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Spying from Space: Reconnaissance Satellites and Interstate Disputes


  • Bryan R. Early
  • Erik Gartzke


Despite considerable interest and debate, it has proven surprisingly difficult to demonstrate a systematic link between technological change and patterns of war and peace. At least part of the challenge may reside in finding the right place to “look†for such relationships. Technological change alters what nations can do to one another (capabilities), but in ways that are typically reflected by deals (diplomatic bargains) rather than actions. We theorize that reconnaissance satellites have revolutionized the use of information gleaned from spying in ways that discourage states from engaging in serious conflicts with one another. We analyze the impact of reconnaissance satellites on high-casualty militarized interstate disputes (MIDS) between dyads from 1950 to 2010. We find that when either the potential aggressor or target in a dyad possess reconnaissance satellites, they are significantly less likely to become involved in serious MIDs. This effect is especially powerful when both states possess reconnaissance satellites.

Suggested Citation

  • Bryan R. Early & Erik Gartzke, 2021. "Spying from Space: Reconnaissance Satellites and Interstate Disputes," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 65(9), pages 1551-1575, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:65:y:2021:i:9:p:1551-1575
    DOI: 10.1177/0022002721995894

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Donald Wittman, 1979. "How a War Ends," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 23(4), pages 743-763, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hannes Mueller & André Groeger & Jonathan Hersh & Andrea Matranga & Joan Serrat, 2021. "Monitoring War Destruction from Space Using Machine Learning," Working Papers 1257, Barcelona School of Economics.

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