Click HERE for Air War College - Transformation of Military page.

Diffusion of Military Innovation

JCISS DMI Research

In September 1997, the Joint Center for International and Security Studies (JCISS) launched a two-year project on the "Diffusion of Military Innovation" funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation. A group of social scientists and military historians were tasked to examine how likely it is that innovative military technologies, ideas, and applications will spread among the world militaries and relevant non-state actors. Through case studies of military, - innovation and diffusion spanning the Napoleonic era to the information age, the group is explored the impact of cultural, economic, political, organizational, and technological features that may influence which innovations are adopted abroad, how they are incorporated, and with what consequences for strategic behavior.

The study provides a basis for anticipating how other national militaries and non-state actors are likely to respond to current military trends and U.S. practices, and how long the United States is likely to retain its military edge. Case studies examine the process of diffusion, strengths and weaknesses of various transmission paths for the spread of ideas and practices, factors that facilitate and hinder diffusion, and the likelihood diffusion leads to convergence across militaries.

The utility for the practitioner is the development of a methodology to give the military planner a better understanding of which countries might best be able to assimilate and exploit the technology and organizational skills that embody the evolving RMA.

For an overview of the book and chapter summaries, see below.

Diffusion of Military Innovation

The Diffusion of Military Knowledge:
From the Napoleonic Era to the Information Age

Emily O. Goldman and Leslie C. Eliason

Through cases of military diffusion spanning the Napoleonic era to the information age, this volume explores the social, cultural, economic, political, organizational, and technological features of various instances of military innovation. We identify which types of innovations have been most likely to diffuse, how innovation, ranging from the largely technological to the macro-social- are incorporated into existing practices, and what the consequences for strategic behavior have tended to be.

The volume is organized around four major themes. The first section examines a recurring theme in many of the case studie the way local culture shapes and redirects even the most assiduous attempts at emulation. Imported practices can rarely be expected to fit a new environment without being modified, at least to some degree. In some cases, this means the importing society will be less able to leverage the promise of the new way of war; in other cases, as the chapter on the Sepoy in India shows, indigenous culture can enhance the effectiveness of the particular innovation. The key point here is that elements considered essential to the effectiveness in one cultural environment could be irrelevant or counterproductive in another.

The second section examines whether it is possible to shape, direct, and manage the diffusion process. Soviet attempts to alter the nature of Warsaw Pact military organizations by controlling the diffusion of technology is one of the most instructive cases because of the concerted efforts by the Soviets to exercise control. In the case of nuclear weapons, global efforts at control have been extensive. In attempting to promote diffusion of some types of technologies and hinder diffusion of others, management has often been partial and temporary. Finally, the notion that technologies and ideas diffuse from core states outward, and therefore can be controlled from the center, is qualified. Important examples of innovation in the periphery demonstrate that even less industrialized states can contribute to system change. Non-core states innovate in response to local strategic circumstances, not just to developments originating in the core.

The third section examines periods of military transformation and how the diffusion process operates under these conditions. Several themes are explored. First, diffusion does not necessarily originate from a single source and spread outward; rather different players may be simultaneously experimenting with new technologies and hit upon different solutions at the same time. Second, these chapters highlight the importance of demonstration effects, particularly given the uncertainty that characterizes periods of transformation. Finally, military transformation often needs to be set within broader economic and macro-social changes in society at large. This means that social and economic change can create strong pressures for change in the military sphere; however the desire to preserve existing social and political structures may affect diffusion.

The final section examines the contemporary situation in light of themes raised by the historical case studies. One chapter focuses on the unique problems of commercial diffusion. A second chapter traces the global spread of the American information technology-based military model across the globe and argues that global norms of what a modern military should look like are affecting the ways militaries across the socio-economic spectrum modernize. A third chapter focuses on how the current RMA is affecting the NATO alliance, and the problems contemporary Europeans face in absorbing the technologies

Outline and Chapter Summaries


Chapter 1: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives on Innovation and Diffusion


This chapter frames the research questions informing the book, sets the terms of debate, and lays out a framework to guide the case studies. It addresses theories that bear directly on the diffusion of military innovation, and synthesizes relevant approaches from other related fields, including organizational theory and administrative behavior.


