Article: The Political Economy of Drones

In their 2013 article, Abigail Hall and Christopher Coyne investigate in the most classic sense the ‘Political Economy of Drones’ and open up interesting, empirical perspectives on the historical developments of public-private linkages and their impact on the deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) that are relevant for today’s emerging Military-Industrial-Commercial complex’.

Find the article here.

With great attention to detail, they discuss the evolution of the military-industrial complex around the US-Navy in the early 20th century, the importance of the two World Wars in manifesting a ‘permanent war economy’, and the growing interest in UAV for reconnaissance missions during the Cold War. They describe the rapid development of drone technology, which was accompanied by an increasing concentration of suppliers, boosting their political influence. At the same time, the changing geopolitical situation led to a growing importance of remote technologies to respond to changing forms and structures of war. All these parallel developments around the new millennium formed the basis for an unprecedented governmental demand for drones, which was not only stimulated, but further boosted, by the industry’s Big Players (Lockheed Martin, Northrop, Boeing, General Dynamics, and General Atomics). Their lobbying expenditures skyrocketed, and more and more former government officials switched sides to campaign for the industry.

In summary, the paper illustrates in a very structured way how the constant merging of political and economic spheres through financial transactions and human transitions influenced the dynamics and strategies of warfare and thus served as fuel for its ongoing remotification.

Today, ten years later, we are in the midst of a second drone age in which 38 countries have armed drones and 11 countries deploy them (New America’s ‘World of Drones’-project). With this proliferation the drone industry is booming. Moreover, advanced militaries seek to make these uncrewed system increasingly autonomous. A powerful group of tech-companies, such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon are feeding into this demand. At IRW we define this as the emerging Military-Industrial-Commercial complex (Gould et al. 2023). This demands a new political economy analysis.

This post was written by IRW LAB student Laszlo Steinwärder