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Drones, Surveillance, and Violence: Theory and Evidence from a US Drone Program

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International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 63, page(s): 846–862

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Abstract

We investigate the impact of the US drone program in Pakistan on insurgent violence. Using details about US-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation and geocoded violence data, we show that the program was associated with monthly reductions of around nine to thirteen insurgent attacks and fifty-one to eighty-six casualties in the area affected by the program. This change was sizable, as in the year before the program, the affected area experienced around twenty-one attacks and one hundred casualties per month. Additional quantitative and qualitative evidence suggests that this drop is attributable to the drone program. However, the damage caused in strikes during the program cannot fully account for the reduction. Instead, anticipatory effects induced by the program played a prominent role in subduing violence. These effects stemmed from the insurgents’ perception of the risk of being targeted in drone strikes; their efforts to avoid targeting severely compromised their movement and communication abilities, in addition to eroding within-group trust. These findings contrast with prominent perspectives on air-power, counterinsurgency, and US counterterrorism, suggesting select drone deployments can be an effective tool of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.

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