International Reaction

Kevin Lewis

December 03, 2020

The Failed Transparency Regime for Executive Agreements: An Empirical and Normative Analysis
Oona Hathaway, Curtis Bradley & Jack Goldsmith
Harvard Law Review, December 2020, Pages 629-725


The Constitution specifies only one process for making international agreements. Article II states that the President “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” The treaty process has long been on a path to obsolescence, however, with fewer and fewer treaties being made in each presidential administration. Nevertheless, the United States has not stopped making international agreements. Even as Article II treaties have come to a near halt, the United States has concluded hundreds of binding international agreements each year. These agreements, known as “executive agreements,” are made by the President without submitting them to the Senate, or to Congress, at all. Congress has responded to the rise of executive agreements by imposing a transparency regime -- requiring that all the binding executive agreements be reported to Congress and that important agreements be published for the public to see. Until now, however, there has been no systematic assessment of how well the transparency regime has been working. This Article seeks to fill that gap. Through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, we obtained thousands of documents relating to the agreements reported to Congress and the legal authority on which the executive branch has relied for these agreements. Together with a series of interviews with lawyers directly involved in the process, this new information has given us an unprecedented look inside the system of concluding, publicizing, and reporting executive agreements. For the first time, we can describe how the system for making and scrutinizing executive agreements actually works -- and when and how it fails to work. The overall picture that emerges is one of dysfunction and nonaccountability. In brief: there is reason to believe that the executive branch’s reporting to Congress has been incomplete; the entire publication and reporting process is opaque to everyone involved, including executive branch officials and congressional staffers; and Congress is failing in its oversight role. The “system” is badly in need of repair if we are going to preserve the integrity and legality of the United States’ primary means of making international commitments.

The Suffragist Peace
Joslyn Barnhart et al.
International Organization, Fall 2020, Pages 633-670


Preferences for conflict and cooperation are systematically different for men and women: across a variety of contexts, women generally prefer more peaceful options and are less supportive of making threats and initiating conflict. But how do these preferences affect states’ decisions for war and patterns of conflict at the international level, such as the democratic peace? Women have increasingly participated in political decision making over the last century because of suffragist movements. But although there is a large body of research on the democratic peace, the role of women's suffrage has gone unexplored. Drawing on theory, a meta-analysis of survey experiments in international relations, and analysis of crossnational conflict data, we show how features of women's preferences about the use of force translate into specific patterns of international conflict. When empowered by democratic institutions and suffrage, women's more pacific preferences generate a dyadic democratic peace (i.e., between democracies), as well as a monadic peace. Our analysis supports the view that the enfranchisement of women is essential for the democratic peace.

The Maritime Rung on the Escalation Ladder: Naval Blockades in a US-China Conflict
Fiona Cunningham
Security Studies, October 2020, Pages 730-768


What options do great powers have to end future conflicts over limited political objectives without resorting to nuclear threats? This article examines a naval blockade as an option for militarized coercion that has been largely overlooked in existing scholarship on the conflict escalation ladder for great-power war in the nuclear era. Some US scholars have recommended a naval blockade of Chinese merchant shipping to coerce Beijing in a future war scenario. US leaders might select this blockade option because they believe it poses a lower risk of nuclear escalation than conventional strikes on the Chinese mainland and lower costs than directly engaging Chinese air and naval forces off China’s shores. Neither China nor the United States might be willing to risk nuclear war to achieve their limited political aims in future conflicts over Taiwan, North Korea, or disputed maritime territories. Existing literature has not sufficiently scrutinized the feasibility of a blockade and China’s military plans to respond to it, despite raising doubts about the effectiveness of a blockade to force a change in Chinese behavior. This article argues that an interception-style blockade at the Southeast Asian straits designed to minimize escalation risks is feasible. But the campaign would place severe demands on US naval forces and require extensive support from other countries. Chinese-language materials suggest China could respond militarily to that campaign with intentional escalation using nonnuclear weapons, which may be preferable to inadvertent nuclear use that could result from a US attack on the Chinese mainland.

