Despite the Burgeoning Global Demand for Drones, More Countries Are Banning Them

Most of the world, until fairly recently, had no laws in place either limiting or promoting the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).  It’s often been a dramatic incident – such as the 2015 crash of a drone into the president’s home in Japan –  that spurred regulatory action by officials. The initial framework adopted is usually limited to protecting public authority,  including government buildings, military bases, airports and museums.  But as the drone market has developed, the scope and depth of regulation has increased.  Overall, more drone activity is being allowed, and even encouraged, but issues relating to public and private risk are being revisited as more sophisticated drone technology emerges to facilitate a wider range of drone functions.

But not all countries have agreed to go down this road.  Despite the ability of drones to reduce operational costs and enhance efficiency, some countries have decided to ban their manufacture, sale and use.  How many?  In 2020, there were just 15 such countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East.  But in the space of a year, the list had grown to 28, encompassing much of South Asia.  It now stands at 32, according to some estimates, and it could well grow to 40 or more by 2025.  That means a full quarter of the globe might soon choose to exclude itself from participating in the benefits of the burgeoning global drone market.

The question, of course, is why.  Some countries like Cuba have long-standing ideological objections to “Yankee imperialism.”  Likewise, Nicaragua, scene of  the Sandinista Revolution of 1979 and a bloody insurgent war in its aftermath, still harbors a deep antipathy towards the United States and all sources of “capitalist” commercialism.  In Asia and the Pacific Rim, a number of smaller countries already wary of China’s escalating military presence fear that Beijing’s ability to support its long-standing territorial claims with drone surveillance and missiles could one day drag them into war.  All of these fears are likely exaggerated, but for now, at least, abstention from an unfamiliar high-technology market dominated by more affluent great powers seems safer than trying to navigate it, with unpredictable results.

Opposition to drones is most heavily concentrated in a number of African countries, including Algeria, Egypt,  Madagascar and Morocco, and in Bahrain, Iran and Iraq.  Some of these countries do allow for limited commercial use, but permits are difficult to obtain.  As a rule, countries with authoritarian regimes tend to view drones as a potential threat to government control and are more likely to ban them.  The most notable outlier is France, which alone in the West, has instituted a harsh ban.  The reason?  Government drone surveillance – which caused a stir several years ago – is viewed as a prospective threat to civil liberties.

At least one region of the world bans drones outright due to the terms of an international treaty.  In Antarctica, the entire continent is recognized by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) as a natural reserve dedicated to science and peace.  To protect wildlife and conserve the natural environment all commercial and private drone use is prohibited  (In fact, many countries, including the US, ban all drone use in national parks for the same reason).

It’s worth noting that less than 50 countries currently have drone laws of any kind.  The phenomenon is still so new that most of the world remains unsure about how to react.  Some, choosing to be “safe rather than sorry,” have decided to ban drones outright or almost completely – for now.  Others are simply on the fence and will likely see how the market develops before instituting their own drone regulations.  In the end, burgeoning interest among the world’s citizens, anxious to experience a popular trend that promises more excitement and more fun, may well force governments opposing drones to reevaluate their position.

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