Congratulations to Jon Schmid for Successfully Defending his Dissertation

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On March 17th, Ph.D. Candidate Jon Schmid successfully completed his dissertation defense. His dissertation, “The Determinants of Military Technology and Diffusion,” explains what determines military technological innovation and how such innovation spreads throughout society. 


A state’s capacity to develop and produce advanced military technology contributes to its standing within the global distribution of power. Similarly, the manner in which such technologies, once developed and produced, diffuse throughout the international system affects the relative capabilities of states. These processes — military technology innovation and diffusion — constitute the primary subject of the dissertation. In particular, the dissertation investigates the causes of military technology innovation and military technology diffusion.

In an attempt to identify determinants of military technology innovation, Schmid introduces a novel explanatory framework, threat-capacity theory, to explain international variation in the capacity to develop and produce novel military technologies. The framework suggests that a state’s military technology output will primarily be driven by two factors: the state’s threat environment and its innovative infrastructure. In Chapter 2, Schmid uses this explanatory framework to guide an empirical investigation into state-level variation in military technology patenting incidence. Schmid finds that the variables used to approximate threat-capacity theory explain much of the international and inter-temporal variation in military technology patenting.       

Whereas Chapter 2 examines the effect of national security threats over a large number of states and over a long period of time, Chapter 3 investigates the manner in which a single salient national security concern can drive innovation. It is well-documented that the 1957 launch of Sputnik I initiated a flurry of U.S. government activity aimed at reducing a perceived shortfall in U.S. scientific, technological, and military capacity vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Less well known, however, is that Sputnik’s launch immediately preceded a period of rapid organizational and technological innovation within the US intelligence community. Chapter 3 investigates the contribution of the Sputnik scare to this innovation. In particular, the chapter applies Barry Posen’s model of innovation to the historical case of post-Sputnik innovation in the US intelligence community. Schmid finds the historiographic and documentary evidence to indicate that Posen’s theory of innovation has substantial explanatory power in the context of the post-Sputnik United States. In particular, the U.S. intelligence services’ improved capacity to collect and analyze information regarding Soviet rocket and missile programs appears to have been initiated by a process of external auditing motivated by an increase in the perceived level of threat posed by the USSR.

The net effect of military technologies on international politics also depends on the extent to which these technologies diffuse. In Chapter 4, Schmid uses an original dataset of patents assigned to defense servicing organizations to investigate the diffusion of military technologies. Contrary to the predictions of the prevailing scholarship, Schmid finds no difference in the rate of diffusion between civilian and military technologies. Neither do military technologies assigned to government agencies diffuse at different rates than those assigned to firms. The overall technological experience of the patent assignee is found to be a positive predictor of the diffusion of military technologies. The effect of the prevailing intellectual property rights regime is ambivalent: when U.S. patents are included in the sample, the effect of patent protection is positive, when the U.S. is excluded, the effect is either non-significant or negative depending on the model specification that is utilized.

Chapter 5 investigates whether the counterintuitive finding that military technologies diffuse at the same rate as civilian ones owes the higher generality of military-funded technologies. In particular, the chapter investigates whether patents assigned to different types of organizations — firms, universities, and government research agencies — vary with regards to their effect on subsequent technological change. Schmis finds the organization type to which a patent is assigned to have significant and robust effects on the number of times a patent is cited and its generality. More precisely, Schmid finds that university patents are cited more often than corporate patents and that both university and government patents are more general than corporate ones. Additionally, university and government patents are more likely than corporate patents to be both highly cited and highly general. These results are found to be robust to the use of distinct models, samples, and metrics. This result suggests that the failure to observe higher rates of diffusion in military technologies may be the result of the disproportionately general character of these technologies.

Schmid concludes by considering the contribution of the dissertation to three fields of inquiry: military innovation theory, the theory of the commercialization of knowledge, and social science methodology. The final chapter also proposes, and begins to elaborate, three potential extensions to the dissertation. First, Schmid suggests that threat-capacity theory could be strengthened by linking innovation in particular technological areas to particular threats. Schmid provides preliminary evidence that improvised explosive devise (IED) countermeasure technologies were developed in response to IED fatalities. Second, Schmid elaborates additional testable hypotheses on military technology diffusion. Finally, Schmid proposes a method for the identification of general-purpose technologies. Schmid concludes by elaborating a limitation to the dissertation: the failure to consider the interaction between military technology and military doctrine. 

Schmid joined the doctorate program in 2013 because of fascination of how technology is changing the future of international politics. In the course of four years, Schmid has published six peer reviewed articles in Development in Practice, Defence and Peace Economics, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary China, Review of Policy Research, and Science and Public Policy. 

Prior to Tech, he was a consultant for an economic development consulting firm doing work on the World Bank, Inter-American Development  Bank, United Nations and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) projects. He received his bachelor’s degree in Economics and International Affairs and a master’s degree from George Washington University. 

A special thanks to his dissertation committee Associate Professor Margaret Kosal (Chair and Advisor), Professor Usha Nair-Reichert, Professor Michael Salomone, Professor Fei-Ling Wang, and Assistant Professor Anjali Bohlken



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