This article explores and attempts to define the emerging concept of the humanitarian drone by critically examining actual and anticipated transfers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, from the global battlespace to the humanitarian emergency zone. Focusing on the relationship between the diffusion of new technology and institutional power, we explore the humanitarian drone as a ‘war dividend’ arising from the transfer of surveillance UAVs, cargo-carrying UAVs and weaponised UAVs. We then reflect on the ways in which military practices and rationales guiding drone deployment may also shape humanitarian use, giving particular attention to the concept of surgical precision, the implications of targeting logic, and the ambiguous role of distance. Next, we consider the broader implications for humanitarian action, including the promise of global justice and improved aid delivery. Finally, we analyse the most difficult aspect of the humanitarian drone: namely, its political currency as a ‘humanitarian weapon’ in conflict scenarios.
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