Worth Fighting For

Kevin Lewis

February 05, 2024

Domestic Distributional Roots of National Interest
Soyoung Lee
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

What international issues become national interests worth fighting for, and why? Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue that issues without clear economic value, such as barren lands, are more likely to be perceived as national interests because they do not benefit any single domestic group. Since who benefits is unclear, politicians have an easier time framing such issues as benefiting the whole nation. I test this argument using survey experiments on the American public. The results show that first, issues providing diffuse benefits to citizens are more likely to be considered national interests than issues providing concentrated benefits to certain domestic groups. Second, issues with clearer economic value are harder to frame as having diffuse benefits because they are more easily associated with specific beneficiaries. This study proposes a new theory of national interest and offers a potential explanation for why people frequently support conflict over issues without obvious benefits.

Attributing Digital Covert Action: The Curious Case of WikiSaudiLeaks
Simin Kargar & Thomas Rid
Intelligence and National Security, forthcoming

How can digital covert action be attributed? This paper revisits one of the most complex, most significant, and most mysterious digital covert actions of our time: a 2015 hack-and-leak case known among investigators as ‘WikiSaudiLeaks’ that so far has evaded attribution. We argue that WikiSaudiLeaks was not a stand-alone event, but a puzzle piece in a larger covert action campaign that involved advanced computer network exploitation, computer network attack, persistent deception, and a creative influence and disinformation effort. By disintegrating the larger event into its components, limited attribution becomes possible. We present the most detailed and comprehensive investigation of this case to date, attribute at least one component of the larger event to Iranian intelligence, and draw conceptional conclusions.

Seaweed as a Resilient Food Solution After a Nuclear War
Florian Ulrich Jehn et al.
Earth's Future, January 2024

Abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios such as a nuclear winter caused by the burning of cities in a nuclear war, an asteroid/comet impact or an eruption of a large volcano inject large amounts of particles in the atmosphere, which limit sunlight. This could decimate agriculture as it is practiced today. We therefore need resilient food sources for such an event. One promising candidate is seaweed, as it can grow quickly in a wide range of environmental conditions. To explore the feasibility of seaweed after nuclear war, we simulate the growth of seaweed on a global scale using an empirical model based on Gracilaria tikvahiae forced by nuclear winter climate simulations. We assess how quickly global seaweed production could be scaled to provide a significant fraction of global food demand. We find seaweed can be grown in tropical oceans, even after nuclear war. The simulated growth is high enough to allow a scale up to an equivalent of 45% of the global human food demand (spread among food, animal feed, and biofuels) in around 9–14 months, while only using a small fraction of the global ocean area. The main limiting factor being the speed at which new seaweed farms can be built. The results also show that the growth of seaweed increases with the severity of the nuclear war, as more nutrients become available due to increased vertical mixing. This means that seaweed has the potential to be a viable resilient food source for abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios.

The First U.S.-Based Soviet Nuclear Spy: The Saga of Clarence Hiskey and Arthur Adams
Harvey Klehr & John Earl Haynes
Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2023, Pages 53-69

Years before anything was publicly disclosed about the nuclear espionage of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Klaus Fuchs, and Theodore Hall, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Army Intelligence identified Clarence Hiskey, a Manhattan Project scientist, as a Soviet spy helping to provide highly sensitive nuclear weapons information. The two agencies kept watch on a Soviet intelligence officer, Arthur Adams, who was living illegally in the United States and serving as Hiskey's control officer. Despite an extensive investigation, neither Hiskey nor Adams was ever arrested. Although Adams was named in a sensational tabloid newspaper article shortly after the end of World War II and closely shadowed by the FBI, he was able to flee to the Soviet Union. Hiskey was never indicted for espionage. Based on material released from declassified Russian archives and FBI files made available under the Freedom of Information Act, the article tells the story of the first U.S.-based nuclear spy and how he got away with it.

‘Vital and irreplaceable facilities’: Explaining leverage when states host great powers’ spying operations
Cullen Nutt
Intelligence and National Security, forthcoming

Great powers use others’ territory for spying. Existing work shows that hosts of spying sometimes enjoy high leverage over great powers in exchange for their cooperation. At other times, hosts wield less leverage. Why? This paper points to the quality of intelligence that great powers glean from a host’s territory and the availability of alternatives to account for this variation. In U.S. spying on the Soviet Union from Iran, changes in these factors during the 1960s caused Iran’s leverage over the United States to increase. U.S. concessions enabled the Shah’s excesses. But the United States retained access to extraordinary intelligence.

