Armed Remotely Piloted Aircraft and the ‘War on Terror’ - Elite Strategic Narrative, News Media Content and Public Opinion Formation. A Multinational, Mixed Methods Study.

Gill Griffiths-Jones

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates key determinants in the formation of public opinion on the use of armed remotely piloted aircraft (aRPA), a relatively new and somewhat controversial technology used in post-9/11 counter-terrorist activities. Highly variable public support across countries and news reporting critical of their use prompted this mixed methods study. Existing research rarely investigates the formation of opinion on a multi-disciplinary basis and this study’s quantitative models were informed using prior findings from both IR and Political Communications work. Additionally, the study investigates opinion formation on aRPAs through varying theoretical lenses, also using a qualitative strategic narrative analysis to investigate how and when elite narratives are projected in news media coverage and when they are challenged.

The study’s findings contribute to the existing literature. Firstly, they advance quantitative findings on opinion formation on the use of aRPAs by demonstrating the relative contribution of ‘contextual’ factors, including military deaths, media content and threat perception, on attitude formation – whilst also validating the importance of personal or predispositional factors. Secondly, the study identifies nuanced cross-national differences in opinion formation on aRPAs between the US, UK and Germany. Thirdly, the qualitative study findings demonstrate that variables shown to be statistically significant in opinion formation on aRPAs, military deaths and the perception of threat, were heavily entwined in elite narration on their use and further projected in news media content. Finally, the study found that whereas elite narrative was often heavily replicated in news media content - where that narrative was mis-aligned with aspects of prevailing national identity or system narratives, news media coverage was substantially more challenging of elite actions. Results suggest that opinion formation is a complex, dynamic and often contextual process, particularly across borders, and not readily explained by one perspective alone.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • O'Loughlin, Ben, Supervisor
  • Smets, Kaat, Supervisor
Award date1 Jan 2024
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Armed Drone
  • Armed Remotely Piloted Aircraft
  • Public Opinion
  • Strategic Narrative
  • News Media Coverage
  • War on Terror
  • Use of Force

Cite this