Calm before the storm

Kevin Lewis

December 04, 2019

Leaving Afghanistan: Enduring Lessons from the Soviet Politburo
Katya Drozdova & Joseph Felter
Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2019, Pages 31-70


A systematic analysis of formerly classified Soviet Politburo documents challenges popular misconceptions about the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The archival evidence indicates that, far from being a near-complete and chaotic failure, the withdrawal was based on a coherent exit strategy that initially achieved its limited objectives. Moscow's strategy enabled Soviet-trained Afghan forces to withstand the insurgent offensive and allowed the Afghan government to remain in power nearly three years after the Soviet combat forces departed. The Soviet-installed Afghan government ultimately collapsed not from military defeat or bankruptcy but from internal political strife and betrayals. Even though Soviet leaders failed to secure long-term gains as their strategy ran out of time, their experience provides relevant lessons for U.S. strategy formulation in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces and is an instructive case that can inform theories of great-power retraction from foreign intervention in general.

Dangerous Confidence? Chinese Views on Nuclear Escalation
Fiona Cunningham & Taylor Fravel
International Security, Fall 2019, Pages 61-109


Chinese views of nuclear escalation are key to assessing the potential for nuclear escalation in a crisis or armed conflict between the United States and China, but they have not been examined systematically. A review of original Chinese-language sources and interviews with members of China's strategic community suggest that China is skeptical that nuclear escalation could be controlled once nuclear weapons are used and, thus, leaders would be restrained from pursuing even limited use. These views are reflected in China's nuclear operational doctrine (which outlines plans for retaliatory strikes only and lacks any clear plans for limited nuclear use) and its force structure (which lacks tactical nuclear weapons). The long-standing decoupling of Chinese nuclear and conventional strategy, organizational biases within China's strategic community, and the availability of space, cyber, and conventional missile weapons as alternative sources of strategic leverage best explain Chinese views toward nuclear escalation. China's confidence that a U.S.-China conflict would not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons may hamper its ability to identify nuclear escalation risks in such a scenario. Meanwhile, U.S. scholars and policymakers emphasize the risk of inadvertent escalation in a conflict with China, but they are more confident than their Chinese counterparts that the use of nuclear weapons could remain limited. When combined, these contrasting views could create pressure for a U.S.-China conflict to escalate rapidly into an unlimited nuclear war.

“They just don't understand us”: The role of felt understanding in intergroup relations
Andrew Livingstone, Lucía Fernández Rodríguez & Adrian Rothers
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


We report 5 studies examining the unique role of felt understanding in intergroup relations. In intergroup terms, felt understanding is the belief that members of an outgroup understand and accept the perspectives of ingroup members, including ingroup members’ beliefs, values, experiences, and self-definition/identity. In Studies 1 (Scotland–U.K. relations; N = 5,033) and 2 (U.K.–EU relations; N = 861) felt understanding consistently and strongly predicted outcomes such as trust, action intentions, and political separatism, including participants’ actual “Brexit” referendum vote in Study 2. These effects were apparent even when controlling for outgroup stereotypes and metastereotypes. Felt understanding was a unique predictor of outgroup trust and forgiveness in Study 3 (Catholic–Protestant relations in Northern Ireland; N = 1,162), and was a powerful predictor of political separatism even when controlling for specific, relational appraisals including negative interdependence and identity threat in Study 4 (Basque–Spanish relations; N = 205). Study 5 (N = 190) included a direct manipulation of felt understanding, which had predicted effects on evaluation of the outgroup and of ingroup-outgroup relations. Overall, the findings provide converging evidence for the critical role of felt understanding in intergroup relations. We discuss future research possibilities, including the emotional correlates of felt understanding, and its role in intergroup interactions.

Can Economic Assistance Shape Combatant Support in Wartime? Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan
Jason Lyall, Yang-Yang Zhou & Kosuke Imai
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Governments, militaries, and aid organizations all rely on economic interventions to shape civilian attitudes toward combatants during wartime. We have, however, little individual-level evidence that these “hearts and minds” programs actually influence combatant support. We address this problem by conducting a factorial randomized control trial of two common interventions — vocational training and cash transfers — on combatant support among 2,597 at-risk youth in Kandahar, Afghanistan. We find that training only improved economic livelihoods modestly and had little effect on combatant support. Cash failed to lift incomes, producing a boom-and-bust dynamic in which pro-government sentiment initially spiked and then quickly reversed itself, leaving a residue of increased Taliban support. Conditional on training, cash failed to improve beneficiaries’ livelihoods but did increase support for the Afghan government for at least eight months after the intervention. These findings suggest that aid affects attitudes by providing information about government resolve and competence rather than by improving economic livelihoods.