Firms & Peacemaking: The Role of Private Firms in Civil War Negotiations
Molly Melin, Mihir Modi & Santiago Sosa
Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, forthcoming

Over the last twenty years, scholars have closely examined the political and social conditions that promote peaceful conflict resolution and those that exacerbate violence. Accordingly, there is much greater understanding of violence and peace processes. Mostly lacking from this scholarship, however, is a role for private firms. International firms are often present in societies prone to conflict. Recent research suggests firms can play an important role in conflict prevention and resolution (Melin 2021), and business scholars suggest these actors can reduce tensions in conflict zones (Barrios et al. 2016; Fort 2015; Oetzel and Getz 2012). Yet, we know little about how MNCs impact conflict resolution dynamics. This project explores how the private sector affects conflict. Using new data we show the effects of an active private sector on the occurrence and outcomes of civil war negotiations. We find that corporate calls for peace are effective at encouraging states and rebels in democratic states to negotiate, but only increase the likelihood of reaching a peace agreement in non-democracies.

How does pro-attitudinal information improve intergroup relations? Unraveling the underlying mechanism of American and Chinese people’s mutual attitudes
Yilu Yang, Tianru Guan & Randong Yuan
Politics, Groups, and Identities, forthcoming

Though media exposure research typically links pro-attitudinal information with ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation, the empirical evidence to date is inconclusive. Can attitude-consistent media diminish prepositions and ease intergroup tensions? If so, what type of like-minded media content should ingroups be exposed to? Rather than approaching from the perspective of the morality dimension, which has been well-researched, this study took the US and China’s public attitudes toward each other as a case study, to examine the link between pro-attitudinal media exposure of outgroups’ “competency” dimension and attitudes toward outgroups. Results indicate that Americans and Chinese who were exposed to pro-attitudinal media stimulus depicting an outgroup’s lack of competency show more outgroup favoritism, and outgroup empathy mediates the media effects on outgroup attitudes. Theoretical underpinnings using social comparison, the underdog effect, and the pratfall effect are discussed, along with practical implications to improve intergroup relations, especially international relations, in the aftermath of COVID-19 when intergroup tensions may have been exacerbated.

Reykjavik Up Close: Reagan and Gorbachev, October 1986 and After
Thomas Simons
Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2023, Pages 159-190

A veteran U.S. diplomat, who is now one of the last living participants in the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting at Reykjavik in October 1986, traces the genesis, nature, and aftermath of that summit. He recounts changes in U.S.-Soviet relations during the first several years of the Reagan administration, including important events such as the 1983 Pentecostalist negotiations, the shootdown of a South Korean passenger airliner by Soviet air defense forces, and the meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva in November 1985. Even though scholars in retrospect have looked on the Reykjavik summit as a turning point, it began as a failure. Two leaders, who became exhausted as the proceedings wore on, engaged in a momentous exchange on nuclear elimination but then doubled down on incompatible positions regarding strategic ballistic missile defense (BMD). Reagan sought a “personal favor,” as he had with Gorbachev's predecessors three years earlier regarding the Pentecostals, whereas Gorbachev pushed for strict limits on BMD as a matter of “principle.” Both sides then scrambled to salvage the future, in an interpretive effort, centered on the leaders’ personal relationship, that ultimately yielded today's favorable view of Reykjavik's place in history.

“Our Bomber Will Always Get Through”: Cognitive Barriers to US-UK Wartime Military Intelligence During the Air Offensives of 1939-1941
Nicholas Blanchette & Wright Smith
MIT Working Paper, November 2023

In the early years of the Second World War, Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) fought the same conflict from two angles. At home, the RAF had to defend Great Britain from a strategic bombing campaign carried out by the German Luftwaffe from July 1940 through June 1941. Beyond the English Channel, it sought to carry out its own strategic bombing campaign targeting German military forces, industry, and cities. Consequently, the RAF possessed a rare opportunity: the chance to compare intelligence on the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign to intelligence on the effectiveness of their own bombing effort, and to use that comparison to innovate and improve their bombing operations. However, despite the challenges to strategic bombing that the German campaign demonstrated, such as the strength of air defenses during daytime operations, the sturdiness of industrialized economies and civilian populations, and the inaccuracy of bomber aircraft, RAF leaders, as well as American officers with the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) observing the bombing campaigns, mostly ignored potential lessons from the German experience and remained stubbornly unable to fix their own mistakes. Although the size and scale of the British and American Combined Bomber Offensive grew exponentially through 1945, at great human and materiel cost, the bombing campaign proved to be largely ineffective in its overarching goal of coercing German surrender. Why did the RAF and USAAF observers fail to take advantage of the unique military intelligence and wartime learning opportunity they were handed by the German air offensive to improve their own operations? Why did the failures of the German air campaign not prompt RAF leaders to reassess their rosy intelligence appraisals about the performance of their own bombing missions? Why did it take civilian intervention, in the form of Churchill himself ordering a civilian review of bombing missions, for the RAF to recognize that its intelligence assessments of the bombing campaign were wildly overoptimistic? In this paper, we answer these questions by pointing to two cognitive processes which we hypothesize prevented Allied airmen from recognizing the value of the intelligence that could be derived from German failures for adapting and improving the effectiveness of their own aerial operations.


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