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

By Michael C. Horowitz | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
INTRODUCTION

INNOVATIONS in the production, deployment, and application of military power are crucial to international politics. Unfortunately, most assessments of the international security environment fail to incorporate either the relevance of military innovations or the importance of their spread. For example, in a thirty-year period, from 1850–80, the French Navy became the first to develop shell guns, and the first to deploy a steam-powered warship, an ironclad warship, a mechanically powered submarine, and a steel-hulled warship. These developments should have helped the French Navy gain superiority over its bitter rival, the British Royal Navy, but they did not. Moreover, barely a decade after the introduction of the steel-hulled warship in the 1870s, a new innovative school of naval theorists in the French Navy argued that the future of naval power lay with emerging technologies like torpedo boats and submarines, not the battleship. France was going to jump ahead once again. Yet despite this foresight and demonstrated initiative, most people generally do not consider France a great naval innovator of the period. Why is this? What advantages did it get from its introduction of a series of useful technologies into naval warfare?

The real answer is that the French Navy received no advantage. Unlike the U.S. Navy, whose mastery of the technology and organizational practices associated with carrier warfare provided it with a sustainable edge in naval power in the second half of the twentieth century, the French could not institutionalize their advantage. While the French excelled at inventing new technologies, crippling organizational debates prevented the integration of those technologies into French naval strategy. In each case, the French were the first to introduce a new naval warfare capability, while the British Admiralty appeared, in public, disinterested in French developments. Yet in each case the British, who had been carefully studying French advances in private, quickly adopted the new capabilities, improved on them, and used Great Britain's superior industrial production capabilities to eliminate France's ability to gain a relative power advantage from its inventions.

A prescient analysis in 1902 of submarine warfare by Herbert C. Fyfe, the “Sometime Librarian of the Royal Institution, London,” includes an appendix on the French Navy that expresses French feelings on the matter:

“We have seriously believed,” says a writer in the journal de la Marine,
“that in all the great modifications that have been brought about in the

-1-

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