Technological Change and the International System


Milner, Helen V, and Sondre U. Solstad. Forthcoming. “Technological Change and the International System”. World Politics 73.




Does world politics affect the adoption of new technology? States overwhelmingly
rely on technology invented abroad, and their differential intensity of technology
use accounts for much of their differences in economic development. Much of
the literature on technology adoption focuses on domestic conditions. We argue that the
structure of the international system is critical. It affects the level of competition among
states which in turn affects leaders’ willingness to enact policies that speed technology
adoption. Countries adopt new technology as they seek to avoid vulnerability to attack or
coercion by other countries. By systematically examining states’ adoption of technology
over the past 200 years, we find that countries adopted new technologies faster when the
international system was less concentrated, that changes in systemic concentration have a
temporally causal effect on technology adoption, and that government policies to promote
technology adoption were related to concerns about rising international competition. A
competitive international system is an important incentive for technological change, and may underlie global “technology waves.”

Last updated on 01/20/2021