Trigger Warning

Kevin Lewis

June 24, 2024

When Foreign Countries Push the Button
Joshua Schwartz
International Security, Spring 2024, Pages 47–86

How strong are the constraints against nuclear use? Experimental studies find that a majority or near majority of citizens in multiple major powers approve of their own governments’ nuclear strikes if they create military advantages or protect co-national soldiers. But what if the nuclear taboo only begins at the water's edge when individuals evaluate the use of nuclear weapons by a foreign government? Many policymakers believe that the international reaction to nuclear use would be severe, especially among allies. Yet prior studies have not tested this assumption. An identity-based theory of support for nuclear weapons use proposes that this argument is incorrect. The public will display favoritism toward allied and partner countries because it views them as members of the in-group. Four survey experiments in the United States and India provide evidence for this theory. In contrast to many policymakers’ expectations, public approval of nuclear use is not significantly lower for allies or strategic partners than for one's own government. As expected, however, approval is lower for out-groups, such as non-allied and non-partner countries. Absolute support for nuclear attacks is also high, even when it is foreign countries pushing the button. On balance, these findings are inconsistent with the existence of a nuclear taboo or strong non-use norm.

Do Threats or Shaming Increase Public Support for Policy Concessions? Alliance Coercion and Burden-Sharing in NATO
Brian Blankenship
International Studies Quarterly, June 2024

Existing literature suggests that alliance members can use their partners’ abandonment fears to obtain favorable concessions for themselves. However, evidence on the effectiveness of threats of abandonment as motivation for defense burden-sharing remains limited. This article uses a survey experiment conducted in Poland and Germany to assess how American signals of support and threats of abandonment shape public support for increasing their countries’ military spending. The findings suggest that threats of abandonment increase public support for higher defense spending, whereas approaches like “naming and shaming” under-contributing partners do not. However, assurances of protection did not decrease support for defense spending, and combining threats with assurances if anything increased those threats’ effects. Threats are thus most effective when they do not fundamentally undermine targets’ confidence in US protection. The findings have implications for understanding alliance politics and the utility of public pressure, and for policy debates about encouraging defense burden-sharing.

Separate but Unequal: Ethnocentrism and Racialization Explain the “Democratic” Peace in Public Opinion
Brian Rathbun, Christopher Sebastian Parker & Caleb Pomeroy
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

Why are democratic publics reluctant to use force against fellow democracies? We hypothesize that the democratic peace in public opinion owes, in large part, to racialized assumptions about democracy. Rather than regime type per se doing the causal work, the term “democracy” inadvertently primes the presumption that target countries are predominantly white. This implicit racialization, in turn, explains the reluctance of the American public to support aggression against fellow democracies, most notably among respondents higher in ethnocentrism who disproportionately drive the democratic peace treatment effect. Two original survey experiments, a large-scale word embedding analysis of English texts, and reanalyses of published studies support this expectation. Our results suggest that the democratic peace in public opinion is, largely, an ethnocentric and racialized peace. The findings hold implications for the role of racism and racialization in foreign policy opinion research generally.

Paying Them to Hate US: The Effect Of U.S. Military aid on Anti-American Terrorism, 1968-2018
Eugen Dimant, Tim Krieger & Daniel Meierrieks
Economic Journal, forthcoming

How does anti-American terrorism in recipient countries respond to U.S. military aid? Does aid protect U.S. interests abroad or does it have unintended consequences for U.S. security? To answer these questions, we estimate the effect of U.S. military aid on anti-American terrorism in recipient countries for a sample of 174 countries between 1968 and 2018. We find that higher levels of aid especially for military financing and education are associated with a higher likelihood of anti-American terrorism in aid-receiving countries. Examining potential transmission channels, we show that more U.S. military aid correlates with lower military capacity and increases in corruption and exclusionary policies in recipient countries. Our findings are consistent with the argument that military aid aggravates local grievances, creating anti-American resentment and leading to anti-American terrorism. Indeed, we also provide tentative evidence that U.S. military aid is associated with lower public opinion about the United States in recipient countries.

When Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Adversary Perceptions of Nuclear No-First-Use Pledges
Caitlin Talmadge, Lisa Michelini & Vipin Narang
International Security, Spring 2024, Pages 7–46

The United States has repeatedly debated whether to adopt a nuclear no-first-use (NFU) pledge. Advocates for such a pledge emphasize its potential advantages, including strengthening crisis stability, decreasing hostility, and bolstering nonproliferation and arms control. But these benefits depend heavily on nuclear-armed adversaries finding a U.S. NFU pledge credible. A new theory based on the logic of costly signals and tested on evidence from NFU pledges by the Soviet Union, China, and India suggests that adversaries perceive such pledges as credible only when: (1) the political relationship between a state and its adversary is already relatively benign, or (2) the state's military has no ability to engage in nuclear first use against the adversary. Empirically, these conditions rarely arise. More typically, hostile political relations combined with even latent first-use capabilities lead adversaries to distrust NFU pledges and to assume the continued possibility of being subject to first use. The implication is that changes to U.S. declaratory policy alone are unlikely to convince adversaries to disregard the prospect of U.S. nuclear first use without changes in these countries’ political relationships or U.S. nuclear force posture. The beneficial effects of an NFU pledge are therefore likely to be more minimal than advocates often claim.

