Foreign Adventures

Kevin Lewis

December 06, 2021

Quick on the Draw: American Negativity Bias and Costly Signals in International Relations
Seok Joon Kim
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming

States signal their intentions to domestic and foreign audiences but are not always believed. Why do people believe some state signals but not others? Using a survey experiment on a representative sample of the US public, this study finds that individuals have a negativity bias when assessing the credibility of state signals. They take other states’ aggressive actions as evidence of deep hostility but are skeptical of the credibility of conciliatory gestures. The experimental result shows that the mobilization of a small proportion of an army is perceived credible enough as an aggressive action, while the removal of even a large proportion is not perceived as conciliatory. The psychological mechanism found here is a strong foundation for theorizing about how individuals process information embedded in state signals and can improve our understanding of signaling. 

Off the Menu: Post-1945 Norms and the End of War Declarations
Katherine Irajpanah & Kenneth Schultz
Security Studies, forthcoming

Why do states no longer declare war? In a provocative analysis, Tanisha M. Fazal argues that states stopped declaring war to evade the costs of complying with the growing body of international humanitarian laws. We argue instead that post-1945 normative and legal developments that sought to prohibit war changed the meaning of war declarations in a way that made them at best irrelevant and at worst counterproductive. Although war-making did not end, a once routine feature of warfare came to be seen as a signal of extreme aims that could complicate escalation management and coalition building. Moreover, the United Nations (UN) system provided more desirable ways for states to justify military operations, particularly through self-defense claims. We support this argument through a reassessment of the empirical pattern of war declarations, an analysis of self-defense claims made under Article 51 of the UN Charter, and case studies of undeclared wars in the post-1945 period. 

The Subversive Trilemma: Why Cyber Operations Fall Short of Expectations
Lennart Maschmeyer
International Security, Fall 2021, Pages 51–90

Although cyber conflict has existed for thirty years, the strategic utility of cyber operations remains unclear. Many expect cyber operations to provide independent utility in both warfare and low-intensity competition. Underlying these expectations are broadly shared assumptions that information technology increases operational effectiveness. But a growing body of research shows how cyber operations tend to fall short of their promise. The reason for this shortfall is their subversive mechanism of action. In theory, subversion provides a way to exert influence at lower risks than force because it is secret and indirect, exploiting systems to use them against adversaries. The mismatch between promise and practice is the consequence of the subversive trilemma of cyber operations, whereby speed, intensity, and control are negatively correlated. These constraints pose a trilemma for actors because a gain in one variable tends to produce losses across the other two variables. A case study of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict provides empirical support for the argument. Qualitative analysis leverages original data from field interviews, leaked documents, forensic evidence, and local media. Findings show that the subversive trilemma limited the strategic utility of all five major disruptive cyber operations in this conflict. 

Making Sense of Human Rights Diplomacy: Evidence from a US Campaign to Free Political Prisoners
Rachel Myrick & Jeremy Weinstein
International Organization, forthcoming

Scholarship on human rights diplomacy (HRD) — efforts by government officials to engage publicly and privately with their foreign counterparts — often focuses on actions taken to “name and shame” target countries because private diplomatic activities are unobservable. To understand how HRD works in practice, we explore a campaign coordinated by the US government to free twenty female political prisoners. We compare release rates of the featured women to two comparable groups: a longer list of women considered by the State Department for the campaign; and other women imprisoned simultaneously in countries targeted by the campaign. Both approaches suggest that the campaign was highly effective. We consider two possible mechanisms through which expressive public HRD works: by imposing reputational costs and by mobilizing foreign actors. However, in-depth interviews with US officials and an analysis of media coverage find little evidence of these mechanisms. Instead, we argue that public pressure resolved deadlock within the foreign policy bureaucracy, enabling private diplomacy and specific inducements to secure the release of political prisoners. Entrepreneurial bureaucrats leveraged the spotlight on human rights abuses to overcome competing equities that prevent government-led coercive diplomacy on these issues. Our research highlights the importance of understanding the intersection of public and private diplomacy before drawing inferences about the effectiveness of HRD. 

