Science And The Military Research Paper

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Technology has changed warfare since time immemorial. The invention of gunpowder, artillery, and rifles revolutionized warfare. Individual scientists, for centuries, have advised the military on specific problems: Archimedes reportedly helped the tyrant of Syracuse in devising new weaponry against the Romans in 212 BC; Leonardo da Vinci supplied us with a variety of drawings of new armaments; and, since the emergence of ‘modern’ science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many prominent scientists, including Tartaglia, Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Bernouilli, and Euler, have devoted some of their time and intellect to helping solve military problems.

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This research paper first argues that World War II and the subsequent Cold War produced a dramatic change in the way scientists became involved in the weapons innovation process. Next, it shows that concerns about the resulting ‘arms race’ brought about a new type of studies—defense technology assessment studies—that dealt with the impact of new weapons systems on national and international security. Many of the newly developed weapons were perceived to have a negative impact, which raised the question of whether and how the weapons innovation process could be influenced. The paper discusses a variety of analytical approaches aimed at understanding the dynamics of the weapons innovation process. It argues that a sociotechnical network approach is the most promising one to provide valuable insights for influencing this innovation process. This approach also provides a suitable framework for investigating the relationship between civil and military technological innovation, a subject of growing interest that is discussed in the final section.

1. Weapons Innovation Becomes Organized

World War II produced a dramatic change in the way scientists became involved in military matters. Science and scientists in great numbers were mobilized for weapons innovation in a highly organized and concentrated effort. In the USA these scientists contributed, mainly under the auspices of the newly established Office of Scientific Research and Development, to the development of a variety of new technologies, including the atomic bomb, radar, the proximity fuse, and also penicillin. The decisive contribution of scientists to these war efforts implied a fundamental shift in the role of science and technology in future military affairs.

Immediately after the war, US science policy pioneer Vannevar Bush (1945), drawing on the war experience, advised the President:

[t]here must be more—and more adequate—military research in peacetime. It is essential that the civilian scientists continue in peacetime some portion of those contributions to national security which they have made so effectively during the war.

His advice stood in sharp contrast to Thomas Alva Edison’s suggestion, many years before, during World War I, to the Navy, that it should bring into the war effort at least one physicist in case it became necessary to ‘calculate something’ (Gilpin 1962, p. 10).

For the first time in history military research and development (R&D) became a large-scale institutionalized process even in peacetime, indeed on a scale not seen before; it was legitimized as well as fueled by the climate of the Cold War. In the decades following the war, weapons were replaced in a rapid process of ‘planned obsolescence.’ The R&D was carried out in national laboratories, the defense industry, laboratories of the military services, and at universities to varying degrees in different countries. A United Nations study of 1981 estimated that annually some $100 billion, that is, some 20–25 percent of all R&D expenditures, were devoted to military R&D.

The resulting ‘qualitative’ arms race in nuclear, conventional, and biological and chemical weapons between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War raised the question of whether national and international security actually decreased, rather than increased, as a result of ‘destabilizing’ weapons innovations. A related question was whether military technological developments could be steered or directed so as not to undermine international arms control agreements. After the end of the Cold War in 1990, observers wondered why, particularly in the Western industrialized countries, military R&D efforts continued nearly unabated, while the original threat had disappeared.

The systematic and organized involvement of science and technology in developing new armaments raised more questions of both societal and socialscientific interest. For instance, to what extent have military R&D and defense relations influenced academic research (mainly a concern in the USA) and the course—or even the content—of scientific and technological developments more generally? What is the relationship between (developments in) civil and military technology: are these separate developments or do they, on the contrary, profit from each other through processes of diffusion and spin-off?

Addressing these questions has become an interdisciplinary task, drawing on and integrating insights from many fields. This challenge has been taken up, though still on a limited scale, within the framework of the science and technology (S&T) studies that have emerged since the 1970s.

This research paper focuses on the origin and nature of ‘defense technology assessment studies’ and the related research on possibilities for influencing the weapons innovation process.

2. Defense Technology Assessment Studies

The declared purpose of weapons innovation is enhancing national security (often broadly interpreted as including intervention and power projection). However, during the Cold War many argued that the evercontinuing weapons innovation process was actually counter-productive. The issue was not only that the huge amounts spent on armament might be a waste of resources, but also that the huge military R&D effort and the resulting new weapons caused a rapid decrease rather than an increase of national security (e.g., York 1971, p. 228).

