Game of Drones: The Effect of Remote Warfighting Technology on Conflict Escalation



Erik Lin-Greenberg, CISAC

Date and Time

April 4, 2019 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Abstract: Many scholars and policymakers argue that drone proliferation will be destabilizing. By removing pilots from harm’s way, drones allow states to launch military operations without the political risks of sending troops into battle. Although these reduced risks may increase the likelihood of conflict onset, technology that removes warfighters from the battlefield may actually help states avoid escalatory spirals. To identify the effect of drones on escalation dynamics, I develop a theory of technology-enabled escalation control: 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 more destabilizing conflicts. To test this argument, I develop a novel methodological approach – embedding experimental manipulations into wargames played by military personnel. The wargames demonstrate that drones can limit escalation and showcase wargaming as a tool for international relations research. 


Speaker Bio: Erik Lin-Greenberg is a Predoctoral Fellow at CISAC and a PhD candidate in political science at Columbia University. His dissertation assesses the effects of emerging technology on military escalation. In other work, Erik examines alliance dynamics, the interaction of technology and international law, and the determinants of military force structure. His research has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of outlets including Security Studies, International Peacekeeping, War on the Rocks, and The Washington Post. Erik previously served as an active duty U.S. Air Force officer, and he continues to serve as a reservist assigned to the Joint Staff.



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