Launch Orders

Kevin Lewis

March 17, 2021

No Right to Be Wrong: What Americans Think about Civil-Military Relations
Ronald Krebs, Robert Ralston & Aaron Rapport
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


An influential model of democratic civil-military relations insists that civilian politicians and officials, accountable to the public, have “the right to be wrong” about the use of force: they, not senior military officers, decide when force will be used and set military strategy. While polls have routinely asked about Americans’ trust in the military, they have rarely probed deeply into Americans’ views of civil-military relations. We report and analyze the results of a June 2019 survey that yields two important, and troubling, findings. First, Americans do not accept the basic premises of democratic civil-military relations. They are extraordinarily deferential to the military’s judgment regarding when to use military force, and they are comfortable with high-ranking officers intervening in public debates over policy. Second, in this polarized age, Americans’ views of civil-military relations are not immune to partisanship. Consequently, with their man in the Oval Office in June 2019, Republicans — who, as political conservatives, might be expected to be more deferential to the military — were actually less so. And Democrats, similarly putting ideology aside, wanted the military to act as a check on a president they abhorred. The stakes are high: democracy is weakened when civilians relinquish their “right to be wrong.”

Conventional Counterforce Dilemmas: South Korea's Deterrence Strategy and Stability on the Korean Peninsula
Ian Bowers & Henrik Stålhane Hiim
International Security, Winter 2020/21, Pages 7-39


In response to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, South Korea is quietly pursuing an independent conventional counterforce and countervalue strategy. This strategy is unique. Few, if any, nonnuclear states have sought to rely on advanced conventional capabilities to deter a nuclear-armed adversary. Why is South Korea pursuing a conventional counterforce and countervalue strategy, and what could its impact be on strategic stability on the Korean Peninsula? South Korea's approach should be understood as both a short- and long-term hedge against U.S. abandonment. Its deterrent effect, no matter how uncertain, acts as a short-term stopgap if the United States abandons South Korea. Over the long term, capabilities such as advanced ballistic and cruise missiles bolster South Korea's nuclear latency. At the same time, we highlight that the strategy poses numerous technological and operational difficulties and has negative implications for arms race and crisis stability. Given South Korea's approach and North Korea's response, disarmament efforts focused purely on the bilateral U.S.–North Korea relationship will not succeed. Rather, any agreement will now need to address the growing gap in the conventional balance of forces on the Korean Peninsula.

Military Alliances and Public Support for War
Michael Tomz & Jessica Weeks
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


How do military alliances affect public support for war to defend victims of aggression? We offer the first experimental evidence on this fundamental question. Our experiments revealed that alliance commitments greatly increased the American public's willingness to intervene abroad. Alliances shaped public opinion by increasing public fears about the reputational costs of nonintervention and by heightening the perceived moral obligation to intervene out of concerns for fairness and loyalty. Finally, although alliances swayed public opinion across a wide range of circumstances, they made the biggest difference when the costs of intervention were high, the stakes of intervention were low, and the country needing aid was not a democracy. Thus, alliances can create pressure for war even when honoring the commitment would be extremely inconvenient, which could help explain why democratic allies tend to be so reliable. These findings shed new light on the consequences of alliances and other international legal commitments, the role of morality in foreign policy, and ongoing debates about domestic audience costs.

Pressure for War: When Constituents' Concerns over America's Prestige Drive Presidents' Foreign Policy
David Ribar
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Do presidents respond to their constituents' status‐driven preferences when making foreign policy decisions? Recent work has explained how the values and beliefs that national leaders hold influence their conflict decision making but has left unexamined the role of their constituents. Taking the American South and its unique status concerns as a case study, I use data from the Correlates of War Project and the International Crisis Behavior Project to examine whether presidents' use‐of‐force decisions are related to their relative dependence on Southern constituents. Using regression methods, permutations, and a variety of other tests including an examination of the Southern realignment, I demonstrate repeatedly that presidents are responsive to the demands of their constituents when deciding whether to use military force.

Modeling the Performance of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Missiles
Cameron Tracy & David Wright
Science & Global Security, January 2021, Pages 135-170


The United States, Russia, and China are developing an array of hypersonic weapons — maneuverable vehicles that carry warheads through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound. Proponents claim that these weapons outperform existing missiles in terms of delivery time and evasion of early warning systems. Here, we report computational modeling of hypersonic boost-glide missile flight which shows that these weapons travel intercontinental distances more slowly than comparable ballistic missiles flying depressed trajectories, and that they remain visible to existing space-based sensors for the majority of flight. Fundamental physical limitations imposed by low-altitude atmospheric flight render hypersonic missiles an evolutionary — not revolutionary — development relative to established ballistic missile technologies. Misperceptions of hypersonic weapon performance have arisen from social processes by which the organizations developing these weapons construct erroneous technical facts favoring continued investment. The modeling reported here provides a basis for rigorous, quantitative analysis of hypersonic weapon performance.

