Technical Knowledge and Arms Dynamics: A Sociology of Ballistic Missile Defence

Project Details


A Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system is being deployed in the USA, based on ground-based ‘hit-to-kill’ interceptors based in Alaska and California. The UK will be involved in the programme via technical cooperation and the upgrading of the Fylingdales and Menwith Hill bases.

This project will focus on two sets of research questions. First, what sources have been drawn on in developing technical knowledge of the properties of possible BMD systems? How have the criteria for technical success been established, and how has it been determined whether these criteria have been or will be met? Are there distinctive social patterns in beliefs about whether they have been met? How have controversies over technical knowledge emerged? To the extent that they have been resolved, how has this occurred? To the extent that they have not been resolved, what consequences has this had for BMD’s political fate? Second, how have ‘technology’ and ‘politics’ interacted in the history of BMD? What has happened to technical knowledge as it passes into the political domain? Have political decisions set technical priorities? Has the advance of technology shaped those decisions?

These issues will be addressed through an over-arching history of BMD technology, with particular emphasis on detailed accounts of episodes of special interest.

Key findings

The highly politicized history of BMD technology documented by this project is rooted in the inter-related dual nature of controversies over both feasibility and desirability. If a consensus emerges about the value of BMD deployment (as it has to a greater extent for tactical BMD systems such as Patriot) then it is likely that this would also result in a consensus about technical feasibility in so much as the limitations of the technology would be accepted as unavoidable.
Effective start/end date1/09/0528/02/09


  • ESRC: £298,939.00


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