Technology, Weapons, and International Conflict
"Advancements" in military technology over time have enabled countries to kill quickly, with pinpoint precision, and on a massive scale from thousands of miles away. Today, emerging technologies also empower state and non-state actors to use lethal force via remote control and may even allow machines to kill autonomously. While once the purview of science fiction, lethal autonomous weapons systems–––sometimes referred to as killer robots–––are becoming a reality. This course will trace developments in military technology from the gunpowder revolution in the 15th century and the nuclear revolution in the 20th century to emerging technologies like drones and artificial intelligence in the 21st century. Each class will focus on–––in roughly chronological order–––a different military innovation, and will use that innovation to analyze a different major political science theory or debate. In particular, we will assess the development, spread, effectiveness, and morality of military innovations and address critical questions for scholarship and policy. Are nuclear weapons a net positive or negative for international security, and will they ever be employed again or is there a “taboo” against their use? Do drone strikes increase or decrease terrorism, and what impact do remotely controlled systems have on conflict between states? Does military technology determine victory and defeat on the battlefield, and how have technologically inferior actors like the Viet Cong, Mujahideen, and Taliban managed to beat superpowers such as the Soviet Union, and United States? Why are some countries able to successfully innovate whereas others fail? Do states always pursue military technologies to improve their security, or does the desire for status and prestige sometimes impact the kinds of weapons states want? Could the use of lethal autonomous weapons ever be considered ethical? These are just a handful of the questions we will explore in this class. By the end of the course, students will have a grasp of the history of military innovation and many of the key debates and theories in this field.
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