Chapter 2: The Introduction of European Military Knowledge and Techniques into China and Japan during the Nineteenth Century


This chapter addresses the issue of how and why the governments of imperial China and Meiji Japan fared so differently in their attempts to emulate European military practice during the last third of the nineteenth century.

Although many in the Chinese government sought to introduce certain European-style military techniques into their armed forces, and devoted considerable resources to the project, China was unable to refashion its armies along European lines effectively to protect its interests against aggressive foreign states. Cultural factors prevented the traditional Chinese ruling elite from coming to terms with the ramifications that European-style military innovations implied. Thus, there was always something half-hearted and incomplete about Chinese efforts at Europeanizing military reform, despite the energy that some of the leading officials devoted to it.

In Meiji Japan, however, those in the newly emerging ruling elite were quite willing to accept whatever disruptions the reform and Europeanization of the military establishment entailed. Some of the accompanying socio-political effects were indeed radical. Consequently, the Japanese were able to go to war against a major European state, Russia, and win. This accomplishment established Japan as a great power.

Chapter 3: Heart of the Sepoy: Diffusion of Western Military Practice and Perseverance of Traditional Martial Values of South Asia, 1740-1805


Diffusion of key Western military innovations in South Asia during the second half of the eighteenth-century was strongly influenced by indigenous structure and values. Moreover, a particularly central innovation -- regimental culture -- lost much of its European character in diffusion and became identifiably South Asian in the process.

The early modern European military introduced three crucial innovations which then aided the British in their conquest of the South Asian sub-continent: the battle culture of forbearance; the use of drill to control troops within this battle culture; and the creation of a new form of military community, exemplified in the European regiment.

The British gained considerable advantage when they imported the regiment to South Asia, but, paradoxically its great impact on the battlefield was insured by the fact that it mobilized South Asian values so effectively. The regiment turned out to be a well-crafted repository for indigenous cultural mores, a better repository, in fact, than any native military organization that preceded it. The regiment tapped into native codes of personal and community honor in ways that temporary or irregular home-grown military units could not. Within a generation, the sepoy regiment took on a form that, while maintaining the externals of European regimental structure took on a very Indian character, and proved to be far more militarily effective because of it.

Chapter 4: Armies of Snow and Armies of Sand: The Impact of Soviet Military Doctrine on Arab Militaries


During the Cold War, the Soviet Union emerged as the principle military patron of the most powerful Arab states: Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Many military historians and analysts have assumed that the armed forces of these states adopted Soviet doctrine and organizational forms wholesale, and that this factor largely accounted for the often-poor performance of these armies on the battlefield. This assumption is incorrect. Arab military doctrine and practice often diverged from Soviet doctrinal norms. In some cases, Arab armies preferred to pick and choose, combining Soviet, British, and/or French doctrinal influences; in other cases, they innovated in accordance with their specific operational requirements. Moreover, when Soviet doctrine was adopted, it was usually more help than hindrance, as Soviet doctrine often better suited cultural and organizational patterns found in Arab societies. Examples are drawn from the armed forces of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars, and the 1991 Gulf War.

Chapter 5: Cooperative Diffusion through Cultural Similarity: The Post-War Anglo-Saxon Experience


Nations allow for the diffusion of military knowledge, technology and practices for a variety of reasons, but perhaps none is more imperative than the need for interoperability with an "allied" force. Nations are willing to engage in cooperation encompassing some of their most modern, sophisticated and sensitive information and techniques to enhance military capability for a common purpose. However, these transfers can only be safely entrusted to nations sharing strong common interests, objectives, and values.

The case of the defense cooperative relationship among America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand demonstrates that basic political alignments and cultural affinity provide the transmission of military expertise that far exceeds any identifiable requirements. Defense cooperation among these five countries far exceeds that which Washington enjoys with all other NATO allies, let alone Japan. The armies of the ABCA (minus "active" participation by the New Zealand Army) have also witnessed a higher degree of cooperation than during the Cold War. This includes field training exercises and divisional command post exercises employing RMA technologies and techniques, all despite the lack of a common security agreement, or any identifiable common threat. The Australian Army, in particular, has been closely associated with the U.S. Army's Force 21 program and has initiated reforms that will introduce RMA organizational concepts and technologies.