Child Discipline in Times of Conflict
Michael Malcolm, Vidya Diwakar & George Naufal
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


Using a unique pairing of household survey data and geolocational conflict data, we investigate the relationship between conflict intensity and the disciplinary methods employed by Iraqi households. We find that parents in high-conflict areas are more likely to use moderate and severe corporal punishment and are less likely to use constructive parenting techniques like redirection. A corresponding difference-in-differences analysis confirms the nature of this association. While there is a general sense that war has profound long-term impacts on the psychological health of children, research on transmission mechanisms remains limited. Given the persistence of early childhood outcomes into adulthood, these results are potentially an important piece of assessing and mitigating the long-term costs of war on civilian populations.

An Economic Theory of War
Nuno Monteiro & Alexandre Debs
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


When does war occur for economic reasons? In an anarchic environment, stronger states may fear that their security will be undermined by the economic growth of weaker states and may attempt to constrain it. Weaker states, even if they are rising, may prefer to declare war. The weaker institutional constraints on stronger states are, and the smaller the spheres of influence of weaker states are, the greater are the risks of war. We illustrate our theory by analyzing the economic roots of the Second World War, and we reflect on the general lessons of our argument.

Refugees, Mobilization, and Humanitarian Aid: Evidence from the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon
Daniel Masterson & Christian Lehmann
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


This article examines whether refugees are prime candidates for recruitment into armed groups and whether humanitarian aid to refugees impacts their choice to join armed groups. First, our original survey data of 1,358 Syrian households in Lebanon provide evidence that mobilization among the refugee population is low at baseline — the first empirical estimates of the magnitude of the rate of Syrian refugees returning home to fight. Second, leveraging as-if random assignment around a strict altitude cutoff for a United Nations cash transfer program for Syrian refugees, we find little evidence that the aid program had a large effect on mobilization. If anything, our estimates indicate a small decrease in mobilization. Our results stand in contrast to published literature arguing that refugees are prime candidates to join armed groups and humanitarian aid to refugees may support armed groups and fuel recruitment.

Mostly Deterred: An Episodic Analysis of The Israel-Gaza Conflict
Alexei Abrahams et al.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem Working Paper, October 2019


Does violent retaliation to attacks by state and non-state actors lead to deterrence or, on the contrary, to counter-retaliation and protracted violence? We study this question in the context of Israel's conflict with Gaza between 2007 and 2014, using original security reports from the United Nations. We build an original dataset including over 16,000 Palestinian projectile launches and over 8,800 Israeli airstrikes, recorded with precise timing. Our findings weigh heavily against the argument that retaliation perpetuates this conflict. The conflict is characterized by short-lived episodes of violence separated by quiet interludes. Episodes tend to last less than one day and are followed by 3.5 days of calm, on average. Most episodes have no retaliation: 61% are one-sided, consisting only of provocations that go unanswered. Among episodes that do, the median number of successive counter-retaliations is only 3. Moreover, counter-retaliation does not induce subsequent episodes: 91% of episodes are initiated by Gazan militants’ attacks and 85% of episodes end with Gazan militants’ attacks. We find that Israeli retaliation strongly correlates with Gazans’ initial number of attacks and type of rockets fired. Yet, rather than provoking an immediate increase in violence or de-escalation, retaliation seems to have no short-term effect, as would be predicted by a model of long-term deterrence.

Crimea come what may: Do economic sanctions backfire politically?
Mikhail Alexseev & Henry Hale
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


Do international economic sanctions backfire politically, resulting in increased rather than decreased domestic support for targeted state leaders? Backfire arguments are common, but researchers have only recently begun systematically studying sanctions’ impact on target-state public opinion, not yet fully unpacking different possible backfire mechanisms. We formulate backfire logic explicitly, distinguishing between ‘scapegoating’ and ‘rallying’ mechanisms and considering the special case of ‘smart sanctions’ aimed at crony elites rather than the masses. We test five resulting hypotheses using an experimental design and pooled survey data spanning the imposition of sanctions in one of the most substantively important cases where the backfire argument has been prominent: Western sanctions on Russia in 2014. We find no evidence of broad sanctions backfire. Instead, sanctions have forced Russia’s president to pay a political price. But this price has been low compared to the massive political benefits we document arising from the sanctions-triggering event, the Crimea annexation. Moreover, hidden by aggregate figures are signs of a ‘backlash of the better-off’ by which ‘smart’ sanctions turn economic well-being from a predictor of opposition into a predictor of regime support.

