey was that the drone attacks would damage America’s reputation in the world. Only 26% said they were very concerned about that. About three-in-ten (31%) said they were very concerned about whether the attacks were being conducted legally.

Topics: Asia and the Pacific, U.S. Global Image and Anti-Americanism, Wars and International Conflicts

  1. Photo of Bruce Drake

    is a senior editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. Preston3 years ago

    The same was and is said about snipers and submarines and countries that can buy, build, or train them have them in droves. Who said conflict had to be even or fair?

  2. jojean3 years ago

    I’m disgusted at the idea of drones hovering overhead. I can’t imagine the level of anxiety that must permeate the lives of people trying to live their lives peacefully. So many civilians are being killed and there isn’t any intelligence to support these attacks. Americans are fools to think that this kind of technology won’t be hovering over our heads soon enough; targeting our own citizens, without charges, without trial. Fodder for the metadata skeptics..

  3. Don Albertson4 years ago

    All wars are not fought with tanks, jet aircraft and battleships anymore. We are now in an era of “low intensity” combat and are just learning how to engage effectively in that level of conflict. The “combatants” representing middle-east countries or tribes often do not even wear uniforms, and when they are not on the attack or sneaking around at night to plant a UED in a shopping center or along a busy roadway, they tend to mingle among innocent civilians to avoid being responded to by legitimate troops. So they deserve to be countered by tactics that used to be unconventional. The use of drones equipped with precision targeting capabilities and air-to-surface missiles is an effective way to sniff-out and destroy these cowardly fighters and their leaders who refuse to stand up and fight on a field of combat. They may dress as civilians, and may hide among them for safety, but they are warriors and are responsible for the others around them, women and children included, who are brought into harms way by their own tactics. Better that their “true civilians” rather than our young service men and women should be wasted in defending their homeland, and better that we lose drones rather than our young people who are trying to help them.

  4. JIM4 years ago


  5. abhishek sharma4 years ago

    Israel on the top and Palestine at the bottom – That’s quite humorous and shows that the survey is genuine.

    I wonder why Pew Research never shows data about survey in India. In the last survey, i read that there were some security concerns but since Pakistan is included every time, am i to believe Pakistan is safer than India…..

  6. REDPILLED4 years ago

    Despite the propaganda spewed out by the U.S. and swallowed by 61% of its gullible, fearful population, drone warfare is illegal and constitutes aggressive, undeclered war, the supreme international crime according to the Nuremberg Tribunals. All U.S. administrations since 1945 have been guilty of continuous war crimes.

  7. Sarah Lentz4 years ago

    I would hope the main concern is whether innocent people are endangered by these drones. How can the drone controllers be certain that innocent people won’t be killed along with the terrorist targets?

    1. jojean3 years ago

      THEY CAN’T!!!! Do some research. They target SIM cards without even knowing who is holding the phone. What about that wedding party that was slaughtered?