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Emerging Technologies and the Future of Conflict


Credits: 4 ECTS

First semester

Elective Courses




The term “game-changing technology” is a popular refrain in the realm of international security. Stakeholders and observers alike are often quick to declare that drones—for example—or robots, or hypersonics, or autonomous weapons, will fundamentally transform the character of conflict and the global balance of power forever. In defense circles, much money and effort goes into attempting to lead such revolutions. But there is always a very real danger of overestimating or mischaracterizing the impact of such technologies—of investing in, or against, a revolution that never materializes. Similarly, policymakers are perpetually at risk of failing to recognize a new technology’s transformative potential before it’s too late to develop an appropriate strategic or normative response.

As a result, in our ever more technology-forward world, anticipating and characterizing the form and effects of such technological revolutions and non-revolutions in advance of their onset has become a key task in our field.

But how does one anticipate an emerging technology’s actual, rather than imagined, implications for international security? What tools and strategies are available to precisely quantify and qualify the likely effects of new weapons prior to their widespread use? And how do we effectively communicate these conclusions to technologically-unversed decisionmakers so that they can craft a suitable response? Peering into the deep future of global conflict, this course will challenge students to employ advanced research and analytical skills to judge whether we are indeed witnessing one or more technological revolutions in international security, and develop a broadly applicable framework for evaluating the true impact of any emerging technology on conflict. The class will be grounded in real-life case studies involving current and emergent “transformative” technologies—including unmanned vehicle systems (drones), social media, hypersonics, directed energy systems, cyberweapons, and autonomous systems—but it does not assume any prior direct experience in conflict technology research or technical expertise.


Grading Criteria:

  • Class participation: 25%
  • Short Essay and Bibliography: 20%
  • Policy Brief Draft: 15%
  • Policy Brief: 30%
  • War Game: 10%

First Assignment: Short Essay and Bibliography

Write a 1,500 word essay on an emerging technology of their choosing, accompanied by a bibliography of key readings, in response to the prompt: What is the technology, where did it come from, and why is it considered transformative and/or controversial in the sphere of international security? This should be an argument-driven paper that draws on IS literature to frame the significance of the technology in question and the basis of the policy debates around it. Ideally, you will address the same technology in your Policy Brief (see below) such that this first assignment can help establish a foundation of expertise on the topic—but this is not a requirement.

Final Assignment: Policy Brief

Write a 3,000 word “Policy Brief” about an emerging technology regarded as having transformative potential for international security. Each brief should be addressed to the leadership of a real government or non-government organization, and should take into account the real strategic considerations of that particular group. The briefs should include a succinct but accurate description of the technology, identify relevant actors, both state and non-state, that possess or are developing it, enumerate the potential effects—for the addressed institution—of its deployment and use by these actors, and propose recommendations for an appropriate strategic or policy response (for example: invest in development and acquisition, develop countermeasures, establish export controls, etc.). These briefs must be easy to follow and free of jargon, and yet sufficiently precise and detailed for policy formulation.

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)


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