Technology control and imagined international orders or ‘Military technology is what states make of it’

22 Feb 2012
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Samuel A. Evans
CSTMS Visiting Scholar & Academic Coordinator

This talk will include a draft of a paper on which I have been working for some time, but I am not yet satisfied with it.  I hope to get your comments on the best ways to revise it and what journals you think are most adequate for submission.


Controlling militarily significant technology has long been a goal for states.  However, what counts as militarily significant technology and the reasons for controlling it have changed over time and between states. Over the last 400 years, states (predominantly in the West) have come together to generate common lists of controlled technology.  These international control lists have evolved over the centuries, as have their reasons for being. Whereas most accounts of these changes focus on the debate that constantly occurs between economic and security concerns that states have, I follow the lists through this time period to show how they help support different imagined international orders, and how, in imagining different international orders, states have also re-imagined what counts as militarily significant technology.  The constant economic versus security debate, therefore, is carried out under very different terms within each period. In the first period, from the 17th Century until the end of World War I, states imagine themselves as independent entities, responsible to no one but themselves.  This is mirrored in the ordering principles used to determine contraband items, which are controlled items that are seen to infringe on sovereignty.  Similarly, international collaboration during this period was fairly limited.  This imagination broke down as the Industrial Revolution gained steam and states entered World War I.  In the Interwar period, there was a strong drive for complete disarmament, but lack of consensus on what this meant led to the inability of this imagined order to be heavily institutionalized.  During the Cold War, the West maintained a very robust international system for controlling trade based on the imagination that Communist states needed to be contained, and a vital part of that was the containment of Western goods and technologies in Western lands.  In the post-Cold War period, we can find a mix of all the previous imagined forms of international and technical order, though there is an emerging imagination that the international controls on trade are perhaps best seen as a form of custodianship. As states re-imagine the international political and technical orders, institutions based on the former imaginary do not fade away.  Rather, they are reshaped in line with the new imagined political and technical orders.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  Berkeley Program in Science and Technology Studies • Office for the History of Science and Technology

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