What we're up against

Kevin Lewis

November 29, 2017

Intergroup Conflict Self-Perpetuates via Meaning: Exposure to Intergroup Conflict Increases Meaning and Fuels a Desire for Further Conflict
Daniel Rovenpor et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

We investigated whether violent conflict provides individuals with a sense of meaning that they are hesitant to let go of, thus contributing to the perpetuation of intergroup conflict. Across a wide variety of contexts, we found that making intergroup conflict salient increased the meaning people found in conflict and, in turn, increased support for conflict-perpetuating beliefs, ideologies, policies, and behaviors. These effects were detected among participants exposed to reminders of intergroup conflict (the American Revolutionary War and the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS; Studies 1A and 1B), participants living through actual intergroup conflict (the 2014 Israel-Gaza war; Study 2), and participants who perceived actual intergroup conflicts to be larger versus smaller in scope (the November 2015 Paris attacks; Studies 3 and 4). We also found that directly manipulating the perceived meaning in conflict (in the context of the 2014 NYC "hatchet attack"; Study 5) led to greater perceived meaning in life in general and thereby greater support for conflict escalation. Together, these findings suggest that intergroup conflict can serve as a source of meaning that people are motivated to hold on to. We discuss our findings in the context of the meaning making and threat compensation literatures, and consider their implications for perspectives on conflict escalation and resolution.

Technologically facilitated remoteness increases killing behavior
Abraham Rutchick et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2017, Pages 147-150

Technology now enables killing from remote locations. Killing remotely might be psychologically easier than killing face to face, which could promote more killing behavior and incur less severe emotional consequences. The current study manipulated the medium via which participants completed an ostensible ladybug-killing task. Participants who were in the same room as the insects killed fewer of them than participants who killed remotely via videoconference. Remoteness exerted an indirect effect on self-reported emotional consequences of killing. There was no additional effect of varying the ostensible location of the remote targets (same building vs. different state). This research emphasizes the importance of considering the psychological consequences of the remoteness technology affords.

Do U.S. Troop Withdrawals Cause Instability? Evidence from Two Exogenous Shocks on the Korean Peninsula
Jonathan Markowitz & Paul Avey
University of Southern California Working Paper, September 2017

Does withdrawing forward-deployed U.S. troops increase instability? This question is at the heart of current grand strategy debates, yet endogeneity issues make this very difficult to answer. Put simply, stability may cause the United States to withdraw forces and lead one to incorrectly infer that withdrawals do not lead to greater instability. We suggest a research design to help alleviate this endogeneity problem. By utilizing exogenous crises that cause U.S. troops to "redeploy" out of South Korea, we are able to estimate the causal effect of a withdrawal of U.S. troops on the probability of instability. We examine several exogenous crises after the end of the Korean War that force U.S. policymakers to rapidly redeploy U.S. forces out of South Korea. We then examine the rate of conflict between South Korea and North Korea, and the United States and North Korea. We find that U.S. troop withdrawals do not cause greater conflict but withdrawals are at times associated with other behaviors, such as conventional arming, nuclear proliferation, and diplomatic initiatives that could affect the future likelihood of war.

The operational code approach to profiling political leaders: Understanding Vladimir Putin
Stephen Benedict Dyson & Matthew Parent
Intelligence and National Security, Winter 2018, Pages 84-100

Content analytics applied to open source material can assist in understanding, predicting, and influencing the behavior of foreign political leaders. We provide evidence to this effect by profiling Russian President Vladimir Putin, who remains a source of consternation to the academic, intelligence, and policy communities. We apply the operational code scheme to a corpus of over one million words spoken by Putin across his time in office, and use the results to adjudicate between the competing portraits of him in the extant literature. We find Putin to hold broadly mainstream beliefs about international politics, albeit qualified by hyper-aggressiveness toward terrorism and a startling preoccupation with political control. His approach is that of an opportunist rather than a strategist. These data represent a stream of information that must be combined with other sources and integrated, through policy judgment, into a comprehensive approach to a foreign political leader.

