The Peril of Peaking Powers: Economic Slowdowns and Implications for China's Next Decade
International Security, Summer 2023, Pages 7-46
From ancient times to the present, rising powers have taken up arms to reorder the world. Yet such violent revisionism poses a puzzle: If a rising power is profiting from the existing order, why would it disrupt that progress with a reckless fit of expansion? One reason is slowing economic growth. Over the past 150 years, peaking powers, meaning rising powers whose economic booms have slowed but not yet stopped, have been the most dangerous kind of country. An extended period of rapid growth equipped them with the means to shake up the world, and then a protracted growth slowdown motivated them to move aggressively to try to rekindle their rise. Peaking power dynamics help explain some of the most consequential geopolitical events in modern history, including the surge of U.S. imperialism in the late nineteenth century, the outbreak of World War II, and Russia's 2014 aggression against Ukraine. These findings amend classic theories of great power conflict and have ominous implications for contemporary Chinese foreign policy.
Domestic Polarization and International Rivalry: How Adversaries Respond to America's Partisan Politics
Rachel Myrick & Chen Wang
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
How do foreign rivals perceive and respond to heightened domestic polarization in the United States? The conventional thinking is that polarization weakens and distracts the U.S., emboldening its adversaries. However, untested assumptions underlie this claim. We use two strategies to explore mechanisms linking domestic polarization and international rivalry. First, we field a survey experiment in China to examine how heightening perceptions of U.S. polarization affects public attitudes towards Chinese foreign policy. Second, we investigate how U.S. rival governments responded to an episode of extreme partisanship: the U.S. Capitol attacks on January 6, 2021. Drawing on ICEWS event data, we explore whether foreign rivals increased hostility towards the U.S. following the Capitol riots. Both studies fail to show robust evidence for the emboldening hypothesis. Extreme polarization has other negative consequences for American foreign policy, but we find no evidence that it makes adversaries materially more assertive towards the United States.
The Disadvantage of Nuclear Superiority
Abby Fanlo & Lauren Sukin
Security Studies, forthcoming
When crises occur between nuclear-armed states, do relative nuclear capabilities affect the outcome? The literature offers no consensus about nuclear superiority’s effect on crisis victory, but this article demonstrates that this effect depends on the size of the disparity between states’ nuclear arsenals. Although superiority is correlated with victory in crises between states with similarly sized nuclear arsenals, superiority provides no advantage in asymmetric crises. Because a vastly inferior state risks annihilation in a nuclear conflict, it will acquiesce to an opponent’s demands before the crisis occurs, unless backing down implies an existential threat as well. Given an asymmetric crisis has emerged, therefore, the inferior side will be willing to bid up the risk of nuclear war, deterring superior opponents. Using quantitative analyses of crisis data, this article shows that the positive association between nuclear superiority and crisis victory decreases as the disparity between competing states’ arsenals increases.
Shaping the liberal international order from the inside: A natural experiment on China’s influence in the UN human rights council
Gino Pauselli, Francisco Urdínez & Federico Merke
Research & Politics, August 2023
Scholars have long discussed whether the rise of China poses a threat to the Liberal International Order. However, there are methodological challenges to studying the effect of a rising power on established norms. In particular, the participation of rising powers in the established order is not exogenously determined. To make an empirical contribution to this debate, we focus on Beijing’s influence as a member of the Human Rights Council. We exploit the fact that China’s membership in the Council is determined by an exogenous membership rule and implement a matching technique to test whether China has influenced the voting patterns of the other member states on identical recurring resolutions. We find that China’s presence in the Council systematically alters the voting behavior of other states in favor of China’s interest, and that this change is larger when it comes to the enforcement of human rights through international criticism. To delve into the mechanisms underlying these findings, we conduct in-depth interviews with experienced diplomats at the UN Human Rights Council.
