The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics

By Michael C. Horowitz | Go to book overview
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This book examines the spread of military power throughout the international system, explaining how variations in the diffusion of new military innovations influence international politics, especially the balance of power and warfare. States have a number of possible strategic choices when faced with military innovations, including adoption, offsetting or countering, forming alliances, and shifting toward neutrality. My theory, named adoption-capacity theory, argues that for any given innovation, the financial resources and organizational changes required for adoption govern the system-level distribution of responses and influence the choices of individual states.

As the cost per unit of the technological components of a military innovation increases and fewer commercial applications exist, the rate of adoption decreases and alternatives like forming alliances become more attractive. Similarly, if implementing an innovation requires large-scale organizational changes in recruitment, training, and war-fighting doctrine, fewer actors are likely to adopt it. While higher financial requirements generally mean adoption patterns will benefit preexisting wealthy and powerful states, however, higher organizational change requirements can handicap the wealthiest states, and upset the balance of power toward smaller and more nimble actors.

Using multiple methods ranging from large-n statistical tests to the in-depth analysis of primary sources, I test the theory on four cases: nuclear weapons, battlefleet warfare, carrier warfare, and suicide bombing. The results strongly support the theory, and the suicide-bombing case demonstrates its conceptual reach beyond state military organizations to explain a key trend in international politics. This chapter views suicide bombing as an innovation, and discusses how financial and organizational constraints influence terrorist groups' decisions. For example, the high organizational change requirements for adoption explain why older, previously successful terrorist groups like the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and the Basque Fatherland and Freedom Group (ETA) did not adopt suicide terrorism, but Al Qaeda did. The conclusion moves forward and examines the way potential information age shifts in the production of military power could influence the future of the international security environment for both state and nonstate actors, including the United States, China, and Al Qaeda.

I have been fortunate to receive tremendous support at every step along the way in the long process of writing this book, incurring a great number of intellectual debts. While any errors in this work are most certainly mine and mine alone, there would definitely have been many more without the help of a great number of people.


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