The proliferation of drones to violent nonstate actors

Kerry Chávez, Ori Swed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Scholarship on the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) mainly focuses on states’ use, sidestepping the consequential proliferation of drone technology to violent nonstate actors (VNSAs). Meanwhile, an increasing corpus of media, military, and policy publications underscores the latter’s importance. The source of the gap is that existing proliferation models overlook civilian drone technologies. Applying supply- and demand-side proliferation models, we confirm conventional wisdom that military-grade drones are not likely to proliferate to VNSAs. Including civilian drones inverts proliferation logic across the boards. Shifting from cost-prohibitive, inaccessible, and technically complex military technologies to cheap, simple civilian platforms, we demonstrate that VNSAs have the resources, capacity, and interest to effectively incorporate drone programs to advance their aims. Furthermore, in context of state and nonstate actors’ security environments and normative constraints, the proliferation of civilian drones matters for international security. Norm-abiding states need expensive, high-performance, norm-enabling drones. For norm-defying VNSAs, civilian platforms are sufficient, even efficient, to advance their agendas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalDefence Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Proliferation
  • drones
  • international security
  • terrorism
  • unmanned aerial vehicles


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