Chapter 6: All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Diffusion of Military Technology Within the Warsaw Pact


Within the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, the Soviets were virtually the sole supplier of most East European military technology, either by export or licensing. The most important dimension of diffusion was in ground force technology--the offensive weapons that stood at the heart of mounting an offensive against the West. The Soviets provided their allies with only token quantities of state-of-the-art tanks, and with substantial quantities of second-hand tanks. The East Germans received the largest quantity of state-of -the-art tanks. Distinct patterns in the distribution of Soviet technology within the Warsaw Pact were driven primarily by the desire for political, rather than military, effectiveness.

First, the East German units, the smallest of the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact armies, were the only national units trained and equipped at the level of Soviet forces. The goal was to provide a rival to the Bundeswehr, the German national military force created NATO in 1955, as heir to the German national military tradition. Second, the Soviets sought to "de-nationalize" the military-industrial-scientific activities of the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact members, and controlling the diffusion of technology was an effective way to shape those institutions. Soviet policy has had an important and unforeseen enduring consequence--it made these national military organizations highly receptive to integration into an alliance, namely NATO.

Chapter 7: Diffusion of Nuclear Weapons


The literature on nuclear proliferation presents a wide array of largely speculative and often contradictory insights on why nations embark or refrain from embarking on paths to acquire nuclear weapons. It also makes clear that one must distinguish between national prerequisites (i.e., the technical capability to "go nuclear") and the decision to exercise that capability, an outcome related to the balance of internally and externallriented proliferation incentives and disincentives. In addition, a variety of situational variables trigger events may precipitate a decision to "go nuclear" on nuclear weapons renunciation is less well-developed, it also points to the importance of similar pressures and constraints in national decisions to foreswear nuclear weapons.

This chapter distills from existing case studies of nuclear weapons decision-making the underlying factors responsible for national decisions to acquire, refrain from, or renounce nuclear weapons. Among the countries to be examined are: Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Norway, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Soviet Union, Taiwan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States. Proliferation profiles of these states are used to explore a variety of propositions regarding technology diffusion and policy innovation, including the relative importance of domestic and external factors, the constancy (or variation) in the explanatory power of alternative proliferation incentives and disincentives, and the relationship between technological developments and political decisions to acquire nuclear weapons. The comparative analyses of proliferation decisions also yields insights about the utility of alternative nonproliferation strategies.

Chapter 8: Revolution and Counter-Revolution: The Role of the Periphery in Technological and Conceptual Innovation


This chapter examines the role of the periphery in the military revolutions of the twentieth century. Peripheral conflicts influence the pace and scope of revolutionary developments in the core, providing a testing ground for new organizational, doctrinal, and technological developments. As wars of relatively high sophistication and savagery, they demonstrate both the superiority and limitations of contemporary "revolutionary" developments. Based on enduring regional, ethnic, and national rivalries, these conflicts also provide an environment in which new concepts and technologies are developed by peripheral powers. These innovations usually take the form of "niches": subsets in a broader revolution which, nevertheless, may have striking effects on both local and global power balances.

The chapter focuses on four case studies which examine technological, doctrinal, and organizational innovations directly derived from peripheral conflicts: 1) the development and diffusion of the Fast Missile Attack Craft, examining the Israeli Sa'ar/Gabriel program as an example of technological innovation in the periphery; 2) the development and deployment of Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, again examining the Israeli case; 3) the "counter-revolutionary" case of Iraq electing to employ massed chemical weapons in combat against Iran; and 4) Iraq's use of ballistic missiles in the Iran-Iraq and Persian Gulf wars. In each case, peripheral powers developed capabilities which surprised contemporary observers, achieved significant strategic results within the region, and which had important effects on core military preparations for future conflicts. Such achievements may be more likely in the future, based on rapidly diffused and assimilated commercial technologies applied to continuing regional struggles.


