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UC-National Labs Conference Explores How New Technologies are Changing International Security

April 23, 2024
Paddy Ryan


IGCC Postdoctoral Fellows in International Security and Technology. From L to R: Chansong Cameron Lee, Spenser Warren, Juljan Krause, Harry Oppenheimer, and Eleni Ekmektsioglou.

On April 17 in Washington, DC, rising scholars from IGCC’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in Technology and International Security presented their research to an audience of academic thought leaders, U.S. government officials, and leadership from the UC Office of the President and Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories. The culmination of the 2023-24 cohort of the fellowship brought an opportunity to share exciting new findings at the nexus of emerging technologies and international security.

Neil Narang, IGCC’s research director for U.S. and global security initiatives and associate professor in the department of political science at UC Santa Barbara, opened the conference by reflecting on the genesis of the postdoctoral fellowship. Launched in 2021 as a collaboration between IGCC, the UC Office of the President, and the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories, the fellowship “builds upon the pioneering contributions by the national labs to national security,” said Narang, producing scholarship on new technologies whose emergence has the potential to change the international security environment, just as the atomic bomb once did.

To that end, the opening presentation by Juljan Krause examined the quantum innovation race between the United States and China. Krause’s work seeks to quantify U.S. and Chinese quantum progress by introducing a network model of patent data to evaluate research output. Looking at how patents cite other patents, Krause concludes that while China has nearly double the number of quantum patents as the United States, when uninfluential—as in less cited—patents are peeled away from the two national quantum ecosystems, it appears that the United States and China are at parity in the quantum race. The data demonstrates that a similarly small number of highly cited core patents hold the two countries’ respective quantum innovation networks together. There is also a clear lack of interaction between the U.S. and Chinese quantum innovation systems, with little citation activity crossing the U.S.-China divide. Michael C. Horowitz, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development and emerging capabilities, provided comment on Krause’s work.

Chansong Cameron Lee then shared his findings on U.S. extended nuclear deterrence and allies’ divergent responses to hosting U.S. nuclear weapons. Presenting his theory on nuclear receptivity, which aims to explain why some U.S. allies are willing to host nuclear weapons on their territory while others are not, Lee uses the case of Italy, a frontline state during the Cold War that accepted U.S. tactical and strategic nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1980s, to test his hypothesis that a country’s geostrategic position is the primary determinant of a state’s nuclear receptiveness. Bruce W. Bennet, adjunct international and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, offered feedback.

Spenser Warren followed with a discussion of the strategic drivers of Russia’s nuclear modernization. Warren’s research explores the ongoing upgrading and introduction of novel weapons to all three legs of Russia’s nuclear triad, beginning in the late 1990s and nearing its completion today. Warren argues that while a perceived threat to Russian nuclear deterrence from the United States drives modernization from a strategic standpoint, domestic variables influence the shape of modernization in terms of which weapons systems are used. Rose Gottemoeller, lecturer at Stanford University and former deputy secretary general of NATO, served as discussant for Warren’s presentation.

The next presentation by Eleni Ekmektsioglou examined the adoption of emerging technologies by militaries through a counterexample: the decision of the Italian Navy in the 1920s to opt against procuring an aircraft carrier. Ekmektsioglu revised the traditional historiography which cited poor judgement on the part of Italian navy leadership, noting that the Regia Marina had thoroughly researched carrier capabilities and instead concluded that victory in the Mediterranean would require quicker and more maneuverable ships. The case of the Italian Navy therefore shows that a military may not adopt an emerging technology if it does not align with its own theory of victory. Thomas G. Mahnken, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a senior research professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, offered feedback for Ekmektsioglu’s research.

The day’s final presentation by Harry Oppenheimer explored the connection between cyberspace and international security. Oppenheimer presented a theory that digital dependency is a source of power which states can use to gather intelligence and censor communications outside their own territory. In Ukraine, although few cyber operations have been carried out, Russia’s partial occupation brings large parts of the physical infrastructure of the Ukrainian Internet under Russian control, rendering many Ukrainians digitally dependent on Russia. Digital dependency takes many forms, however, and occurs not only in war. Oppenheimer cited reliance in Chile and Oman on Chinese and Indian service providers, respectively, as examples where one country has been exposed to another’s regime of Internet censorship through digital dependency. Jason Lyall, James Wright chair of transnational studies and associate professor at Dartmouth University, provided comment.

Narang closed the conference by recognizing the importance of the scholars’ work despite the difficulties political scientists face operating within the low-data environment of emerging technologies. A new cohort joins in September, with Lee completing the two-year fellowship and Oppenheimer joining the faculty at Georgia Tech. IGCC and its partners look forward to many more years of the fellowship forging new paths in the study of technology and security.

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