Risk Preferences in Future Military Leaders
Patrick Bell et al.
United States Military Academy Working Paper, March 2017

Although hundreds of studies have demonstrated that risk preferences shape people's choices under uncertainty, the complexity of how attitudes toward risk play out across various pivotal settings and key populations leaves considerable gaps in knowledge. We study a unique sample of a cohort of future military leaders at the United States Military Academy (West Point), nearly all of whom now hold commissions in the US Army officer corps. Using a hypothetical instrument to elicit preferences across a variety of domains, we find that cadets are risk averse, on average, which has potentially important implications for future management of military conflicts and programs. Our results also show that diversity programs aimed at increasing the number of women and minorities at West Point are likely to increase the average level of risk aversion within the officer corps. This finding suggests that working with officers to strengthen cognitive flexibility and to be attuned to a possible wedge between their innate preferences and the needs of the situation may be important, particularly for those who wish to enter occupational fields where the willingness to take risks is critical.

Invisible Digital Front: Can Cyber Attacks Shape Battlefield Events?
Nadiya Kostyuk & Yuri Zhukov
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming

Recent years have seen growing concern over the use of cyber attacks in wartime, but little evidence that these new tools of coercion can change battlefield events. We present the first quantitative analysis of the relationship between cyber activities and physical violence during war. Using new event data from the armed conflict in Ukraine - and additional data from Syria's civil war - we analyze the dynamics of cyber attacks and find that such activities have had little or no impact on fighting. In Ukraine - one of the first armed conflicts where both sides deployed such tools extensively - cyber activities failed to compel discernible changes in battlefield behavior. Indeed, hackers on both sides have had difficulty responding to battlefield events, much less shaping them. An analysis of conflict dynamics in Syria produces similar results: the timing of cyber actions is independent of fighting on the ground. Our finding - that cyber attacks are not (yet) effective as tools of coercion in war - has potentially significant implications for other armed conflicts with a digital front.

International Isolation and Regional Inequality: Evidence from Sanctions on North Korea
Yong Suk Lee
Journal of Urban Economics, January 2018, Pages 34-51

This paper examines how the spatial distribution of economic activity evolved within North Korea during a period of economic sanctions. Countries have used economic sanctions to isolate North Korea from the benefits of international trade and finance. China, however, has not imposed the sanctions, and consequentially has offset the trade restrictions imposed by other countries. I hypothesize three channels by which North Korea could have responded in this context: regional favoritism by the ruling elites, reallocation of commerce that reflects the trade diversion to China, and import substitution. Using nighttime lights from North Korea, I find that the capital city, trade hubs near China, and manufacturing cities become relatively brighter when sanctions increase. However, production shifts away from capital-intensive goods, potentially deterring industrial development. The results imply that despite the intention to target the ruling elites, sanctions may increase regional inequality at a cost to the already marginalized hinterlands.

Causal beliefs and war termination: Religion and rational choice in the Iran-Iraq War
Marco Nilsson
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming

This article analyzes the length of interstate wars and the process of reaching a mutually acceptable bargaining solution. Rational choice scholarship has mainly sought to explain long wars in terms of commitment problems and private information. This article complements these rational choice perspectives by arguing that causal beliefs - a variable not considered by previous research - can also prolong wars by increasing expectations of battlefield performance and slowing down information updating. It illustrates the role of religiously based causal beliefs with the case of one of the longest interstate wars of modern time, the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. Even though commitment problems were present, they do not identify the root cause of Iran's high expected utility of continuing the war, as religiously based causal beliefs played a more prominent role in prolonging the war. Religious causal beliefs constitute a real word mechanism that not only creates different priors about expected military capacity, but also slows down the process of updating beliefs, as battlefield events are not seen as credible information. Although the prevalence of religious conflicts has increased over time, the formation of beliefs and their effects on wars remains understudied when applying rational choice to real world conflicts.

Authoritarian Public Opinion and the Democratic Peace
Mark Bell & Kai Quek
International Organization, forthcoming

The "democratic peace" - the regularity that democracies rarely (if ever) fight with other democracies but do fight with nondemocracies - is one of the most famous findings in international relations scholarship. There is little agreement, however, about the mechanism that underpins the democratic peace. Recently, scholars have shown that mass publics in liberal democracies are less supportive of using military force against other democracies. This finding has been taken to support the idea that the content of public opinion may provide one mechanism that underpins the democratic peace. Using a large-scale survey experiment, we show that mass publics in an authoritarian regime - China - show the same reluctance to use force against democracies as is found in western democracies. Our findings expand the empirical scope of the claim that mass publics are reluctant to use force against democracies, but force us to rethink how public opinion operates as a causal mechanism underpinning the democratic peace.

Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation
Nicholas Miller
International Security, Fall 2017, Pages 40-77

The conventional wisdom suggests that states with nuclear energy programs are more likely to seek or acquire nuclear weapons. Yet there is a dearth of systematic empirical work that directly assesses this proposition. A systematic analysis of the historical evidence suggests that the link between nuclear energy programs and proliferation is overstated. Although such programs increase the technical capacity of a state to build nuclear weapons, they have important countervailing political effects that limit the odds of proliferation. Specifically, nuclear energy programs increase the likelihood that parallel nuclear weapons programs will be detected and face counterproliferation pressures; they also increase the costliness of nonproliferation sanctions. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, states with nuclear energy programs historically have not been significantly more likely to seek or acquire nuclear weapons. A combination of qualitative and quantitative evidence supports the plausibility of the countervailing political effects of nuclear energy programs.

U.S. Military Deployment and Host-Nation Economic Growth
Uk Heo & Min Ye
Armed Forces & Society, forthcoming

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. military has deployed its troops all over the world for regional security and/or peace building. Despite the importance of its political, economic, and military impact on the region, few studies examined how U.S. military deployment overseas affects the host nation's economy except Jones and Kane (2012) and Kane (2012). To help fill the gap in the literature, we tested how substantial U.S. troop deployment (more than 100 troops on average) affects the host state's investment, trade, political development, and economic growth for the period from 1960 to 2014, using the seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) model. The results show that the presence of U.S. troops does promote investment, trade, and economic growth in the host state. The United States deploys troops for regional security purposes, but these deployments also help economic growth directly and indirectly.

The Disclosure Dilemma: Nuclear Intelligence and International Organizations
Allison Carnegie & Austin Carson
Columbia University Working Paper, October 2017

Scholars have long argued that international institutions solve information problems through increased transparency. This article introduces a distinct problem that instead requires such institutions keep information secret. We argue that states often seek to reveal intelligence about other states' violations of international rules and laws but are deterred by concerns about revealing the sources and methods used to collect it. Properly equipped international institutions, however, can mitigate these dilemmas by analyzing and acting on sensitive information while protecting it from wide disclosure. Using new data on intelligence sharing with the International Atomic Energy Agency and analyses of the full universe of nuclear proliferation cases, we demonstrate that reforms that strengthened the Agency's intelligence safeguarding capabilities led to greater intelligence-sharing and fewer nuclear-related transgressions. However, our theory suggests that solving these dilemmas provides informed states with a subtle form of influence that creates tension with the normative goal of international transparency.

When Killers Become Victims: Diversionary War, Human Rights, and Strategic Target Selection
Efe Tokdemir & Brendan Skip Mark
International Interactions, forthcoming

The diversionary theory largely focuses on the incentives leaders have to use force. However, little attention has been given to the characteristics that make for a good target. We argue that US presidents choose targets that repress human rights since they are the easiest to sell to international and domestic audiences. By targeting repressive states US presidents can justify their use of force by cloaking their motivation in the language of human rights, responding to calls for intervention, pointing to the failure of international actors and institutions to resolve these problems, and building upon emerging norms that allow for intervention in repressive states. Updating US Use of Force data, we empirically test and find support for our hypothesis that presidents target human rights abusers when they face trouble at home. This paper contributes to target selection process by offering a complete theory of diversionary conflict accounting for cost/benefit calculation of presidents. Moreover, we believe that our findings reveal human rights practices' role in international conflict, as well.

