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International Security (2022) 46 (4): 130–171.
Published: 01 April 2022
AbstractView article PDF
According to the accepted wisdom in security studies, unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, have revolutionizing effects on war and world politics. Drones allegedly tilt the military balance in favor of the offense, reduce existing asymmetries in military power between major and minor actors, and eliminate close combat from modern battlefields. A new theory about the hider-finder competition between air penetration and air defense shows that drones are vulnerable to air defenses and electronic warfare systems, and that they require support from other force structure assets to be effective. This competition imposes high costs on those who fail to master the set of tactics, techniques, procedures, technologies, and capabilities necessary to limit exposure to enemy fire and to detect enemy targets. Three conflicts that featured extensive employment of drones—the Western Libya military campaign of the second Libyan civil war (2019–2020), the Syrian civil war (2011–2021), and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (2020)—probe the mechanisms of the theory. Drones do not by themselves produce the revolutionary effects that many have attributed to them.
International Security (2019) 44 (2): 185–192.
Published: 01 October 2019
Why China Has Not Caught Up Yet: Military-Technological Superiority and the Limits of Imitation, Reverse Engineering, and Cyber Espionage
International Security (2019) 43 (3): 141–189.
Published: 01 February 2019
AbstractView article PDF
Can countries easily imitate the United States' advanced weapon systems and thus erode its military-technological superiority? Scholarship in international relations theory generally assumes that rising states benefit from the “advantage of backwardness.” That is, by free riding on the research and technology of the most advanced countries, less developed states can allegedly close the military-technological gap with their rivals relatively easily and quickly. More recent works maintain that globalization, the emergence of dual-use components, and advances in communications have facilitated this process. This literature is built on shaky theoretical foundations, however, and its claims lack empirical support. In particular, it largely ignores one of the most important changes to have occurred in the realm of weapons development since the second industrial revolution: the exponential increase in the complexity of military technology. This increase in complexity has promoted a change in the system of production that has made the imitation and replication of the performance of state-of-the-art weapon systems harder—so much so as to offset the diffusing effects of globalization and advances in communications. An examination of the British-German naval rivalry (1890–1915) and China's efforts to imitate U.S. stealth fighters supports these findings.