On alert

Kevin Lewis

May 14, 2018

Have wars and violence declined?
Michael Mann
Theory and Society, February 2018, Pages 37–60


For over 150 years liberal optimism has dominated theories of war and violence. It has been repeatedly argued that war and violence either are declining or will shortly decline. There have been exceptions, especially in Germany and more generally in the first half of the twentieth century, but there has been a recent revival of such optimism, especially in the work of Azar Gat, John Mueller, Joshua Goldstein, and Steven Pinker who all perceive a long-term decline in war and violence through history, speeding up in the post-1945 period. Critiquing Pinker’s statistics on war fatalities, I show that the overall pattern is not a decline in war, but substantial variation between periods and places. War has not declined and current trends are slightly in the opposite direction. The conventional view is that civil wars in the global South have largely replaced inter-state wars in the North, but this is misleading since there is major involvement in most civil wars by outside powers, including those of the North. There is more support for their view that homicide has declined in the long-term, at least in the North of the world (with the United States lagging somewhat). This is reinforced by technological improvements in long-distance weaponry and the two transformations have shifted war, especially in the North, from being “ferocious” to “callous” in character. This renders war less visible and less central to Northern culture, which has the deceptive appearance of being rather pacific. Viewed from the South the view has been bleaker both in the colonial period and today. Globally war and violence are not declining, but they are being transformed.

Detecting Clandestine Reprocessing Activities in the Middle East
Michael Schoeppner
Science & Global Security, forthcoming


Remote monitoring of krypton-85 from undeclared reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel could be part of a fissile material cut-off treaty, could serve as an additional measure for the IAEA safeguards system to monitor compliance with the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty, and could be an important verification tool of a reprocessing moratorium or Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East or East Asia. Atmospheric transport modelling is applied to determine the area over which krypton-85 emissions from undeclared reprocessing activities at various levels in the Middle East would still be detectable against the high krypton-85 background from reprocessing in historical weapon programs in the United States and USSR as well as more recent and ongoing commercial reprocessing in France and the U.K. Analysis of annual wind flow over Israel's Dimona facility, the only operating reprocessing site in the region, suggests that a known reprocessing plant could be monitored with one or a few fixed monitoring stations. Random air sampling for krypton-85 analysis, perhaps using drones, may be feasible for reliable and timely detection of clandestine reprocessing plants against the krypton-85 background but would require on the order of 50–100 air samples per day. Ending reprocessing at La Hague in France and at Sellafield in the UK and the resulting decline of the krypton-85 background over time would reduce to about 10 the number of daily samples required to monitor the Middle East.

Between Acquisition and Use: Assessing the Likelihood of Nuclear Terrorism
Christopher McIntosh & Ian Storey
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Much of the contemporary literature on nuclear terrorism focuses on the question of whether a terrorist organization could acquire a nuclear weapon. This assumes that once a terrorist group acquires a weapon, they will, at some point, attempt to detonate it in an attack. This article calls that assumption into question by using a strategic perspective to examine the likely behavior of a nuclear-armed terrorist organization. We identify and assess the most likely options available and conclude that a nuclear terrorist attack is the least likely outcome — even for terrorist groups with nuclear capability. This results from three drawbacks of actually detonating a nuclear weapon: the costs associated with an attack, the benefits forfeited in terms of the options foreclosed by using the weapon, and the relative strategic value of alternative courses of action.

Do U.S. Drone Strikes Cause Blowback? Evidence from Pakistan and Beyond
Aqil Shah
International Security, Spring 2018, Pages 47-84