Since the 1960s, many studies, often carried out by scientists who had become concerned about the escalating arms race, have dealt with the impact of new weapons systems and new military technologies on national and international security. These studies pointed out, for instance, that the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems, consisting of many land-based anti- missile missiles, as proposed by the USA in the 1960s, would actually stimulate the Soviet Union to deploy even more nuclear missiles. Also, a similar ABM system by the Soviet Union would trigger the USA to deploy multi-warhead missiles (MIRVs—Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles). These missiles, carrying up to twelve nuclear warheads, could thus saturate the capabilities of the Soviet ABM interception missiles. Actually, the development and deployment of MIRVed missiles by the USA even preceded a possible Soviet ABM system. As the then US Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, wrote (quoted in Allison and Morris 1975, p. 118):

Because the Soviet Union might [emphasis in original] deploy extensive ABM defenses, we are making some very important changes in our strategic missile forces. Instead of a single large warhead our missiles are now being designed to carry several small warheads … . Deployment by the Soviets of a ballistic missile defense of their cities will not improve their situation. We have already [emphasis added] taken the necessary steps to guarantee that our strategic offensive forces will be able to overcome such a defense.

This weapons innovation ‘dynamics’ was aptly encapsulated by Jerome Wiesner, former science adviser to President John F. Kennedy, as ‘we are in an arms race with ourselves—and we are winning.’ In the 1990s, when the USA continued its efforts to develop anti-satellite (ASAT) technology capable of destroying an adversary’s satellites, Wiesner’s words might rightly have been paraphrased as ‘we are in an arms race with ourselves—and we are losing.’ For the irony here is that it is the US military system that, more than any other country’s defense system, is dependent on satellites (for communication, reconnaissance, eavesdropping, and so on), which would be highly vulnerable to a hostile ASAT system. The most likely route, however, for hostile countries to obtain the advanced ASAT technology would not be through their own R&D, but through the proliferation, that is, diffusion of US ASAT technology, once it had been developed. Again, the USA would very likely decrease rather than increase its own security by developing ASAT technology.

Many of the early and later ‘impact assessments’ of weapons innovations assessed their potential of circumventing and undermining existing international agreements that aimed to halt the arms race, like the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (1972) and the accompanying Strategic Arms Limitation Agreements (SALT, 1972), the SALT II Treaty (1979), and a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT, 1996). In addition, assessments were made, both by independent scientists and governmental agencies, of the potential of civil technologies to spill over into military applications: for in such cases, countries could, under the guise of developing civil technologies make all preparations needed for developing nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

Through these ‘dual-use’ technologies, a proliferation of weapons could occur, or at least the threshold lowered for obtaining those weapons, without formally violating the Non Proliferation Treaty (1971), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (1996), the Bio-logical Weapons Convention (1972), or the Chemical Weapons Convention (1993). The Arms Control readings (York 1973) from the Magazine Scientific American provide an instructive sample of early defense technology assessments.

In the 1980s, both the USA and NATO emphasized the importance of a stronger conventional defense, which was then believed to be feasible because of new ‘emerging technologie s,’ including sensor and guidance technologies, C I (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence) technologies (like real time data processing), electronic warfare, and a variety of new missiles and munitions. The emphasis on high technology in the conventional weapons area, in its turn, triggered a great variety of studies (pro and con) by academic and other defense analysts, not only in the USA, but also in Europe. These included analyses of the technical feasibility of the proposed systems, the affordability of acquiring sufficient numbers of ever more costly weapons, and the associated consequences for national defense and international security.

The results of these defense technology assessments were fed into the public discussion, with the aim of containing the arms race and reaching international arms control agreements, or preventing their erosion.

The impact of these assessments on the weapons innovation process and its accompanying military R&D was often limited. Many, therefore, considered the weapons innovation process to be ‘out of control,’ providing another topic of S&T studies on military technology.

3. Influencing The Weapons Innovation Process

What does it mean to ‘bring weapons innovation under political control’? The concept seems obvious at one level but it is actually not trivial and needs elaboration.

