On March 13 and 14, a German court considered two challenges to the U.S. drone program in the Middle East and East Africa. Both cases, brought before the Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster, assert that Germany bears legal responsibility for the consequences of U.S.-led drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia that were conducted from the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein base, located in southwestern Germany.
Few new technologies are as closely identified with American counterterrorism, or have proven as controversial, as drones. These unmanned aerial vehicles are not necessarily military; increasingly, drones are used by civilian law enforcement, and may soon be used to provide wireless service in Africa or for instant deliveries across the United States. Even these civilian uses raise important privacy questions. But it is drones' emergence as a missile platform that has made them such a lightning rod for criticism and human rights anxiety. Increasingly, critics worry that the technology has lowered the costs of war and that their use carries deceptively heavy burdens for operators.