From Europe to Asia to Latin America, the World Hates America's Drones

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A global opinion poll found widespread (though not quite universal) opposition to U.S. drone strikes.

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A U.S. Navy handout photo shows an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone in flight. (Reuters)

The Pew Research Center recently released its latest Pew Global Attitudes Project public opinion survey, conducted in 21 countries in March and April of this year through phone or in-person interviews. The results lead with the headline (which shouldn't come as a shock to anyone following U.S. targeted killing policies) "Drone Strikes Widely Opposed."

Of the twenty-one countries that were polled, only Pakistanis' opinions were not released in this poll--according to a footnote, "A different question about drone strikes was asked in Pakistan and will be released in a subsequent report." Participants in the other twenty countries were asked the following question:

"Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?"

The only country in which a majority of respondents (62 percent) approved of U.S. drone strikes was the United States. Interestingly, this marks a significant decline from a February Washington Post poll that found 83 percent of Americans supported the use of drones "against terrorist suspects overseas."

Outside of the United States, however, the overwhelming majority of respondents oppose drone strikes in seventeen of the twenty countries, including among U.S. allies or partners: Greece (90 percent), Egypt (89 percent), Jordan (85 percent), Turkey (81 percent), Spain (76 percent), Brazil (76 percent), Japan (75 percent), and Mexico (73 percent). The only two outliers were Great Britain, where only 47 percent oppose drone strikes, and India, where 47 percent did not answer the question at all.

Another notable finding was the gender gap of support for U.S. drone strikes. In the ten countries for which a male to female breakdown was provided, markedly more men approved of the attacks than women: Brazil (26 to 12 percent), Germany (54 to 24 percent), and Japan (32 to 11 percent), and the United States (74 to 51 percent).

Despite the seemingly pervasive opposition by their citizens, the leaders in these countries have either explicitly supported U.S. drone strikes by hosting them on their air bases, or implicitly by refusing to raise the issue in international forums where the U.S. human rights record could be debated, such as the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review. Faced with escalating drone missions in an increasing set of countries, most governments are simply silent.

If the United States has learned anything from the Arab Spring, it is that the voices of disaffected citizens must be accounted for when planning and conducting foreign policy. In many countries--most notably Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen--CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) drone strikes are the face of U.S. foreign policy. This recent poll should serve as an impetus for the relevant House and Senate foreign relations committees, which currently have zero oversight over U.S. targeted killing policies, to bring these issues to light and debate how they fit into broader, long-term foreign policy objectives.

This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.

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Micah Zenko is a Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World. He writes regularly at Politics, Power, and Preventative Action.

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