PRC Assertiveness in the South China Sea: Measuring Continuity and Change, 1970–2015
Andrew Chubb
International Security, Winter 2020/21, Pages 79-121


Why has the People's Republic of China (PRC) courted international opprobrium, alarmed its neighbors, and risked military conflict in pursuit of its claims over vast areas of the South China Sea? Answering this question depends on recognizing long-term patterns of continuity and change in the PRC's policy. A new typology of “assertive” state behaviors in maritime and territorial disputes, and original time-series events data covering the period from 1970 to 2015, shows that the key policy change — China's rapid administrative buildup and introduction of regular coercive behaviors — occurred in 2007, between two and five years earlier than most analysis has supposed. This finding disconfirms three common explanations for Beijing's assertive turn in maritime Asia: the Global Financial Crisis, domestic legitimacy issues, and the ascendancy of Xi Jinping. Focused qualitative case studies of four breakpoints identified in the data indicate that PRC policy shifts in 1973, 1987, and 1992 were largely opportunistic responses to favorable geopolitical circumstances. In contrast, the policy change observed from 2007 was a lagged effect of decisions taken in the 1990s to build specific capabilities designed to realize strategic objectives that emerged in the 1970s.

Walls and Strategic Innovation in Violent Conflict
Matthew Nanes & Trevor Bachus
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


Governments build walls to curtail a range of illicit activities like immigration, crime, and terrorism. We argue that while physical barriers effectively prevent specific unwanted behavior, they induce actors to respond strategically and develop new tactics, changing the nature of illicit activity and leading to new threats. We test this argument in the context of Israel’s security barrier. Using an instrumental variable unrelated to the underlying threat of attack, we analyze short-term changes in the barrier’s porousness. Terror attacks in Israel are less likely when the barrier is more secure. However, we also observe evidence of changing strategies. Attacks are most likely immediately after the government eases temporary restrictions on movement, suggesting that previously-planned attacks were delayed, not prevented. Furthermore, when the barrier is more secure, terrorists select weapons that are less affected by it and carry out attacks in systematically different locations. Ultimately, walls’ impacts on any challenge depend not just on how well they prevent movement but also on illicit actors’ strategic responses.

Subgroup Differences in Implicit Associations and Explicit Attitudes during Wartime
Aaron Erlich & Calvin Garner
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


When their country is at war, individuals express support for their government and hostility toward the foreign adversary, leading to the “rally ′round the flag” effect. What is less understood is how, during a rally, ethnic identity and proximity to conflict relate to attitudes toward the home state and the adversary. Moreover, individuals may feel pressure to answer patriotically when asked about the conflict, particularly individuals who share an ethnic identity with the majority population of the foreign adversary, leading to biased measures of opinion. We study these dynamics in the context of Ukraine's ongoing war with Russia, comparing responses from self-identified ethnic Ukrainians and Russians in four cities in Ukraine. Using a lab-based implicit association test (IAT) and survey with 600 respondents, we examine whether respondents’ implicit biases, reflexive preferences that are hard to manipulate, match their explicitly stated preferences for either Ukraine or Russia. We find that, on average, ethnic Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine are explicitly and implicitly pro-Ukraine, although we observe slightly lower levels of pro-Ukraine bias among ethnic Russians. We also find that 70 percent of those who are implicitly pro-Russia are explicitly neutral or pro-Ukraine, highlighting the need to study implicit associations in sensitive settings.

The United States and the NATO Non-extension Assurances of 1990: New Light on an Old Problem?
Marc Trachtenberg
International Security, Winter 2020/21, Pages 162-203


The Russian government has claimed that the Western powers promised at the end of the Cold War not to expand NATO, but later reneged on that promise. Most former officials in the West, and many scholars as well, have denied that this was the case; but other scholars, along with a handful of former officials, believe that promises to that effect were, in fact, made in 1990. So who is right? The question still has political importance: how it is answered has bearing on how we should feel about NATO expansion and, indeed, about the United States' post–Cold War policy more generally. So it makes sense to stand back and try to see where the truth lies. An examination of the debate in light of the evidence — especially evidence that the participants themselves have presented — leads to the conclusion that the Russian allegations are by no means baseless, which affects how the U.S.-Russian relationship today is to be understood.

Collective Deterrence in the Shadow of Shifting Power
Julianne Phillips & Scott Wolford
International Studies Quarterly, March 2021, Pages 136-145


Twelve of twenty-six war-winning coalitions since 1815 have seen at least two members go to war against one another after victory. What separates durable and fragile war-winning coalitions? To answer this question, we analyze a game-theoretic model of shifting intra-coalition power and collective deterrence. We show that (1) shifting power within war-winning coalitions can undermine commitments to the postwar settlement, but (2) revisionist threats from a powerful defeated side can enhance the credibility of commitments within the winning coalition, securing peace when intra-coalition war would otherwise be inevitable. We also recover these patterns in empirical models of the outbreak of war between former coalition partners: shifting power within a coalition is associated with increased probabilities of intra-coalition war, but only when the defeated side is not too powerful. A common enemy can thus preserve peace between former partners who would otherwise go to war over the terms of shared victory.

Human or not? Political rhetoric and foreign policy attitudes
Stephen Utych
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


When the United States intervenes in foreign countries, the lives of both foreign combatants and foreign civilians are put at risk. I examine two rhetorical strategies, the use of sanitized and dehumanizing language that can influence the public's support of foreign intervention. In the context of foreign policy, sanitized language operates by obscuring casualties of war, while dehumanizing language operates by devaluing the lives of groups of individuals. Drawing on data from two experiments, I find that sanitized language operates through creating less of an emotional reaction toward casualties of war, which causes individuals to adopt more hawkish foreign policy attitudes. I find that dehumanizing language also leads to more hawkish foreign policy attitudes, but, contrary to expectations, does not lead to increased disgust or anger toward dehumanized groups.


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