Does Insurgent Selective Punishment Deter Collaboration? Evidence from the Drone War in Pakistan
Vincent Bauer, Michael Reese & Keven Ruby
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming

Scholars of civil wars have long argued that non-state actors can use selective punishment to reduce collaboration with state adversaries. However, there is little systematic evidence confirming this claim, nor investigation into the mechanisms at play. In this paper, we provide such evidence from the drone war in Pakistan. Militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas engaged in a brutal counterespionage campaign with the aim of reducing collaboration with the United States. Our analysis combines a novel dataset of collaborator killings with data on drone strike outcomes. We find that strikes killed half as many militant leaders and fighters following collaborator killings and that this suppressive effect likely works by deterring spying in the future. Beyond providing an empirical confirmation of the selective punishment hypothesis, our paper suggests an unacknowledged vulnerability of the drone program to reprisals against local allies and collaborators that limits its effectiveness as a long-term tool of counterterrorism. 

When Interventions Fail: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Latin America
Leticia Arroyo Abad & Noel Maurer
CUNY Working Paper, September 2021

On August 30, 2021, the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence in the country. During the intervention, the Americans had tried to improve the capacity of the Afghan state, maintain political stability, and end endemic political violence. While the U.S. intervention prevented violent extraconstitutional overthrows, it failed to improve Afghan state capacity or to end the war. The Afghan government fell to Taliban insurgents even before the Americans had fully departed. Afghanistan, however, was not the first American intervention that had these three aims. Over the first third of the 20th century, the U.S. intervened regularly across Latin America. We use this historical experience to test whether these earlier interventions produced similar outcomes and extract lessons. We find that U.S. interventions decreased state capacity but promoted political stability and peace --for only as long as American officials were present. The Afghan experience, despite the rapid fall of the regime, does not appear to be an outlier. 

A Liberal Peace?: The Growth of Liberal Norms and the Decline of Interstate Violence
Patrick Gill-Tiney
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming

How have understandings of fundamental norms of international society changed over time? How does this relate to the decline of interstate violence since 1945? Previous explanations have focused on regime type, domestic institutions, economic interdependence, relative power, and nuclear weapons, I argue that a crucial and underexplored part of the puzzle is the change in understanding of sovereignty over the same period. In this article, I propose a novel means of examining change in these norms between 1970 and 2014 by analyzing the content of UN Security Council resolutions. This analysis is then utilized in quantitative analysis of the level of violence dispute participants resorted to in all Militarized Interstate Disputes in the period. I find that as liberal understandings of fundamental norms have increased, that the average level of violence used has decreased. This points to a crucial missing component in the existing literature: that institutions can only constrain when political actors share the right norms. 

Plutonium and Tritium Production in Israel’s Dimona Reactor, 1964–2020
Alexander Glaser & Julien de Troullioud de Lanversin
Science & Global Security, May-August 2021, Pages 90-107 

Since the early 1960s, Israel has used the Dimona reactor in the Negev Desert for unsafeguarded plutonium production. Estimates of cumulative plutonium production have been very uncertain, however, because the power level of the reactor is unknown, and there is a lack of detail about the reactor design. This analysis presents new estimates of historic plutonium production in Israel based on neutronics calculations for the Dimona reactor. As of December 2020, we estimate that the cumulative production of plutonium is 830 ± 100 kg. Israel continues to operate the Dimona reactor today, possibly to offset the decay of its stock of tritium. For these reasons, the production of tritium and the possible production of enriched uranium are also briefly discussed. Calculations suggest that the reactor could make on the order of 50–60 grams of tritium and support an arsenal of about one hundred advanced nuclear weapons. The paper also includes a critical review of the 1986 testimony by the Dimona technician and whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, which provided much of the basis for public discussion of the reactor’s power and operation. 

