Political Science

Sanne Verschuren

Stanton Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University
Dissertation Imagining the Unimaginable: War, Weapons and Procurement Politics
Committee Nina Tannenwald (co-chair), Mark Blyth (co-chair), Jeff Colgan, Jordan Branch, and Jon Caverley


Job Market Title

Imagining the Unimaginable: War, Weapons, and Procurement Politics


Why and how do states decide to develop different weapon capabilities within a similar military domain? Contrary to the existing literature, I argue that ideas, particularly those about the future, play a critical role in shaping states' decisions about military technology. Based on original archival evidence from eleven archives and seventy-five in-depth interviews with key defense stakeholders, I contend that domestic actors' ideas about future warfare—what I call the "images of warfare," consisting of actors' perceptions of the future threat environment and their theory of victory—shape actors' preferences for particular military capabilities. Not all of these ideas, however, are equally influential. I therefore trace how those within the military, the legislative and executive branches, the industry, and the community of defense analysts bargain over their technological preferences. In order to transform their ideas into actual capabilities, I argue that actors need to build a cross-cutting coalition within the broader defense community around their "imagined security interests," while exploiting the state's political opportunity structure. To test this theory, I use comparative case studies, in which I analyze the development of military capabilities around three major technologies in three different countries: air power (1920s-1930s), aircraft carriers (1950s-1960s), and missile defense (1990-today) in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.