In national politics there is often no consensus on the kinds of armament that are desirable or necessary. Those who say that politics is not in control may actually mean that developments are not in accordance with their political preferences, whereas those who are quite content with current developments may be inclined to say that politics is in control. Neither position is analytically satisfactory. But neither is it satisfactory to say that politics is in control simply because actual weapons innovations are the outcome of the political process, which includes lobbying of defense contractors, interservice rivalry, bureaucratic politics, arguments over ideology and strategic concepts, and so forth, as Greenwood (1990) has suggested. Rather than speaking of control, one should ask whether it would be possible to influence the innovation process in a systematic way, or to steer it according to some guiding principle (Smit 1989). This implies that the basic issue of ‘control,’ even for those who are content with current developments, concerns whether it would be possible to change their course if this was desired.

A plethora of studies have appeared on what has been called the technological arms race (see e.g. Gleditsch and Njolstad 1990). Many of them deal with what President Eisenhower in his much-cited farewell address called the military-industrial complex, later extended to include the bureaucracy as well. These studies belong to what has been called the bureaucratic-politics school or domestic structure model (Buzan 1987, Chap. 7), in contrast to the actionreaction models (Buzan 1987, Chap. 6), which focus on interstate interactions as an explanation of the dynamics of the arms race. A third approach, the technological imperative model (Buzan 1987, Chap. 8) sees technological change as an independent factor in the arms race, causing an unavoidable advance in military technology, if only for its links with civil technological progress—though a link whose importance is under debate (see also the last section of this research paper). By contrast, Ellis (1987), in his social history of the machine gun, has shown the intricate interweaving of weapons innovation with social, military, cultural, and political factors. To some extent, these studies might be considered complementary, focusing on different elements in a complex pattern of weapons development and procurement. For instance, the ‘reaction’ behavior in the interstate model might be translated into the ‘legitimation’ process of domestically driven weapons developments.

Many of these studies are of a descriptive nature. Some (Allison and Morris 1975, Brooks 1975, Kaldor 1983) are more analytical and try to identify important determinants in the arms race. These factors are predominantly internal to each nation and partly linked up with the lengthy process—10 to 15 years—of the development of new weapons systems. Other studies (Rosen 1991, Demchak 1991) relate military innovation, including military technology, to institutional and organizational military factors and to the role of civilians. There are quite a number of case studies on the development of specific weapons systems, and empirical studies on the structure of defense industries (Ball and Leitenberg 1983, Kolodziej 1987, Gansler 1980, 1987) or arms procurement processes (Cowen 1986, Long and Reppy 1980).

However, hardly any of these studies focus on the question of how the (direction) of the weapons innovation process and the course of military R&D might be influenced. One task for future S&T studies, therefore, would be to combine insights from this great variety of studies for a better understanding of these innovation processes. Some steps have already been taken. The lengthy road of developing new weapons systems implies that it will be hard to halt or even redirect a system at the end when much investment has been made. Influencing weapons innovations, therefore, implies a continuous process of assessment, evaluation, and (re-)directing, starting at the early stages of the R&D process. Just striving for ‘technological superiority,’ one of the traditional guiding principles in weapons development, will lead to what is seemingly an autonomous process. Seemingly, because technology development is never truly autonomous. The appearance of autonomy results from the fact that many actors (i.e., organizations) are involved in developing technology, and no single actor on its own is able to steer the entire development. Rather, all actors involved are connected within a network—we may call it a sociotechnical network—working together and realizing collectively a certain direction in the weapons innovation process.

Network approaches, appearing in several areas of science and technology studies since the mid 1980s, in which the positions, views, interests, and cultures of the actors involved are analyzed, as well as their mutual links and the institutional settings in which the actors operate, open up an interesting road for dealing with the question of influencing military technological developments (Elzen et al. 1996). Such approaches emphasize the interdependencies between the actors and focus on the nature of their mutual interactions.

From a network approach it is evident why one single organization by itself cannot determine technological developments. At the same time, network approaches have the power to analyze the way these developments may be influenced by actors in a network. Networks both enable and constrain the possibilities of influencing technology developments. Analyzing them may provide clues as to how to influence them.