Russian Holidays Predict Troll Activity 2015-2017
Douglas Almond, Xinming Du & Alana Vogel
NBER Working Paper, October 2020


While international election interference is not new, Russia is credited with “industrializing” trolling on English-language social media platforms. In October 2018, Twitter retrospectively identified 2.9 million English-language tweets as covertly written by trolls from Russia's Internet Research Agency. Most active 2015-2017, these Russian trolls generally supported the Trump campaign (Senate Intelligence Committee, 2019) and researchers have traced how this content disseminated across Twitter. Here, we take a different tack and seek exogenous drivers of Russian troll activity. We find that trolling fell 35% on Russian holidays and to a lesser extent, when temperatures were cold in St. Petersburg. More recent trolls released by Twitter do not show any systematic relationship to holidays and temperature, although substantially fewer of these that have been made public to date. Our finding for the pre-2018 interference period may furnish a natural experiment for evaluating the causal effect of Russian trolling on indirectly-affected outcomes and political behaviors — outcomes that are less traceable to troll content and potentially more important to policymakers than the direct dissemination activities previously studied. As a case in point, we describe suggestive evidence that Russian holidays impacted daily trading prices in 2016 election betting markets.

Budget Breaker? The Financial Cost of U.S. Military Alliances
Joshua Alley & Matthew Fuhrmann
Texas A&M University Working Paper, September 2020


How do alliance commitments affect U.S. military spending? This question is at the heart of debates about the value of alliances and the future of U.S. grand strategy. One perspective, which we call the budget hawk view, asserts that alliances are exorbitantly expensive, as they require military investments to deter third-party adversaries and reassure allies, encourage free-riding, and facilitate reckless allied behavior. A competing view, which we label the bargain hunter perspective, claims that U.S. alliance commitments are relatively cheap and might even reduce military spending. Allies provide key military capabilities, reassurance and extended deterrence are cheaper than it might initially seem, and alliances reduce the need for costly military interventions by promoting peace. Despite the importance of this debate, few studies have attempted to determine the degree to which alliance commitments affect U.S. military spending. We use over-time variation in the number of U.S. alliance commitments to estimate their financial toll. A statistical model of U.S. defense expenditures from 1947 to 2019 shows that one new alliance commitment adds between $11 and $21 billion to the size of the defense budget. Military alliances benefit the United States in many ways but, consistent with the budget hawk view, they are expensive for Washington to maintain. As scholars and policymakers weigh the benefits and burdens of alliance commitments, they should consider whether the political and economic gains of security guarantees exceed their high financial cost.

War, inequality, and taxation
Dalton Dorr & Adrian Shin
Economics & Politics, forthcoming


Existing studies highlight the importance of the compensatory demand among the conscripted poor to explain why wars lead to income and inheritance tax hikes for the rich. We propose a more nuanced argument that war mobilization leads to a class conflict in which the poor want the rich to pay more taxes in exchange for conscription while the rich seek lower taxes because they expect war‐related losses of their wealth. Mass warfare imposes higher tax burdens on the rich only when elites lack economic resources to prevent such policies. Using a panel analysis of up to 18 countries from the late nineteenth century to the 2010s as well as a subnational analysis of Senate roll call votes on tax bills introduced between 1913 and 2008, we corroborate our argument that elites' share of national income conditions how war mobilization shapes the trajectories of tax regimes.

A Network of Thrones: Kinship and Conflict in Europe, 1495-1918
Seth Benzell & Kevin Cooke
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, forthcoming


We construct a database linking European royal kinship networks, monarchies, and wars to study the effect of family ties on conflict. To establish causality, we exploit decreases in connection caused by apolitical deaths of rulers' mutual relatives. These deaths are associated with substantial increases in the frequency and duration of war. We provide evidence that these deaths affect conflict only through changing the kinship network. Over our period of interest, the percentage of European monarchs with kinship ties increased threefold. Together, these findings help explain the well- documented decrease in European war frequency.

Same as the Old Boss? Domestic Politics and the Turnover Trap
Cathy Xuanxuan Wu, Amanda Licht & Scott Wolford
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Leadership turnover brings to office new leaders with private reputational incentives to bluff about their resolve, incentivizing both incumbents and their foreign rivals to take steps that increase the risk of war. Some leader changes, however, are more dangerous than others. The turnover trap arises when there is sufficient uncertainty about a new leader's resolve and expectations of future interactions, and whether those factors coincide depends on how new leaders come to power and the political system in which its turnover occurs. We expect that those instances of leader change most likely to generate turnover traps entail (1) democratic incumbents unconnected to their predecessor's support coalition and (2) autocratic incumbents that inherit their predecessors' coalitions. In a sample of strategic rivals from 1918-2007, we find that the probability of dispute escalation declines over leaders' tenure, but only for the two types of turnover we identify as most dangerous.

