SOCIAL RESEARCH ON TECHNOLOGY AND THE POLICY AGENDA: AN EXAMPLE FROM THE STRATEGIC ARMS RACE
Most research on the relationship between technology and the arms race deals with the impact of new technologies which are somehow 'given'. This chapter argues for serious consideration of the 'reverse' influence: how are new technologies themselves, and perceptions of the capabilities of these technologies, socially shaped?
Concentrating on technologies of missile guidance, which are central because of the role of highly accurate missiles in apparently making possible pre-emptive nuclear attacks, we first investigate the social processes underlying confidence or lack of confidence in missile accuracy figures. This is followed by an attack on the conventional, technologically determinist, interpretation of the growth of missile accuracy. The future of missile guidance technology is much less certain, and the opportunities for arms control intervention much greater, than this conventional interpretation allows.
Our general conclusion is that research on the shaping of technology is necessary to healthy policy debate for at least three reasons:
1. to prevent the over-narrowing of the policy agenda by mistaken technologically-determinist assumptions, assumptions that are often implicit in studies focusing only on the effects of technological change;
2. to help identify opportunities for productive policy intervention;
3. to enhance, amongst those who make use of expert knowledge