Game of Drones: The Effect of Remote Warfighting Technology on Conflict Escalation (Evidence from Wargames)
48 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2018
Date Written: September 5, 2018
Scholars, policymakers, and pundits have argued that drone proliferation will have destabilizing effects on the international security environment. By removing pilots from harm’s way, drones allow states to launch military operations without the political risks associated with sending service members into battle. Even though drones significantly reduce the political and operational risk of military action and may increase the likelihood of conflict onset, technology that removes warfighters from the battlefield may actually allow states to avoid escalatory spirals. To identify the effect of drones on escalation dynamics, I develop a theory of technology-enabled stability. This theory expects that 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 and more destabilizing conflicts. To test this argument, I develop a novel methodological approach – embedding experimental manipulations into wargames played by teams of military personnel. The wargames demonstrate that drones help limit escalation and highlight the utility of experimental wargaming as a new tool for international relations research. The findings counter existing theories that contend that technologies that lower the human cost of military operations are destabilizing and have implications for the future of armed conflict and coercive diplomacy.
Keywords: wargame, experimental wargaming, drones, escalation, crises
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