Why So Secretive? Unpacking Public Attitudes Towards Secrecy and Success in U.S. Foreign Policy
Rachel Myrick
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


To what extent does transparency in foreign policymaking matter to democratic publics? Scholars and policymakers have posited a normative commitment to transparency in the conduct of foreign affairs, an assumption baked into many existing models of international politics. This paper tests the existence of a “transparency norm” in international security using two original survey experiments about covert action. The first experiment recovers attitudes towards a covert operation by holding the circumstances, cost, and outcomes of a conflict constant and manipulating whether foreign involvement was public or kept secret. The second experiment unpacks an “ends” and “means” trade-off by exploring whether there are conditions under which covert action is unacceptable to the public, regardless of policy outcomes. The findings demonstrate that democratic publics have only a weak preference for transparency: citizens care substantially more about the outcomes of U.S. foreign policy rather than the process by which the policy was created.

The Price of Peace: Motivated Reasoning and Costly Signaling in International Relations
Joshua Kertzer, Brian Rathbun & Nina Srinivasan Rathbun
International Organization, forthcoming


Canonical models of costly signaling in international relations (IR) tend to assume costly signals speak for themselves: a signal's costliness is typically understood to be a function of the signal, not the perceptions of the recipient. Integrating the study of signaling in IR with research on motivated skepticism and asymmetric updating from political psychology, we show that individuals’ tendencies to embrace information consistent with their overarching belief systems (and dismiss information inconsistent with it) has important implications for how signals are interpreted. We test our theory in the context of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran, combining two survey experiments fielded on members of the American mass public. We find patterns consistent with motivated skepticism: the individuals most likely to update their beliefs are those who need reassurance the least, such that costly signals cause polarization rather than convergence. Successful signaling therefore requires knowing something about the orientations of the signal's recipient.

Angry or Weary? How Violence Impacts Attitudes toward Peace among Darfurian Refugees
Chad Hazlett
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


Does exposure to violence motivate individuals to support further violence or to seek peace? Such questions are central to our understanding of how conflicts evolve, terminate, and recur. Yet, convincing empirical evidence as to which response dominates — even in a specific case — has been elusive, owing to the inability to rule out confounding biases. This article employs a natural experiment based on the indiscriminacy of violence within villages in Darfur to examine how refugees’ experiences of violence affect their attitudes toward peace. The results are consistent with a pro-peace or “weary” response: individuals directly harmed by violence were more likely to report that peace is possible and less likely to demand execution of their enemies. This provides microlevel evidence supporting earlier country-level work on “war-weariness” and extends the growing literature on the effects of violence on individuals by including attitudes toward peace as an important outcome. These findings suggest that victims harmed by violence during war can play a positive role in settlement and reconciliation processes.

The conditional effect of audiences on credibility
Matthew Hauenstein
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


How do leaders signal their intentions during a crisis? Scholars point to audience costs, potential political punishment for bluffing during bargaining, to explain how accountable leaders communicate. However, the empirical support for audience costs is mixed. I argue that this apparent disconnect between theory and evidence is due to different ways that audiences can threaten to use their sanctioning power during a crisis. When determining whether to punish a leader for a failed coercive threat, their domestic supporters should balance concerns over consistency and policy outcomes. As such, accountable leaders’ ability to credibly communicate is not automatic, rather it depends on their supporters’ policy preferences. I apply this insight using casualty sensitivity as a conditioning policy preference. I expect, and find, that audiences only help a leader commit to fight when fighting is low-cost, and actually prevent commitment when fighting is high-cost. Using compellent threat data, I find that audiences have countervailing effects on credibility due to their preferences for leaders who are both consistent and avoid costly conflict. This conditional effect could explain prior mixed support for audience costs in observational data, as prior studies pool together instances where I find audiences have strong, but opposing, effects.


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