The unintended harms of infrastructure: Opium and road construction in Afghanistan
Evan Wigton-Jones
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming


This study provides evidence that infrastructure investment can encourage economic activity through illicit pathways. I examine this relationship in the context of Afghanistan, where I show that the construction of the country's largest modern infrastructure project, a 2,200 kilometer highway known as the A1 or Ring Road, led to significant increases in local opium cultivation over the past decade. Estimates from a two-way fixed effects model that exploits spatial and temporal variation in district-level poppy cultivation and proximity to the road suggest that the introduction of a highway to a district is associated with a 650 hectare increase in poppy cultivation in the subsequent year. This cultivation increases the longer a district has access to the road: Production in the second and third years rises by 750 and 900 hectares over pre-highway levels, respectively. Estimates also suggest that improved highway access leads Afghan farmers to substitute away from the production of legal crops towards opium, and that more farmers grow opium as their primary income-generating crop. These findings suggest that in nations where the rule of law is limited and opportunities for legal livelihoods remain scarce, investments in physical infrastructure can inadvertently incentivize illegal economic activity.

Is the NPT unraveling? Evidence from text analysis of review conference statements
Miriam Barnum & James Lo
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is a landmark international treaty that is widely regarded as a cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. However, pessimists point to a growing divergence of preferences between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states as a precursor to the impending ‘unraveling of this vital piece of international law’. In this article, we test for evidence of preference divergence using statements from NPT review conferences, which are manifestos presenting each country’s position on the NPT. We measure preferences on the NPT using Wordfish, a method that is frequently used to estimate ideological preferences from election manifestos. Our measure estimates the latent positions of state actors along a ‘non-proliferation vs. disarmament’ dimension, and shows little evidence of growing preference divergence between the nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states. Thus, a significant premise underlying more pessimistic assessments of the NPT appears to be in doubt.

Is an Ultimatum the Last Word on Crisis Bargaining?
Mark Fey & Brenton Kenkel
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


We investigate how the structure of the international bargaining process affects the resolution of crises. Despite the vast diversity in bargaining protocols, we find that there is a remarkably simple structure to how crises may end. Specifically, for any equilibrium outcome of a complex negotiation process, there is a take-it-or-leave-it offer that has precisely the same risk of war and distribution of benefits. In this sense, every equilibrium outcome of a crisis bargaining game is equivalent to the outcome of an offer in the ultimatum game. Consequently, if a state could select the bargaining protocol, it would choose an ultimatum or another protocol with the same result. According to our model, if states are behaving optimally, then we should observe no relationship between the bargaining protocol and the risk of war or distribution of benefits. An empirical analysis of ultimata in international crises supports this claim.

The Power of Compromise: Proposal Power, Partisanship, and Public Support in International Bargaining
Ryan Brutger
World Politics, forthcoming


In an era of increasingly public diplomacy, conventional wisdom assumes that leaders who compromise damage their reputations and lose the respect of their constituents, which undermines the prospects for international peace and cooperation. This article challenges this assumption and tests how leaders can negotiate compromises and avoid paying domestic approval and reputation costs. Drawing on theories of individuals’ core values, psychological processes, and partisanship, the author argues that leaders reduce or eliminate domestic public constraints by exercising proposal power and initiating compromises. Employing survey experiments to test how public approval and perceptions of reputation respond to leaders’ strategies across security and economic issues, the author finds attitudes toward compromise are conditioned by the ideology of the audience and leader, with audiences of liberals being more supportive of compromise. In the US case, this results in Republican presidents having greater leeway to negotiate compromises. The article’s contributions suggest that leaders who exercise proposal power have significant flexibility to negotiate compromise settlements in international bargaining.

Marine wild-capture fisheries after nuclear war
Kim Scherrer et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 November 2020, Pages 29748-29758