Weapons innovation and its associated military R&D differ in one respect from nearly all other technologies, in that there is virtually only one customer of the end product—that is, the state. (Some civil industries, like nuclear power and telecommunications in the past, also show considerable similarities in market structure—monopolies or oligopolies coupled with one, or at most a few dominant purchasers. They are also highly regulated, and markedly different from the competitive consumer goods sectors (see Gummett 1990). Moreover, only a specific set of actors comprises the sociotechnical networks of military technological developments, including the defense industry, the military, the defense ministry, and the government. The defense ministry, as the sole buyer on the monopsonistic armament market, has a crucial position. In addition, the defense ministry is heavily involved in the whole R&D process by providing, or refunding to industry, much of the necessary funds. Yet the defense ministry, in its turn, is dependent on the other actors, like the defense industry and military laboratories, which provide the technological options from which the defense ministry may choose. S&T studies of this interlocked behavior offer a promising approach for making progress on the issue of regulatory regimes. Not steering from a central position, but adopting instead an approach of ‘decentralized regulation’ in which most actors participate then seems the viable option for influencing military technological developments. In this connection various ‘guiding principles’ could play a role in a regulatory regime for military technological innovation (see also Enserink et al. 1992). Such guiding principles could include the ‘proportionality principle,’ ‘humanitarian principles,’ and ‘limiting weapons effects to the duration of conflict’ (contrary, for instance, to the use of current anti-personnel mines).

Additional phenomena that should in any event be taken into account in such network approaches are the increasing international cooperation and amalgamation of the defense industry, the possibly increasing integration of civil and military technology, and the constraining role of international arms control agreements. The intricate relation between civil and military technology will briefly be discussed in the final section.

4. Integration Of Civil And Military Technology

Sociotechnical network approaches seem particularly useful for studying the relation between civil and military technology. This issue has assumed increasing interest because of the desire to integrate civil and military technological developments. Technologies that have both civil and military applications are called dual-use technologies. The desire for integration originates (a) from the need for lower priced defense products because of reductions in procurement budgets, and (b) from the new situation that in a number of technological sectors innovation in the civil sector has outstripped that in the military sector. Examples of such sectors are computers and information and communication technology, where such integration already emerges. Such integration, of course, could be at odds with a policy of preventing weapons proliferation as discussed before.

Research on the transformations needed to apply civil technologies in the military sector and vice versa have only just begun. The extent to which civil and military technologies diverge depends not only on the diverging needs and requirements, but also on the different institutional, organizational, and cultural contexts in which these developments occur.

Several case studies illustrate how intricately interwoven the characteristics of technology may be with the social context in which it is being developed or in which it functions. MacKenzie (1990) conducted a very detailed study of the development of missile guidance technologies in relation to their social context, and the technological choices made for improving accuracy, not only for missiles but also for aircraft navigation. He showed how different emphases in requirements for missile accuracy and for civil (and military) air navigation resulted in alternative forms of technological change: the former focusing on accuracy, the latter on reliability, producibility, and economy.

A number of historical studies have addressed the question of the relation between civil and military technology. Some of them have shown that in a number of cases in the past, the military successfully guided technological developments in specific directions that also penetrated the civil sector. Smith (1985), for instance, showed that the manufacturing methods based on ‘uniformity’ and ‘standardization’ that emerged in the USA in the nineteenth century, were more or less imposed (though not without difficulties and setbacks) by the Army Ordnance Department’s wish for interchangeable parts. Noble (1985) investigated, from a more normative perspective, three technical changes in which the military have played a crucial role—namely, interchangeable parts manufacture, containerization, and numerical control— arguing that different or additional developments would have been preferable from a different value system. Studies going back to the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, though interesting from a historical perspective, may not always be relevant for modern R&D and current technological innovation processes. Systematic studies of the interrelation between current military and civil technological developments are only of recent date (see Gummett and Reppy 1988). They point out that it may be useful to distinguish not only between different levels of technology, such as generic technologies and materials, components, and systems (Walker et al. 1988), but also between products and manufacturing or processing technologies (Alic et al. 1992). In certain technological areas the distinguishing features between civil and military technology may be found at the level of system integration, rather than at the component level. In conclusion one may say that military technology, for many reasons, is a fascinating field for future science and technology studies: its links with a broad scope of societal institutions, its vital role in international security issues, the need for influencing its development, and its increasing integration with civil technology, particularly in the sector of information and communication technologies, which may revolutionize military affairs.


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