Many analysts argue that U.S. drone strikes generate blowback: by killing innocent civilians, such strikes radicalize Muslim populations at the local, national, and even transnational levels. This claim, however, is based primarily on anecdotal evidence, unreliable media reports, and advocacy-driven research by human rights groups. Interview and survey data from Pakistan, where, since 2004, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has launched more than 430 drone strikes, show little or no evidence that drone strikes have a significant impact on militant Islamist recruitment either locally or nationally. Rather, the data reveal the importance of factors such as political and economic grievances, the Pakistani state's selective counterterrorism policies, its indiscriminate repression of the local population, and forced recruitment of youth by militant groups. Similarly, trial testimony and accounts of terrorists convicted in the United States, as well as the social science scholarship on Muslim radicalization in the United States and Europe, provide scant evidence that drone strikes are the main cause of militant Islamism. Instead, factors that matter include a transnational Islamic identity's appeal to young immigrants with conflicted identities, state immigration and integration policies that marginalize Muslim communities, the influence of peers and social networks, and online exposure to violent jihadist ideologies within the overall context of U.S. military interventions in Muslim countries.

Hawks, Doves, and Peace: An Experimental Approach
Michaela Mattes & Jessica Weeks
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


An old adage holds that “only Nixon could go to China,” i.e. that hawkish leaders face fewer domestic barriers than doves when it comes to pursuing reconciliation with foreign enemies. However, empirical evidence for this proposition is mixed. In this paper, we clarify competing theories, elucidate their implications for public opinion, and describe the results of a series of survey experiments designed to evaluate whether and why there is a hawk’s advantage. We find that hawks are indeed better positioned domestically to initiate rapprochement than doves. We also find support for two key causal mechanisms: voters are more confident in rapprochement when it is pursued by a hawk, and more likely to view hawks who initiate conciliation as moderates. Further, the hawk’s advantage persists whether conciliatory efforts end in success or failure. Our microfoundational evidence thus suggests a pronounced domestic advantage for hawks who deliver the olive branch.

The Value of Precision in Probability Assessment: Evidence from a Large-Scale Geopolitical Forecasting Tournament
Jeffrey Friedman et al.
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Scholars, practitioners, and pundits often leave their assessments of uncertainty vague when debating foreign policy, arguing that clearer probability estimates would provide arbitrary detail instead of useful insight. We provide the first systematic test of this claim using a data set containing 888,328 geopolitical forecasts. We find that coarsening numeric probability assessments in a manner consistent with common qualitative expressions — including expressions currently recommended for use by intelligence analysts — consistently sacrifices predictive accuracy. This finding does not depend on extreme probability estimates, short time horizons, particular scoring rules, or individual attributes that are difficult to cultivate. At a practical level, our analysis indicates that it would be possible to make foreign policy discourse more informative by supplementing natural language-based descriptions of uncertainty with quantitative probability estimates. More broadly, our findings advance long-standing debates over the nature and limits of subjective judgment when assessing social phenomena, showing how explicit probability assessments are empirically justifiable even in domains as complex as world politics.

Is There a War Party? Party Change, the Left–Right Divide, and International Conflict
Andrew Bertoli, Allan Dafoe & Robert Trager
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


Are leaders from certain parties particularly likely to engage in military conflict? This question is difficult to answer because of selection bias. For example, countries may be more likely to elect right-wing leaders if their publics are more hawkish or if the international system is particularly dangerous. Put simply, who comes to power is not random, which makes causal inference difficult. We overcome this problem by using a regression discontinuity design. Specifically, we look at close presidential elections that were essentially “tossups” between two candidates. We find that electing right-wing candidates increases state aggression. We also find that electing candidates from challenger parties makes countries much more likely to initiate military disputes, particularly in the first year of the new leader’s term. This result is consistent with other studies that find that the likelihood of state aggression increases following major leadership transitions.

The Spotlight's Harsh Glare: Rethinking Publicity and International Order
Allison Carnegie & Austin Carson
International Organization, forthcoming


How does publicizing states' illicit activities affect the stability of international order? What does this relationship tell us about how governments react to violations of international rules? In contrast to the conventional wisdom that transparent monitoring strengthens the normative legal order, we argue that these activities often undermine it. We develop two mechanisms through which this occurs: by raising the known rate of noncompliance, and by sharpening the threat that deviance poses to other states. We argue that when enforcers understand the dangers of publicizing transgressions, they do so selectively. Focusing on the nuclear nonproliferation domain, we demonstrate that these concerns shaped American decisions to reveal or obfuscate other states' efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. We formalize this argument and then empirically test the model's predictions using in-depth case study analyses. We find that the US failed to disclose infractions when this publicity would have undermined the rules through the two mechanisms we identify. However, while concealing violations can prevent proliferation in response to specific nuclear programs, it can also create potential dangers to a regime's overall health and stability. In addition to reassessing a widely shared assumption about the value of transparent monitoring, this article's broad theoretical framework can shed light on enforcement and compliance dynamics in a variety of international settings.