Bombing It: The Meaning and Sources of Suicide Bombing Failure
Jason Warner, Ellen Chapin & Quinn Sorenson
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, forthcoming

Over the years, political scientists and policymakers have striven to understand the circumstances under which terrorists fail, operationally and strategically. However, the question of failure has less frequently been approached through the lens of any one specific tactic. This article asks: how should one define and understand the sources of suicide bombing failure? After introducing a new definition of suicide bombing failure, the article next uses probit model analysis to test planner (or “architect”) versus militant (or “attacker”) sources of failure by using a unique dataset detailing the suicide bombing efforts of three of the most active African jihadist terror groups which leveraged suicide terrorism from 2007 to 2020 — al-Shabaab, “Boko Haram,” and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (“AQIM”). It finds evidence that choices made by these groups’ “architects” are most commonly correlated with suicide bombing failures, rather than operational failures by “attackers” themselves. 

What’s Fair in International Politics? Equity, Equality, and Foreign Policy Attitudes
Kathleen Powers et al.
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming

How do concerns about fairness shape foreign policy preferences? In this article, we show that fairness has two faces — one concerning equity, the other concerning equality — and that taking both into account can shed light on the structure of important foreign policy debates. Fielding an original survey on a national sample of Americans, we show that different types of Americans think about fairness in different ways, and that these fairness concerns shape foreign policy preferences: individuals who emphasize equity are far more sensitive to concerns about burden sharing, are far less likely to support US involvement abroad when other countries aren’t paying their fair share, and often support systematically different foreign policies than individuals who emphasize equality. As long as IR scholars focus only on the equality dimension of fairness, we miss much about how fairness concerns matter in world politics. 

Cyber Operations and Nuclear Use: A Wargaming Exploration
Jacquelyn Schneider, Benjamin Schechter & Rachael Shaffer
Stanford Working Paper, November 2021

In the movie WarGames, a 1980s teenager hacks into a U.S. nuclear control program, almost starting a nuclear war. This movie has become a common illustration for the dangers of increasingly digitized nuclear arsenals and reflects what many scholars and practitioners see as the most perilous implication of the rise of cyberattacks -- instability to states' nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3). Research conducted during the Cold War suggested that even the threat of serious vulnerabilities to states' NC3 could incentivize preemptive launches of nuclear weapons. Despite this widespread concern about the destabilizing effects of NC3 vulnerabilities, there is almost no empirical research to support these conclusions. In order to test these theories, this paper uses an experimentally-designed war game to explore the role that vulnerabilities and exploits within a hypothetical NC3 architecture play in decisions to use nuclear weapons. The game, which uses 4-6 players to simulate a national security cabinet, includes three treatment scenarios and one control scenario with no vulnerabilities or exploits. Players are randomized into the scenario groups and games are played over the course of a year in seven different locations with a sample of elite players from the U.S. and other nations. Together, a longitudinal analysis of these games examines the role that culture, cognitive biases, and expertise play in the likelihood of thermonuclear cyber war with significant implications for both cyber strategy and nuclear modernization. 

Fratricidal Coercion in Modern Wa
Jason Lyall & Yuri Zhukov
Dartmouth Working Paper, November 2021

Does the threat or use of violence against one's own soldiers make them more willing to perform their duties in battle? Existing theories largely dismiss this kind of fratricidal coercion as ineffective or obsolete, suggesting that positive inducements like ideology, material rewards, and primary group bonds drive soldiers' behavior. We argue instead that fratricidal coercion can improve soldier compliance, reducing wartime desertions, missing in action, premature surrender, and other forms of indiscipline. Yet it also places soldiers at greater risk of physical harm, and potentially impedes an army’s ability to inflict costs on enemy forces. To test our claims, we use a three-pronged empirical strategy that draws on (1) a monthly panel dataset of 609 Soviet Rifle Divisions in 1941--45, built from 34 million personnel files; (2) a close-range paired comparison of two Rifle Divisions selected via matching; and (3) 526 land battles (1939--2011) to assess the cross-national generalizability of these micro-level findings. Fratricidal coercion improves soldier compliance across all of these samples, but at the cost of higher casualties. These findings highlight the need to bring coercion back into our theories of combat motivation and military effectiveness.


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