Getting a Superpower

Kevin Lewis

October 28, 2020

The Tyranny of Distance: Assessing and Explaining the Apparent Decline in U.S. Military Performance
Patrick Hulme & Erik Gartzke
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


There is a growing sense that US military effectiveness has been on the wane in recent years. Is this the case? If so, what are the reasons for the decay in American combat performance? We first examine the available systematic evidence for American military decline, showing that the United States has indeed experienced a drop in the quality of outcomes of its military contests. Observers have offered a number of explanations for declining American military success, most predominantly an increase in intrastate conflict after the Second World War. After showing that a decline in performance is observed even after fully excluding intrastate conflict, we propose an alternative explanation: the increasing distance from home at which the United States has been fighting. Distance is tyrannical: it saps military strength and increases the cost of contests, even as it reduces US expertise and motivations to prevail. We then show that the distance from home at which the United States fights is the best predictor of the outcome of the conflict. We conclude by noting some avenues for future research and policy implications as the world returns to great power competition.

Trump against Germany: Examining How News about Donald Trump’s Anti-German Utterances Affect Anti-Americanism in Germany - A Moderated Mediation Model
Christian von Sikorski
International Journal of Press/Politics, forthcoming


Donald Trump frequently attacks foreign countries such as Germany (e.g., via Twitter). Drawing from social identity theory and intergroup threat theory, I theorized that exposure to news about Trump’s anti-German utterances indirectly increases anti-Americanism in Germany. First, I theorized that Trump’s utterances result in negative attitudes toward Trump and, in turn, increase anti-Americanism (spillover effect). Second, I theorized that Trump’s anti-German utterances indirectly affect anti-Americanism via increased European Union (EU) popularity. Furthermore, I assumed that effects would be stronger for individuals low in political interest. A quota-based online experiment (N = 428) revealed that Trump’s anti-German utterances increased EU’s popularity. This effect was moderated by political interest. EU’s popularity was increased for moderately interested individuals and individuals low in political interest. No effects were detected for highly interested individuals. EU popularity, in turn, increased anti-Americanism. Therefore, Trump’s anti-German utterances indirectly increased anti-Americanism burdening relations between Germany and the United States. Implications for journalistic news coverage are discussed.

The Wane of Command: Evidence on Drone Strikes and Control within Terrorist Organizations
Anouk Rigterink
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


This paper investigates how counterterrorism targeting terrorist leaders affects terrorist attacks. This effect is theoretically ambiguous and depends on whether terrorist groups are modeled as unitary actors or not. The paper exploits a natural experiment provided by strikes by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) “hitting” and “missing” terrorist leaders in Pakistan. Results suggest that terrorist groups increase the number of attacks they commit after a drone “hit” on their leader compared with after a “miss.” This increase is statistically significant for 3 out of 6 months after a hit, when it ranges between 47.7% and 70.3%. Additional analysis of heterogenous effects across groups and leaders, and the impact of drone hits on the type of attack, terrorist group infighting, and splintering, suggest that principal-agent problems - (new) terrorist leaders struggling to control and discipline their operatives - account for these results better than alternative theoretical explanations.

Promises under Pressure: Statements of Reassurance in US Alliances
Brian Blankenship
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


The United States frequently reassures allies of its protection by stationing troops abroad, visiting allied countries, and making public statements. Yet the causes of reassurance in asymmetric alliances - those between a great power patron and its weaker allies - are understudied in the academic literature. Indeed, many scholars argue that reassurance can be counterproductive as it invites allies to free ride or provoke their adversaries, knowing that they have their patron's support. Despite the drawbacks, I argue that the United States use reassurance to discourage their allies from seeking outside options and reducing their dependence on the alliance. Patrons such as the United States thus face a dilemma wherein they trade-off between withholding reassurance for short-term leverage and using reassurance to preserve their long-term influence. I test the theory using a new cross-national dataset of US. statements of reassurance from 1950 to 2010, and the results provide stronger support for my hypotheses than for the competing explanations of deterrence, strength from desperation, and shared preferences. The findings have implications for understanding how great powers manage their alliances, and suggest a pathway through which weaker states can shape great powers’ foreign commitments.

The Intergenerational Effects of the Vietnam Draft on Risky Behaviors
Monica Deza & Alvaro Mezza
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


We exploit the natural experiment provided by the Vietnam lottery draft to evaluate the intergenerational effect of fathers’ draft eligibility on children’s propensity to engage in risky health behaviors during adolescence using the NLSY97. Draft eligibility increases measures of substance use, intensity of use, decreases age of initiation - particularly for marijuana - and increases measures of delinquency. We explore potential mechanisms: Draft eligibility affects paternal parenting styles and attitudes towards the respondent, environmental aspects, and even maternal factors. Results are robust to alternative specifications and falsification diagnostics. Our results indicate that previous analyses underestimate the full negative effects of draft eligibility.

Generating Support for a Hypothetical War: Presidential Cues and Justifications
Andrew Gooch
Social Science Quarterly, September 2020, Pages 1761-1772

Method: This study leverages experimental evidence that randomizes presidential cues (an actual sitting president) and justifications about a hypothetical (and unnecessary) war in which elites have not staked out positions.

Results: Results show that a presidential endorsement alone does not generate support for a hypothetical war, but the inclusion of a justification, even one that is minimal, can increase support for war and improve presidential approval. Overall support still remains low for a hypothetical war and is concentrated among in‐partisans.