Making It Personal: The Role of Leader-Specific Signals in Extended Deterrence
Roseanne McManus
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


This article explores how a major power’s leader can deter challenges against weaker states using “leader-specific” signals of support. These signals are sent by a leader personally and publicly, so that the leader becomes associated with the signal in the eyes of the public. Leader-specific signals can be a valuable tool for achieving credible extended deterrence because they are flexible, and they create personal audience and reputational costs for leaders. I focus on leader visits abroad as the type of leader-specific signal that is most likely to be credible. I use original data recording leadership visits in a statistical analysis of extended deterrence success 1950–2007 and find that these visits have a significant deterrent effect. This is particularly true when a visit is accompanied by a high level of supportive statements and when the visit recipient also has a major power defense pact.

Information and anti-American attitudes
Adeline Delavande & Basit Zafar
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, May 2018, Pages 1–31


This paper investigates how attitudes towards the United States are affected by provision of information. We generate a “panel” of attitudes in urban Pakistan, in which respondents are randomly exposed to fact-based statements describing the US in either a positive or negative light. Anti-American sentiment is high and heterogenous in our sample at the baseline, and systematically correlated with intended behavior (such as intended migration to the US). We find that revised attitudes are significantly different from baseline attitudes: attitudes are, on average, revised upward (downward) upon receipt of positive (negative) information, indicating that providing information had a meaningful effect on US favorability. The within-subject design and data on respondents’ priors allows us to investigate the underlying mechanisms. We find that revisions are largely a result of salience-based updating. We reject unbiased information-based updating as the only source of revisions. In addition, a substantial proportion of individuals do not respond to the information. This heterogeneity in revision processes means that there is no convergence in attitudes following the provision of information.

China, the United States, and competition for resources that enable emerging technologies
Andrew Gulley, Nedal Nassar & Sean Xun
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 April 2018, Pages 4111-4115


Historically, resource conflicts have often centered on fuel minerals (particularly oil). Future resource conflicts may, however, focus more on competition for nonfuel minerals that enable emerging technologies. Whether it is rhenium in jet engines, indium in flat panel displays, or gallium in smart phones, obscure elements empower smarter, smaller, and faster technologies, and nations seek stable supplies of these and other nonfuel minerals for their industries. No nation has all of the resources it needs domestically. International trade may lead to international competition for these resources if supplies are deemed at risk or insufficient to satisfy growing demand, especially for minerals used in technologies important to economic development and national security. Here, we compare the net import reliance of China and the United States to inform mineral resource competition and foreign supply risk. Our analysis indicates that China relies on imports for over half of its consumption for 19 of 42 nonfuel minerals, compared with 24 for the United States — 11 of which are common to both. It is for these 11 nonfuel minerals that competition between the United States and China may become the most contentious, especially for those with highly concentrated production that prove irreplaceable in pivotal emerging technologies.

Unemployment and Violent Extremism: Evidence from Daesh Foreign Recruits
Mohamed Abdel Jelil et al.
World Bank Working Paper, March 2018


Transnational terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS/ISIL or Daesh) have shown an ability to attract radicalized individuals from many countries to join their ranks. Using a novel data set that reports countries of residence and educational levels of a large sample of Daesh's foreign recruits, this paper finds that a lack of economic opportunities -- measured by unemployment rates disaggregated by country and education level -- explains foreign enrollment in the terrorist organization, especially for countries that are geographically closer to the Syrian Arab Republic.

