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Wargame of Drones: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Crisis Escalation

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Document pages: 41 pages

Abstract: Existing scholarship suggests technologies—like drones—that reduce the costs of combat make decision-makers more willing to use force. I consider whether the same remote warfighting technologies that make conflict initiation more likely might also help limit conflict intensity. I argue that, when used as a substitute for manned assets, drones increase the frequency with which force is used, but help limit escalation during crises. I test this logic of remote-controlled restraint using "comparative wargames, " in which national security professionals respond to the shootdown of a U.S. military aircraft. I vary otherwise identical scenarios by randomly informing participants that the downed aircraft is either a drone or a manned system. The wargames provide support for remote controlled restraint and help unpack the microfoundations of escalation. The findings advance theories linking technology and conflict, and showcase comparative wargaming as an innovative method for security studies research.

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