85003 - Technology and international Relations

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

The course aims to provide students with advanced knowledge of the interplay between technological change and international politics, by looking at a) how theories of International Relations address technological change; b) how military organizations have dealt with the introduction of new technologies; and c) how nations have been promoting technology and innovation policies as a key element to advance their standing in the international arena. At the end of the course students will acquire skills that allow them to address complex problems of political analysis underpinning innovation policy and organizational design.

Course contents

Technology is a key source of power, and technological change deeply affects international relations. At the same time, technology is not an autonomous factor in producing change: societal, political, economic and organizational factors interact with technological ones in shaping transformation in the international system. The course addresses the interplay between technology and (international) politics looking at a) the evolution of military technologies, b) how technology affects power distribution in the international system, and c) what states can do to develop effective (military) technologies. Section 1 is an introduction on the overall structure and rational of the course and discusses the role of technology in International Relations theory and in the modern international system. Section II looks at the evolution of military technology, focusing on the changes occurred in land warfare (namely concentrating on tanks), the scientific and industrial bases of aerial warfare and the “atomic revolution”, and the impact of robotics on present and future wars. Section III looks at the strategies that states can devise in order to increase their technological edge (or to fill a gap). Insights coming from literature on National Innovation Systems relevant to national security will be analyzed. Section IV is constituted by an exercise aiming at understanding the major choices and problems (budgetary, logistical, and so on) in building a modern navy. Finally, the discussion will focus on the relationship between technological change and power, addressing the debate on power diffusion in the contemporary international system.


Section 1 – Technological innovation and change in the international system

1 Introduction to the course and the topic

    • Fritsch, S., “Technology and Global Affairs”, International Studies Perspectives, 12(2011), pp. 27-45.

    Suggested reading:

    • Skolnikoff, E., The Elusive Transformation. Science, Technology and the Evolution of International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993, ch.1.

    2. Technology, war and change in IR theory

    • Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, ch.3

    3. Technology, war and change in the international system (I): The modern era

    • Black, J., War and Technology, chs. 1-2

      Suggested readings:

    • Gat, A., War in Human Civilization, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, ch. 10.

    4. Technology, war and change in the international system (II): The industrial age

    • Black, J., War and Technology, ch. 3

    Suggested reading:

    • Gat, A., War in Human Civilization, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, ch. 15.

    Section 2 – Technology at war

    5. Technology and land warfare

    • Black, J., War and Technology, ch. 4

    6. Case studies on land warfare: Interwar innovation and the Second Lebanon War

    • Murray, W., Armored Warfare. The British, French, and German Experiences, in Murray, W. and Millett, A., Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, 1996, Cambridge University Press
    • Kober, A. “The Israel defense forces in the Second Lebanon War: Why the poor performance?”, Journal of Strategic Studies, 31:1(2008).

    7. Technology, air warfare and nuclear weapons

    • Black, J., War and Technology, ch. 5

    8. Case study on air warfare: Strategy and planning in the USAF

    • Cohen, R.S., Air Force Strategic Planning. Past, Present, and Future, Rand Corporation, 2017, website: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1765.html

    9. Robotics at war: Drones

    • Work, R. and Brimley, S., 20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age, Center for a New American Security, 2014, website: https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/20yy-preparing-for-war-in-the-robotic-age

    10. Case study: Will drones spread?

    • Horowitz, M. “The Looming Robotics Gap”, Foreign Policy, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/05/05/the-looming-robotics-gap/
    • Horowitz, M. C., Kreps, S. E., & Fuhrmann, M. Separating fact from fiction in the debate over drone proliferation. International Security, 41(2), 2016, 7-42. https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/files/publication/isec_a_00257.pdf
    • Gilli A. and Gilli M., “The Diffusion of Drone Warfare? Industrial, Organizational, and Infrastructural Constraints”, Security Studies 25(1), 2016, 50-84.