Nuclear war, beyond its devastating direct impacts, is expected to cause global climatic perturbations through injections of soot into the upper atmosphere. Reduced temperature and sunlight could drive unprecedented reductions in agricultural production, endangering global food security. However, the effects of nuclear war on marine wild-capture fisheries, which significantly contribute to the global animal protein and micronutrient supply, remain unexplored. We simulate the climatic effects of six war scenarios on fish biomass and catch globally, using a state-of-the-art Earth system model and global process-based fisheries model. We also simulate how either rapidly increased fish demand (driven by food shortages) or decreased ability to fish (due to infrastructure disruptions), would affect global catches, and test the benefits of strong prewar fisheries management. We find a decade-long negative climatic impact that intensifies with soot emissions, with global biomass and catch falling by up to 18 ± 3% and 29 ± 7% after a US–Russia war under business-as-usual fishing—similar in magnitude to the end-of-century declines under unmitigated global warming. When war occurs in an overfished state, increasing demand increases short-term (1 to 2 y) catch by at most ∼30% followed by precipitous declines of up to ∼70%, thus offsetting only a minor fraction of agricultural losses. However, effective prewar management that rebuilds fish biomass could ensure a short-term catch buffer large enough to replace ∼43 ± 35% of today’s global animal protein production. This buffering function in the event of a global food emergency adds to the many previously known economic and ecological benefits of effective and precautionary fisheries management.

The Stopping Power of Norms: Saturation Bombing, Civilian Immunity, and U.S. Attitudes toward the Laws of War
Charli Carpenter & Alexander Montgomery
International Security, Fall 2020, Pages 140-169


In “Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think about Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants,” a pathbreaking survey of attitudes toward the laws of war published in the summer 2017 issue of International Security, Scott Sagan and Benjamin Valentino found that Americans are relatively insensitive to the targeting of civilian populations and to international norms and taboos against the use of nuclear weapons. We replicated a key question of this study, where respondents were asked if they would support saturation bombing an Iranian city to end a war. We also introduced some variations into the experiment to directly measure any potential influence of international norms and laws. Overall, our quantitative and qualitative findings are more optimistic than those of Sagan and Valentino's study: Americans do strongly believe it is wrong to target civilians. And in a real-life scenario such as this, a majority would likely oppose such a bombing. These findings suggest, however, that much depends on how survey questions are structured in measuring those preferences and whether legal or ethical considerations are part of any national conversation about war policy.

Breaking Bad? How Survey Experiments Prime Americans for War Crimes
Charli Carpenter, Alexander Montgomery & Alexandria Nylen
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


What affects Americans’ sensitivity to international laws and norms on the use of force? A wealth of recent IR literature tackles this question through experimental surveys using fictional scenarios and treatments to explore precisely when Americans would approve of government policies that would violate the laws of war. We test whether such survey experiments may themselves be affecting public sensitivity to these norms — or even Americans’ understanding of the content of the norms themselves. We show that being invited to express a preference regarding war crimes in survey settings has a negative impact on Americans’ understanding of US legal and ethical obligations in war and that reporting previous findings can inflate support for war crimes. We conclude with suggestions for future experimental survey design in international relations and international law.

At War and at Home: The Consequences of US Women Combat Casualties
Dara Kay Cohen, Connor Huff & Robert Schub
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


What are the consequences of women dying in combat? We study how women fighting on the frontlines of the military affects public attitudes toward (1) military conflict and (2) women’s equality. We demonstrate through a series of survey experiments that women dying in combat does not reduce public support for war. However, women’s combat deaths do shape perceptions of women’s equality. Women dying in combat increases support for gender equality, particularly in the public sphere of work and politics, but only among women respondents. The findings indicate that women’s combat deaths do not undermine leaders’ ability to garner support for war, but combat service -- and indeed, combat sacrifice -- alone is insufficient to yield women’s “first-class citizenship” among the general US public. The results highlight how major policy changes challenging traditional conceptions of gender and war can generate positive attitudinal shifts concentrated among members of the underrepresented community.

Death Dust: The Little-Known Story of U.S. and Soviet Pursuit of Radiological Weapons
Samuel Meyer, Sarah Bidgood & William Potter
International Security, Fall 2020, Pages 51-94


Since September 11, 2001, most expert commentary on radiological weapons has focused on nonstate actors, to the neglect of state-level programs. In fact, numerous countries in the past have expressed interest in radiological weapons; a number have actively pursued them; and three tested them on multiple occasions before ultimately deciding not to deploy the weapons. Why is so little known about these false starts, especially outside the United States? Are such weapons more difficult to manufacture than depicted by science-fiction authors and military pundits? Are radiological weapons a thing of the past, or do they remain an attractive option for some countries? A comparative analysis of the previously underexplored cases of radiological weapons programs in the United States and the Soviet Union illuminates the drivers and limitations of weapons innovation in one specific nuclear sector. An examination of the rise and demise of radiological weapons programs in both countries also points to circumstances in the future that might prompt renewed interest on the part of some states in radiological weapons and proposes steps that might be undertaken to reduce the possibility of their production, deployment, and use.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.