The International Politics of Incomplete Sovereignty: How Hostile Neighbors Weaken the State
Melissa Lee
International Organization, Spring 2018, Pages 283-315


Why do some countries fail to govern their territory? Incomplete domestic sovereignty, defined as the absence of effective state authority over territory, has severe consequences in terms of security, order, economic growth, and human well-being. These negative consequences raise the question of why such spaces remain without effective authority. While the international relations literature suggests that state weakness persists because of an absence of war and the comparative politics literature treats political underdevelopment as the consequence of domestic factors that raise the costs of exercising authority, these views are incomplete. I argue that hostile neighbors weaken state authority over territory through a strategy of foreign interference. Foreign interference in domestic sovereignty is a powerful instrument of statecraft that can yield domestic and foreign policy benefits. I investigate the effects of hostile neighboring states through a cross-national, within-country statistical analysis utilizing a novel indicator of state authority, and pair this analysis with a qualitative case study of Malaysian subversion of the Philippines in the 1970s. Together, this evidence shows how this international factor is an underappreciated yet important contributor to weak state authority even after accounting for domestic factors. The study's conclusions challenge our understanding of the effects of international politics on internal political development.

Global Arms Trade and Oil Dependence
Vincenzo Bove, Claudio Deiana & Roberto Nisticò
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming


We investigate how oil dependence affects the trade of weapons between countries. We argue that oil-dependent economies have incentives to transfer arms to oil-rich countries to reduce their risk of instability and, as a result, the chances of disruption in the oil industry. We employ gravity models of the arms trade and estimate the effect of both a local as well as a global oil dependence. Two key results emerge. First, the volume of arms transfers to a specific country is affected by the degree of dependence on its supply of oil. Second, global oil dependence motivates arms export to oil-rich countries even in absence of a direct bilateral oil-for-weapons exchange. Our results point consistently toward the conclusion that the arms trade is an effective foreign policy tool to securing and maintaining access to oil.

Domestic uncertainty, third-party resolve, and international conflict
Matthew DiLorenzo & Bryan Rooney
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


Uncertainty about resolve is a well-established rationalist explanation for war. In addition to estimating the resolve of immediate rivals, leaders choose their actions in a crisis based on expectations about how third parties will respond. We argue that leaders will become more likely to develop inconsistent estimates of rivals’ relative capabilities and resolve – and thus will become more likely to fight – when domestic political changes occur in states that are allied with an opponent. We also consider how the relationship between conflict in rivalries and third-party domestic change depends on domestic political institutions in the third party. We argue that this effect should only hold when a challenger does not also share an alliance with the third party, and that the effect should be strongest when the third party is a non-democratic state. We test our theory using a dataset of changes in leaders’ domestic supporting coalitions and data on militarized interstate disputes from 1920 to 2001. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that the likelihood of conflict increases in rivalries only when domestic coalition changes occur in states that share an alliance with only one member of a rivalry, and that this effect is strongest and most consistent for non-democratic third parties.

Trade and terrorism: A disaggregated approach
Subhayu Bandyopadhyay, Todd Sandler & Javed Younas
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


We construct a model of the consequences of terrorism on trade, where firms in trading nations face different costs arising from domestic and transnational terrorism. Using a dyadic dataset in a gravity model, we test terrorism’s effects on overall trade, exports, and imports, while allowing for disaggregation by primary commodities and manufactured goods. While domestic and transnational terrorism have marginal or no significant influence on the overall trade of primary products, both types of terrorism significantly reduce the overall trade of manufactured goods. This novel finding for a global sample indicates the avenue by which terrorism reduces trade and suggests why previous global studies that looked at all trade generally found modest impacts. Moreover, both domestic and transnational terrorism have a detrimental effect on manufactured imports. The larger apparent reduction for transnational terrorism is not statistically different from that of domestic terrorism. A more mixed picture characterizes the effect of terrorism on exports. Domestic terrorism reduces manufactured exports and increases primary exports, while transnational terrorism reduces primary exports. Placebo tests support our hypothesized causality.

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.