After the war in Ukraine, many people have commented that the conflict changed the methods of traditional war. The drones built by Iran puncture Kyiv’s skies almost every day, while those manufactured from Turkey and America cover Ukraine’s troops for surveillance purposes and the deployment of remote-controlled weapons. This conflict demonstrates the increasing tendency towards deploying drones, but the most important significance is that exporting drones has now become an instrument of diplomacy. 

Due to the growing demand for drones, drone diplomacy is on the rise. Countries’ defence and foreign policy ambitions now hinge on possessing remote-controlled weapons. Drones can keep crews away from the frontlines, minimizing risk to personnel, allowing commanders undertake risky attacks or perform intelligence-gathering missions on drone-exclusive missions. Meanwhile, drones can be deployed to provide a bird’s-eye view to ground forces, and offer air support. During the conflict, Russia uses drones frequently to strike well-defended targets of Ukraine instead of using manned attack aircraft. Otherwise, drones are commonly cheaper and easier to operate and maintain than missiles and aircrafts. Those reasons lead to a huge demand of drones, and cause those drone exporting states to increase their global clout.

Selling drones in the high demand time increases those supply states diplomatic power in three ways. First, providing drones deepens ties with the client governments. Exporting drones is not merely the transfer of machinery, typically it also consists of long-term training, logistics assistance and maintenance agreements, and at the same time the importing states rely on exporting states for updates and replacement parts. Through supplying drones, these connections produce new pathways for swaying policymaking from exporting state.

Second, suppliers can compete with rivals through drone exports. Exporting drones can challenge regional foes. For instance, Tehran armed its proxies to attack targets in Israel, and Gulf-Arab states. Otherwise, drone transfers engage farther afield. When Iran sells drones to Russia, it not only supports attacks on Ukraine but also showcases its capacities to act against the US in a future conflict. In addition, although Tehran’s drone exports triggered new sanctions, for the pariah state Iran, cementing ties with Russia seems to outweigh these risks. 

Last, supplier states can extract concessions from their clients through drone transfers. The drone transfer by Turkey provided enough leverage to sway the United Arab Emirates to restrict the social media access of a Turkish mafia boss turned whistleblower who is living in Dubai, according to AI-Monitor.

The war in Ukraine manifests the significance of international security. Drone diplomacy capitalizes on state capacities by deepening ties with client states, countering rivals and extracting concessions. Drones are not just a battlefield weapon but a diplomatic instrument.       

Written by Eddie C.

Edited by Ari B.