‘Nothing but humiliation for Russia’: Moscow and NATO’s eastern enlargement, 1993-1995
Sergey Radchenko
Journal of Strategic Studies, forthcoming


This article recounts Russia’s response to NATO’s eastern enlargement. It argues that NATO enlargement was seen as perfectly acceptable in Moscow, as long as it was inclusive of Russia, which would gain in status as America’s key partner and ally. Once it became apparent that Russia would not be invited to join, the narrative changed to active opposition, as Boris Yeltsin sought domestic legitimacy from being perceived as the defender of the national interest against Western encroachment. The article highlights the fluid nature of so called national interests, which are defined and redefined in ways affording the greatest legitimation to the political elites.

'Proxies' and the Public: Testing the Statist Bias in Public Support for Military Aid
Sara Plana
MIT Working Paper, October 2020


Under what conditions do mass publics support military aid abroad? Specifically, does the American public support extending or ending military aid to a state’s military differently from extending or ending military aid to a non-state armed group? I propose that a statist bias underpins the American public’s attitudes on military aid. I argue that the public prefers the US government develop and maintain ties to state militaries over non-state armed groups and posit a number of instrumental assumptions about these actors that could drive this preference. Namely, because the public considers states more responsible, accountable, and capable actors than non-state armed groups, individuals are more likely to support providing state militaries than non-state armed groups with military aid, but also are more likely to oppose the removal of that aid from states while seeing aid to non-state armed actors as more expendable. I find support for this statist bias in two survey experiments on samples of the American public run in December 2019 and June 2020. A statist bias matters for a variety of dynamics in international security, from secrecy in foreign policy, to audience costs, to ways rival states might be constrained by their publics in competing with one another on the world stage.

War of the Waves: Radio and Resistance during World War II
Stefano Gagliarducci et al.
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, October 2020, Pages 1-38


We analyze the role of the media in coordinating and mobilizing insurgency against an authoritarian regime, in the context of the Nazi-fascist occupation of Italy during WWII. We study the effect of BBC radio on the intensity of internal resistance. By exploiting variations in monthly sunspot activity that affect the sky-wave propagation of BBC broadcasting toward Italy, we show that BBC radio had a strong impact on political violence. We provide further evidence to document that BBC radio played an important role in coordinating resistance activities but had no lasting role in motivating the population against the Nazi-fascist regime.

Trust in government in times of crisis: A quasi-experiment during the two world wars
Ahmed Skali, David Stadelmann & Benno Torgler
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming


Do crises erode trust in government? To answer this question, we leverage the quasi-experimental setting of the sharply increased military threat to the neutral country of Switzerland during the two world wars as an exogenous shock. In doing so, we exploit a unique feature of Swiss politics: government issuance of pre-referenda voting recommendations. We use constituent adherence to government recommendations as a behavioral proxy for trust in government, measured in real time prior to, during, and after the crisis. Our empirical estimates provide strong evidence that constituents are significantly less likely to follow governmental voting recommendations during wartime.

The Humanitarian Turn at the UNSC: Explaining the development of international norms through machine learning algorithms
Richard Hanania
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


The UN Security Council (UNSC) has transformed from a body almost exclusively focused on conflict to one that addresses a wide variety of issues. Despite a series of powerful works in recent years showing how international norms have developed over time, we still lack clear understanding of why and when international institutions change their missions. This article argues that while international politics is usually characterized by inertia, shocks to the system, or focal point events, can compel rational actors to adopt new logics of appropriateness. Since 1945, the end of the Cold War and the signing of the Helsinki Accords stand out as such events. Through latent Dirichlet allocation, a machine learning algorithm used to classify text, UNSC resolutions between 1946 and 2017 can be divided into the subjects of War, Punitive, and Humanitarian. The topic Humanitarian exploded in frequency after the Cold War, and more refined models show that words related to human rights and elections similarly increased after Helsinki. These changes are rapid and occur in almost the immediate aftermath of focal point events, showing their importance for norm diffusion. The analysis also reveals another shift towards humanitarian topics in the mid-2000s, demonstrating the ability of topic modeling to uncover changes that have been missed by earlier kinds of analysis.

The Promise of Peacekeeping: Protecting Civilians in Civil Wars
Allison Carnegie & Christoph Mikulaschek
International Organization, forthcoming


Do peacekeepers protect civilians in civil conflict? Securing civilian safety is a key objective of contemporary peacekeeping missions, yet whether these efforts actually make a difference on the ground is widely debated in large part because of intractable endogeneity concerns and selection bias. To overcome these issues, we use an instrumental variables design, leveraging exogenous variation in the rotation of African members of the United Nations Security Council and looking at its effects on African civil wars. We show that states that wield more power send more peacekeepers to their preferred locations, and that these peacekeepers in turn help to protect civilians. We thus demonstrate the robustness of many existing results to a plausible identification strategy and present a method that can also be applied to other diverse settings in international relations.

Inferring Intentions from Consequences: How Moral Judgments Shape Citizen Perceptions of Wartime Conduct
Jonathan Chu, Marcus Holmes & David Traven
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming


How people interpret the intentions of others is fundamental to politics. This article examines intention understanding in the domain of how citizens evaluate wartime conduct. Drawing on recent work in moral psychology, it argues that people are more likely to attribute intentionality to wartime actions that produce morally bad consequences than otherwise identical actions that produce morally good consequences. We test this theory with two vignette-based survey experiments. Our results show that this hypothesis holds in a variety of contexts relating to civilian casualties and the destruction of heritage sites during war. By unlocking the moral psychology of intention understanding, this article contributes to the field of political psychology in general, and more specifically to theoretical debates in International Relations (IR) about public opinion on just war doctrine.


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