Chapter 9: Military Diffusion in Nineteenth Century Europe: The Napoleonic and Prussian Military Systems


Nineteenth century Europe witnessed two waves of military innovation, each of which triggered attempts to emulate or counter the successful practices. By the beginning of the century, France had raised a mass army; reorganized it into corps and divisions; and developed a new tactical system, the so-called "mixed system." The demonstrated success of the Napoleonic military system against Old Regime armies spawned attempts by Napoleon's adversaries to emulate and counter this style of warfare. By mid-century, Prussia's unique response to Napoleonic warfare - an organized reserve system and a general staff coupled with the military use of the railroad and telegraph and the adoption of rifled guns and artillery transformed warfare once again. The success of Prussian military methods in the Wars of German Unification led states both within and outside of Europe to adopt German methods.

These two waves of innovation represented the military manifestation of broader social or economic changes. The Napoleonic warfare was the result of nationalism, while the Prussian military system was the result of the movement of industrial technologies and production techniques into the military sphere. Success or failure in the adoption of new military practices turned not only on military organization and culture, but also on the fit between the new techniques and the broader social, political and economic environment of each country.

Each of these broad social and technological changes constrained the ability of armed forces to emulate successful innovations in a different manner. The political changes required to emulate Napoleonic military practices were the most daunting. Countries unwilling to adopt wholesale social and political reforms attempted to copy those elements of the Napoleonic military system that required less jarring changes. Rail and telegraph lines were distinguished by their joint military and civilian character. Rail lines in particular were very expensive. Their development was the product of the economic interests of individual entrepreneurs and industries. Militaries were thus hamstrung or blessed with the civilian networks they were given. The rifle was the most purely military (and least expensive) of the three. Here, adoption success turned most on the abilities of the individual militaries and least on the civilian or material environment.

Chapter 10: Development and Diffusion of Armored Warfare, 1918-1945


This chapter examines the diffusion of combined-arms armored warfare between 1918 and 1945, focusing on American, British, and Soviet efforts to emulate German methods during World War II. The United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union all experimented with armored warfare during the interwar period, yet none of them possessed a large armored force at the outbreak of World War II. Germany's successful use of combined-arms armored warfare in Poland and France forced all three states to revise their views of armored warfare and establish large armored forces to remain competitive on the battlefield.

Each state attempted to emulate German armored warfare practices. All three greatly expanded the size of their armored forces. All three adopted combined-arms warfare. The U.S. Army modeled its armored divisions upon the German Panzer division. It also pursued countermeasures to armored warfare in the form of dedicated anti-tank divisions. The result was a dramatic change in the character and conduct of warfare.

This chapter traces the process of the competitive wartime diffusion of armored warfare and sheds light upon several hypotheses regarding diffusion. The case demonstrates, for example, that the process of diffusion matters. Because the United States was neutral during the early phases of World War II, it had a greater opportunity to transform its army than belligerents like Britain.

Chapter 11: Diffusion of Carrier Air Power Practices in Peace and War


The application of air power at sea was a revolutionary innovation that transformed naval warfare in the modern era. The appearance of aircraft in World War I overcame the difficult problem of finding the opponent, a factor that had always distinguished warfare at sea from warfare on land. Carrier-based aircraft also represented a dramatic extension of firepower.

Like most other revolutionary military developments, carriers were treated with skepticism in military circles up until the eve of World War II. But over the twenty-five year period spanning from the introduction of aircraft at sea to the Battle of Midway, naval establishments to varying degrees made the conceptual leap, doctrinal and tactical changes, and organizational adaptations to exploit the potential of carrier air power.

This chapter analyzes why different navies integrated air power into their naval operations, organizations, and doctrines differently. The Americans and Japanese made offensive air power the centerpiece of their navies. The British employed carriers in a variety of ways to support naval operations, but grafted air power onto existing doctrine, keeping the carrier in a defensive role, subordinate to and part of the battle line. The Germans and Italians both recognized the offensive potential of air power. Both eventually came to appreciate the value of the aircraft carrier but only after it was too late into World War II to shift resources into carriers. The carrier air power case reveals that even in the most threatening of strategic environments, emulation of superior military practices is neither smooth nor easy.


