New Weapons and Norms of War: Submarines and Poison Gas in World War I



Jennifer Erickson, CISAC

Date and Time

November 10, 2016 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Encina Hall, 2nd floor

Abstract: New defense technologies raise complex questions about states’ abilities to project force, consequences for civilian casualties, and reactions by foreign leaders and publics. Yet many technologies become normalized and legitimated, whereas others are banned. This paper seeks to account for the failure of strong anti-submarine norms to emerge after World War I, in the process legitimizing submarines as a weapon in World War II and beyond. In the First World War, Germany’s submarine commerce warfare was a major point of contention between the great powers, which sought to strategically deploy and manipulate rules and norms of warfare in response to this new technology. However, despite widespread condemnation of Germany’s “barbaric” practices and calls by Great Britain to abolish the weapon entirely, postwar conferences failed to prohibit or effectively regulate submarine warfare. Rather, the submarine has become an accepted defense technology. I argue that Germany demonstrated the utility of submarines as an offensive weapon and the limits of applying existing rules to their use during the war, with consequences for norm creation and cooperation after the war. The paper suggests lessons for current policy debates, as well as insights into the political processes behind the development of norms of war.

About the Speaker: Dr. Jennifer L. Erickson is a MacArthur Nuclear Security Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. She is also an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Boston College (on sabbatical in 2016-2017). Her current research project deals with new defense technologies and the creation of laws and norms of war, examining cases on World War I, nuclear weapons after World War II, and new weapons in the contemporary era. Her book, Dangerous Trade: Conventional Arms Exports, Human Rights, and International Reputation (Columbia UP 2015), explains states’ commitment to and compliance with new humanitarian arms trade norms, articulated in the UN Arms Trade Treaty and related multilateral initiatives. She has additional ongoing research projects dealing with sanctions and arms embargoes.

Previously, Dr. Erickson was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. She has also been a research fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) and the Wissenchaftszentrum (WZB) in Berlin and a faculty affiliate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. She has a B.A. in Political Science from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University.


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