Game of Drones: The Effect of Remote Warfighting Technology on Conflict Escalation (Evidence from Wargames)

48 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2018

See all articles by Erik Lin-Greenberg

Erik Lin-Greenberg

Columbia University, Department of Political Science ; Stanford University - Center for International Security and Cooperation

Date Written: September 5, 2018

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Lin-Greenberg, Erik, Game of Drones: The Effect of Remote Warfighting Technology on Conflict Escalation (Evidence from Wargames) (September 5, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3288988 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3288988

Erik Lin-Greenberg (Contact Author)

Columbia University, Department of Political Science ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Stanford University - Center for International Security and Cooperation ( email )

Stanford University
Encina Hall E202
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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