    Suggested readings:

    • Davis, L. et al. Armed and Dangerous? UAVs and American Security, Rand Corporation, 2017, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR449.html
    • Jaeger, D. and Siddique, Z. Are Drone Strikes Effective in Afghanistan and Pakistan? On the Dynamics of Violence between the United States and the Taliban, IZA Discussion Paper, 2011, http://ftp.iza.org/dp6262.pdf

    11. Mid-term exam

    • Class discussion and introduction to sections 3-4

    Section 3 – Military technology and national innovation systems

    12. National Innovation Systems and National Security in the US (1)

    • Weiss, L. America Inc. Innovation and Enterprise in the National Security State, chs. 1-3

    13. National Innovation Systems and National Security in the US (II)l

    • Weiss, L. America Inc. Innovation and Enterprise in the National Security State, chs. 4-6

    14. National Innovation Systems and National Security in the US and Israel

    • Weiss, L. America Inc. Innovation and Enterprise in the National Security State, chs. 7-9
    • Breznitz, D., The Military as a Public Space - The Role of the IDF in the Israeli Software Innovation System, MIT-IPC Working Paper, 2002.

    Section 4 – Designing a Navy


    15. What is a modern navy?

    • Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the 21st Century, London: Frank Cass, 2004, chs. 1 & 5.

    16. Planning and resource allocation

    • Chief of Naval Operations (US), Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2019
    • http://www.secnav.navy.mil/fmc/fmb/Documents/19pres/LONGRANGE_SHIP_PLAN.pdf

    • O’Rourke, R., Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service 7-5700, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL32665.pdf
    • Martin, B. and McMahon, M. Future Aircraft Carrier Options, RAND Corporation, RR-2006-NAVY, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR2000/RR2006/RAND_RR2006.pdf

    17. Logistics

    • US Government Accounting Office, Military Readiness: Progress and Challenges in Implementing the Navy's Optimized Fleet Response Plan, GAO-16-466R: Published: May 2, 2016, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-466R
    • Riposo et al. Current and Future Challenges to Resourcing U.S. Navy Public Shipyards, RAND Corporation, RR-1552-NAVY, 2017, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1500/RR1552/RAND_RR1552.pdf

    18. Operations and threats

    • Long et al., Smarter Power, Stronger Partners, Volume II. Trends in Force Projection Against Potential Adversaries, RAND Corporation, RR-1359/1-A, 2017, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1359z1.html

    Section 5 – Technology and the debate on power diffusion

    19. Power diffusion or power concentration?

    • Goldman, E.O., and Andres, R., “Systemic effects of military innovation and diffusion. Security Studies 8 (4), 1999, 79-125
    • Gilli A. and Gilli M., “Military-Technological Superiority: Systems Integration and the Challenges of Imitation, Reverse Engineering, and Cyber-Espionage” International Security.

    20. Conclusion and wrap up

    • Memo due


    Students who do not regularly attend classes should read the following texts:

    • Black, J., War and Technology, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, chs. 1-5.
    • Horowitz, M., The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010, chs. 1-5
    • Weiss, L., America Inc. Innovation and Enterprise in the National Security State, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014

    These volumes are available on ProQuest Book Central, access through Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo. 

    Teaching methods

    The course is run as a seminar. Students should expect the first part of class conducted as a lecture followed by discussion and student presentations. Reading class material in advance is thus essential to participate successfully in the course. Students are expected to present on case studies individually and in small groups.

    Assessment methods

    • mid-term written exam (1.5 hrs - 30% of the grade): students should answer 4 short questions

    • 1000-words memo (30% - of the grade)

    •  final written exam (1.5 hrs - 40% of the grade): students should answer 2 questions

    •  Students who do not regularly attend classes will be assessed through a final written exam (2 hrs., 3 questions).



    Teaching tools

    The instructor will provide slides of lectures.

    Office hours

    See the website of Francesco Niccolò Moro