Evaluating Escalation: Conceptualizing Escalation in an Era of Emerging Military Technologies

11 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2022 Last revised: 15 Sep 2022

See all articles by Erik Lin-Greenberg

Erik Lin-Greenberg

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Date Written: September 12, 2022


Escalation is central to many international relations theories. Despite its cornerstone role, conceptualizing and measuring escalation has become increasingly complicated as technologies like cyber and drone warfare proliferate. Existing escalation research often fails to account for emerging technology, and studies that do are often technology-specific, comparing a single “new” technology to “traditional” forces. This siloed approach overlooks variation in the means by which states use force and their relative ordering on the escalation ladder. To address this shortcoming, I introduce a means-based framework for characterizing escalation based on the degree to which military actions are physically present and visible. I then test this framework using data from an original survey fielded on national security practitioners in the United States, India, and Singapore and find broad cross-national agreement on a means-based escalation ladder. This ladder suggests the need for more precise coding schemes than those found in widely-cited militarized dispute datasets.

Keywords: Escalation, Emerging Technology, Militarized Interstate Dispute, Cyber, Drones

Suggested Citation

Lin-Greenberg, Erik, Evaluating Escalation: Conceptualizing Escalation in an Era of Emerging Military Technologies (September 12, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4122262 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4122262

Erik Lin-Greenberg (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

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