Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Daniel Baldino

Second Supervisor

Associate Professor Martin Drum


The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for counterterrorism purposes by the United States within its targeted killing program has been deeply controversial. Used in each presidential administration since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, drones have sparked debate, in part due to their contribution to civilian deaths; their killing of high-value terrorist targets including, on at least one occasion, a US citizen; and the heightened secrecy that has surrounded the program with little formal oversight and, as such, little accountability. This thesis uses this contextual framework – with a particular focus on the administration of President Barack Obama (2009-2017) – to examine the notion of security sector governance and its potential application to the use of drones, along with the usefulness (and limits) of domestic policy frameworks to support the better oversight of drones. Answering the question of how security governance could feasibly help to avoid the drone program’s excessive secrecy, improve oversight arrangements, and move towards the greater accountability of the US drone program, the thesis will propose a security governance framework for the improved use of drones. Such a framework could also feasibly be used in other counterterrorism contexts, too. Indeed, the security governance framework – encapsulated by six specific indicators of security governance (civilian control and accountability mechanisms; the rule of law; transparency; respect for human rights; compliance with international law; and public legitimacy) to which policy proposals can be weighed against – is particularly useful in light of the risk drones pose when used by potential future US presidents who challenge democratic norms and standards; by leaders around the world who have capitalised on the proliferation of drones without clear norms and standards in place; and the risk posed by future weapons technologies such as autonomous weapons systems. In short, the thesis will highlight that security governance can indeed provide a means through which to improve the problems associated with the drone program, to varying degrees of effectiveness, and potentially within a broader context than solely the US domestic drone program.

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