By Emrys Chew (auth.)

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The period of intense international competition and conflict that witnessed two World Wars (1914–45) engendered a third wave of major innovation, the ‘Scientific Revolution’. It combined the internal combustion engine with the possibilities of modern chemical and electrical engineering technologies, and subsequently developed technologies to support strategic nuclear weapons. Although Britain, France, and Germany were able to remain at the forefront of technological development for a time, the advanced science involved in this innovation cluster meant that military research and development and weapons production would be conducted on a scale that excluded all but the very largest states from being innovators.

Once (IV) is in place, the evolutionary process awaits the next ‘revolution’. Global history suggests that the continuous evolutionary dynamic of the international arms transfer system has been punctuated and propelled by ‘revolutionary’ bursts of military technological change. Arms procurement and proliferation have occurred whenever weapons of a ‘usable’ technology could be supplied from one centre to meet some specified demand elsewhere, usually in the context of crisis. 23 To attempt a preliminary sketch outlining the dynamics of the international arms transfer system over space and time, we must first trace the evolution of firearms technology to its origins in the East, beginning with the use of incendiaries in Taoist ritual during the period of the Song dynasty in China (960–1279).

Across the East, the relatively more stable, closed empires of Turkey, Persia, India, and China maintained technological and trading dominance. But where traditional modes and means of warfare prevailed, it was in heavy siege artillery rather than small arms that they invested huge military-fiscal resources. 27 With the new patterns of state formation came the first ripples of European incursion in maritime parts of Asia, reinforced by military production and diffusion. 28 Unlike the evolution of a relatively standardized ‘Western way of war’ in early modern Europe, with its growing reliance on firearms, there was no monolithic ‘Asian way of war’ since firearms were incorporated into warfare in a manner consistent with the spectrum of pre-existing military cultures.

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