Under No Circumstances? What the Chinese Really Think about the Wartime Use of Nuclear Weapons
Changwook Ju & Joshua Byun
International Studies Quarterly, June 2024

The idea of using nuclear weapons to kill noncombatants is said to evoke strong moral opprobrium among millions of individuals across the globe, such that national leaders should be constrained from using the weapons even when such a decision would be strategically sensible. Classical area scholarship and recent survey evidence suggest that this “nuclear taboo” is strong among the Chinese public, buttressed by culturally grounded preferences for moderation in warfare. Drawing on findings in cultural sociology and political behavior, we argue that previous studies mislead on the extent to which ordinary Chinese citizens might oppose the use of nuclear weapons in a real military clash, primarily due to a failure to distinguish baseline preferences for nuclear nonuse from the willingness to approve of governmental decisions to use these weapons. Results from an original survey experiment fielded in mainland China show that many individuals who personally dislike the idea of using nuclear weapons are nonetheless willing to support their leaders’ decision to do so. Our study contributes new and systematic knowledge about Chinese nuclear attitudes and highlights the value of harnessing interdisciplinary insights to inform the research agenda on the nuclear taboo.

The young and the hawkish: Generational differences in conflict attitudes in Israel
Liran Harsgor
Research & Politics, May 2024

How do generational patterns affect public opinion in prolonged conflicts? While considerable research has addressed the effects of conflicts on children and adolescents, understanding the broader generational divides in public attitudes towards conflict resolution remains an area with both theoretical and empirical gaps. Such understanding is crucial, given its potential to significantly shape aggregate public opinion and the trajectory of conflicts. This paper focuses on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, examining how support for conflict resolution varies across Israeli–Jewish cohorts. It employs longitudinal survey data (1981–2019), using both descriptive methods and age-period-cohort (APC) regression models. The findings indicate that generational differences in public opinion were relatively small until the early 2000s. Post this period, younger Israelis have increasingly displayed more hawkish attitudes than older generations, coupled with a stronger inclination towards right-wing identification. These trends pose important questions about the changing nature of support for compromise within Israeli society and its implications for the future of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The factors driving these emerging generational gaps are complex and merit in-depth exploration. While this article touches upon potential explanations, including demographic shifts and hope for peace, they do not entirely clarify the observed generational differences, highlighting the need for further research.

Understanding the Determinants of ICC Involvement: Legal Mandate and Power Politics
Alyssa Prorok, Benjamin Appel & Shahryar Minhas
International Studies Quarterly, June 2024

What explains the initiation and escalation of International Criminal Court (ICC) involvement in a situation? In light of growing charges of bias against the court, understanding the determinants of ICC involvement is critically important. Building upon research on bounded discretion at international courts, we argue that two potentially competing forces influence the court. While prioritizing impartiality should lead the court to target perpetrators of the gravest violations of human rights in states with domestic impunity, prioritizing powerful states’ interests suggests that the court may avoid involvement in powerful states and those with close ties to powerful countries. We test these arguments using original data on ICC involvement and a novel estimator that accounts for the sequential nature of ICC activity. We find that the court acts more in accordance with the legal mandate when initiating preliminary examinations, but power politics play a more dominant role at the formal investigation stage. These findings have several implications for academic and policy work on both the ICC and international courts more generally.

Hand-Tying through Military Signals in Crisis Bargaining
Abigail Post & Todd Sechser
International Studies Quarterly, June 2024

Theories of crisis bargaining suggest that costly signals can enhance the credibility of one’s coercive threats. In particular, engaging in conspicuous military mobilizations or demonstrations of force are thought to communicate one’s resolve in a crisis. Yet, there is disagreement about why this might be the case. One set of theories emphasizes the hand-tying political and reputational effects of visible military action. A different collection of theories argues that mobilizations create bargaining leverage by shifting the balance of power in favor of the mobilizing side. This article uses new data on coercive threats in international crises to discriminate between these two explanations. It makes two key contributions. First, it presents systematic evidence that military mobilizations during a crisis bolster the effectiveness of compellent threats. Second, it demonstrates that such signals are likely effective because they alter the local balance of military power, not because of their political effects.

Fear or Anger? Leaders’ Childhood War Trauma and Interstate Conflict Initiation
James Kim
International Studies Quarterly, June 2024

How does a leader’s childhood exposure to war influence their propensity to initiate conflicts? While much research explains leaders’ national security policies using their combat and rebel experiences, few scholars have examined the effects of childhood wartime violence. I develop and test two competing arguments about the effects of childhood war trauma on future conflict behavior. One argument expects that leaders exposed to war at a young age will be less likely to initiate conflict because they fear its consequences. An alternative perspective expects that these leaders are more likely to initiate conflict out of anger and a desire for revenge. I test my hypotheses using an original dataset and a research design that reduces inference barriers. Leveraging variations in the level of violence experienced during wartime, I only compare leaders who were exposed to foreign military invasions as children. I find that those who experienced severe war trauma, such as family deaths, injuries, or displacement, are less likely to initiate interstate conflicts than those who did not experience such traumatic events. These effects are substantial, particularly when political constraints are weak. My results suggest that childhood war trauma has a long-term impact on leaders’ conservatism about using force.


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