Words Matter: The Effect of Moral Language on International Bargaining
International Security, Summer 2023, Pages 125-165
How does moral language affect international bargaining? When countries rely on moral language to frame a disputed issue, they decrease the probability of peaceful compromise and increase the probability of the dispute escalating with military action. This language operates through two pathways. First, moral language prejudices domestic audiences against compromise over the disputed issue, thereby limiting the options available to negotiators during bargaining. Second, moral language prompts the dispute opponent to also utilize moral arguments to defend its position. The ensuing moral debate moralizes both sets of domestic audiences, consequently reducing opportunities for compromise and narrowing the bargaining range. Negotiated concessions then frustrate the bargaining opponent and elicit accusations of hypocrisy from domestic audiences for compromising on the principle at stake. This backlash triggers crises and pressures the government to stand firm on its previously principled (and uncompromising) position, increasing the probability of military escalation. An examination of the effects of moral language on negotiation breakdown and dispute escalation in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas case probes the theory. The findings illustrate how moral language can shape a government's behavior far into the future, constraining its ability to broker a peaceful compromise.
One nation, under war: Did the language of Fox News and MSNBC converge during the invasion of Ukraine?
Geoffrey Wetherell et al.
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, forthcoming
Evidence suggests that political differences have increased markedly in the United States in recent decades. Differences may also emerge in the way that partisans express themselves through language, and it is possible that language differences vary in times of crisis and war. In the current work we examined over a decade's worth of transcripts from a liberal (MSNBC) and conservative (Fox) news network. More specifically, we examined evidence for two competing perspectives on language differences during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. One perspective, the depolarization perspective, suggests that we should see decreased differences, or parity in language styles between the two networks leading up to and during the invasion. Another perspective, the polarization perspective, suggests we should see increased differences in language styles between networks leading up to and during the early stages of the invasion. We examined an index of personalizing and formalizing language as well as 77 Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) dictionaries plus noun frequency using smoothed curves and linear discriminant function analyses (LDA) to examine the pattern of results in our data. Our results provide more support for the depolarization perspective, showing that both Fox News and MSNBC became more similar than different leading up to and during the invasion. Implications are discussed.
The Limits of Confrontation: Nuclear Weapons, the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis, and China-U.S. Relations
Journal of Cold War Studies, Spring 2023, Pages 112-149.
During the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis, the Eisenhower administration used nuclear weapons to deter Chinese shelling of the Quemoy islands. Zhao claims that the oblique nuclear threats had no effect on Beijing's decisions and operations and instead created problems for the Eisenhower administration by generating widespread opposition at home and abroad. Based on recently declassified U.S. and Chinese materials, this article examines U.S. and Chinese leaders’ perspectives on nuclear weapons during the crisis and other features of U.S.-China relations in the late 1950s.
Where You Sit Matters: The Power of Brokers in Diplomatic Networks & Interstate Conflict
International Interactions, forthcoming
How does a state’s broker position in diplomatic networks influence its tendency to engage in conflict? While the existing scholarship typically characterizes brokers as ideal mediators or facilitators of peace, there is little systematic analysis that examines the impact of broker position on a state’s conflict propensity. I argue that the exclusive emphasis on the mediating role of brokers has elided the fact that broker position serves as strategic assets for states. Building on the existing literature on diplomacy and brokerage, I posit that broker position in diplomatic networks provides a state with leverage that can be used to coerce and co-opt other states into supporting its military operations, thereby increasing its propensity to initiate militarized interstate disputes. I assemble diplomatic networks from the past two centuries to examine the impact of broker position and find that the more a state occupies a broker position, the more likely it is to initiate militarized disputes. These findings challenge the prevalent notions that diplomatic ties are insignificant in shaping state conflict behavior and that broker position is solely used to promote peace.
We’ll never have a model of an AI major-general: Artificial Intelligence, command decisions, and kitsch visions of war
Cameron Hunter & Bleddyn Bowen
Journal of Strategic Studies, forthcoming
Military AI optimists predict future AI assisting or making command decisions. We instead argue that, at a fundamental level, these predictions are dangerously wrong. The nature of war demands decisions based on abductive logic, whilst machine learning (or ‘narrow AI’) relies on inductive logic. The two forms of logic are not interchangeable, and therefore AI’s limited utility in command -- both tactical and strategic -- is not something that can be solved by more data or more computing power. Many defence and government leaders are therefore proceeding with a false view of the nature of AI and of war itself.