Chapter 12: Diffusion in NATO


A great deal of attention is focused on preventing unwanted diffusion to potential adversaries. An equally important problem is to ensure that what the United States wants to diffuse in fact does spread. Currently, this is a major problem facing NATO. As the US continues to pursue the information revolution in military affairs, it must ensure interface standards and interoperability with its allies. This chapter examines the diffusion problem at two levels. First, it traces the way the RMA has been diffused from the United States to its NATO allies over the past five to six years, how the RMA is interpreted by the Europeans (French, British, Germans, and Dutch), and what components they define as essential to their current strategies. Second, the chapter examines the problems the Europeans face absorbing the RMA, the essence of which from Europe's vantage point is faster, more sophisticated command and control.

The chapter investigates how the United States has attempted to ensure some measure of interoperability within the alliance by managing the diffusion process, an effort that must be traced back to the Soviet's introduction of the military technical revolution in the 1970s. For NATO, the issues at stake include the denationalization of European militaries and the organization of their defense industries. As a result, it should be expected that the Europeans would not fully embrace the information technology RMA that is currently underway in the US military.

Chapter 13: Commercial Diffusion: The Cases of High Performance Computing and Satellites


The spread of innovations that have commercial value, particularly in the area of "dual use" technologies (i.e., those having both civilian and military applications), is a process often slowed by the difficulties inherent in replicating commercial advances, and the strategic behavior of the innovator, whose interests may often lie in preventing or delaying diffusion so as to maximize market shares and profits. It is common business practice to strive to manage the pace of product change by a variety of means (e.g., buying up and holding patents to reduce competition and increase product life spans). When a product has security as well as commercial applications, though, tensions may arise, as the desire to generate profits conflicts with the perceived need to avoid "arming one's adversaries."

Today, the high performance computer provides a key example of the dual use nature of advanced information technologies, and the problems associated with their diffusion. For the United States, the global market leader, the commercial benefits of exploiting existing advantages by means of aggressive marketing of supercomputers are offset by: 1) the risks that the spread of these machines will increase the opacity of the testing activities related to nuclear proliferation; and 2) the chances that other militaries will be able to use high performance computing to achieve the command and control capabilities associated with achieving a successful "revolution in military affairs." The stark choice, in this case, is between maintaining commercial gains versus risking a lessening of the United State's advantages in relative military power over potential competitors.

Chapter 14: Creating the Enemy: Global Diffusion of the IT-Based Military Model


This chapter examines the current, unprecedented, rapid, global diffusion of the American model of military modernization to test the explanatory power of realist, neo-institutionalist, and traditional sociology-based adaptation theories of military change. Using modified cluster analysis, the neo-institutionalist process of institutional convergence, or structuration, emerges as the most plausible current explanation of this global trend. The analysis examines modernizing and non-modernizing militaries globally. It assesses the influence of resources, likely threats, alliance obligations, industrial pressures, and acquisition of advanced technologies for each country. None of these factors produced significant and appropriate clusters across the variables. The most plausible explanation of the extraordinary spread and depth of interest in a particular model of military modernization is indeed a process of growing institutional structuration across militaries internationally. As this process matures, it is likely to produce a new widespread community of highly lethal, deployable, long-range military forces with far-reaching implications for international security and global stability.


Chapter 15: Diffusion and its Consequences


The conclusion synthesizes the book's findings for both the scholarly and practitioner audiences. The theoretical discussion summarizes key themes on the causes, processes, and consequences of diffusion raised by the empirical cases, including the scope of diffusion, its transmission paths, and the forces driving the spread of military knowledge. It assesses the extent to which diffusion is a uniform process, and the extent to which military innovations penetrate into various areas of the world unevenly. The factors most important in influencing rates of adoption, including local threat environment, and the societal, cultural, political and organizational context are reviewed. Finally, the consequences of diffusion, from emulation to off-set, and the conditions under which we should expect of these to occur, are discussed.

The applied summary offers insights from the case studies for the policy community today. Among other things, it addresses: