(War)Game of Drones: Remote Warfighting Technology and Escalation Control (Evidence from Wargames)
49 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2018 Last revised: 25 Jun 2019
Date Written: September 5, 2018
Dominant international relations theories suggest that technologies that reduce the cost and risk of military operations lead states to resort to force more frequently, destabilizing the international security environment. New weapons – like drones – raise questions about these logics. While drones eliminate the risk to friendly personnel in a way that increases the likelihood of military operations, technology that removes friendly troops from the battlefield may actually help states avoid escalatory spirals. To probe the effects of drones on escalation, I develop a theory of remote-controlled restraint: when used when used as a substitute for manned assets, drones increase the frequency of conflict between actors, but limit the intensity of these disputes by decreasing pressures for retaliation. This restrained retaliation prevents crises from spiraling into broader conflicts. To test this argument, I employ a novel methodological approach – embedding experimental manipulations into wargames played by military personnel. The findings have implications for the future of armed conflict and the study of escalation. The project also showcases wargaming as a tool for international relations research.
Keywords: wargame, experimental wargaming, drones, escalation, crises
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