No Kin In The Game: Moral Hazard and War in the U.S. Congress
Eoin McGuirk, Nathaniel Hilger & Nicholas Miller
NBER Working Paper, October 2017

Why do wars occur? We exploit a natural experiment to test the longstanding hypothesis that leaders declare war because they fail to internalize the associated costs. We test this moral hazard theory of conflict by compiling data on the family composition of 3,693 US legislators who served in the U.S. Congress during the four conscription-era wars of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. We test for agency problems by comparing the voting behavior of congressmen with draft-age sons versus draft-age daughters. We estimate that having a draft-age son reduces legislator support for pro-conscription bills by 10-17%. Legislators with draft-age sons are more likely to be reelected subsequently, suggesting that support for conscription is punished by voters. Our results provide new evidence that agency problems contribute to political violence, and that elected officials can be influenced by changing private incentives.

Power Politics or Public Pandering? An Empirical Investigation of Economic Sanctions and Presidential Approval
Clayton Webb
International Interactions, forthcoming

How do economic sanctions affect presidential approval? Competing claims have been made about the domestic political consequences of economic sanctions. One claim is that sanctions are unpopular because they have negative economic consequences; another claim is that sanctions are popular because they project an image of strength; and another claim is that sanctions are neither popular nor unpopular because the public is uninformed about international affairs. These arguments imply competing identification restrictions. I test these competing models using a Bayesian Structural Vector Autoregression (B-SVAR) model. The results show that sanctions have a moderate negative effect on presidential approval. I use these findings as a basis for a broader set of auxiliary analyses. Despite received wisdom, sanctions imposed for different reasons against different target states do not produce disparate effects on public opinion. These analyses resolve an important empirical dilemma that weighs on a range of theoretical perspectives in the sanctions literature and highlights fruitful avenues for future research.

Media technology, covert action, and the politics of exposure
Michael Joseph & Michael Poznansky
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming

States wishing to use force in the modern era frequently face strong incentives to exploit secrecy. Successful covert operations can reduce the likelihood of unwanted escalation with powerful rivals and help leaders conceal unpopular actions from domestic and foreign audiences alike. The many benefits of secrecy, however, can only be realized if covert operations remain covert. We argue that access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) is a critical factor that increases the chances that a covert mission will be exposed. As a result, leaders are much less likely to reach for the quiet option when a potential target has dense ICT networks. We illustrate our mechanism through US national security archival vignettes. We test our argument using a dataset of declassified US military and electoral interventions intended to subvert incumbent regimes throughout the Cold War. The core finding, that leaders are less likely to pursue covert action relative to alternative options when the chances of exposure are high, holds across five distinct measures of ICT networks as well as different model specifications and placebo tests. Our findings suggest that Cold War-style covert operations may well be a thing of the past in an age where communication and media technologies have proliferated to the far corners of the globe. We advance debates on communications technologies, covert action, and political violence.

Truman's Rhetoric Entrenches Unilateral Authority and Fashions a Trend for Future Executive Use
Kimberley Fletcher
Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2017, Pages 720-751

In the 1936 case of United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court reasoned that the president is the sole organ of foreign affairs given implicitly through the commander-in-chief clause. With over 10,000 citations (Code of Federal Regulations) and 145 Curtiss-Wright references by attorney generals and the Department of Justice justifying presidential prerogatives, the imperial president is enshrined in law. Even with recent challenges, the Court remains steadfast to unilateral executive decision making. However, few studies identify when the executive branch first adopts the Court's newly constituted constitutional order, and few provide a systematic analysis of how presidents advance the sole-organ doctrine. Building on this scholarship I show that President Truman's cohesive narrative of asserted unilateral powers redirects development for future executives to claim unfettered discretion.

Foreign Aid, Foreign Policy, and Domestic Government Legitimacy: Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh
Simone Dietrich, Minhaj Mahmud & Matthew Winters
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Foreign aid donors make themselves visible as the funders of development projects to improve citizen attitudes abroad. Do target populations receive these political communications in the intended fashion, and does the information succeed in changing attitudes? Despite the widespread use of various mechanisms to communicate information about foreign funding, little evidence exists about their effectiveness. We embed an informational experiment about a US-funded health project in a nationwide survey in Bangladesh. Although we find only limited recognition of the USAID brand, explicit information about US funding slightly improves general perceptions of the United States; it does not, however, change respondent's opinions on substantive foreign policy issues. We also find that information increases confidence in local authorities. While our results suggest that information about foreign donors can effect attitudinal change, they also suggest that current mechanisms for information transmission might not be sufficient to do so.

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