Palmerston letter

Research Description

I use quantitative methods and diplomatic history to study international politics, primarily international security. Broadly, I research two aspects of international security: the political economy of security and alliance politics.

My research initially focused on the economic aspects of war, such as war finance. This research led me to begin exploring the political economy of military alliances, which includes understanding how international trade bolsters alliances or how allies influence the resources states allocate towards arms. Given the centrality of such political-economic questions to the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), I then began exploring issues relevant to understanding the politics of NATO and alliances more generally.

I will now describe my research in these substantive areas and the contributions to quantitative analysis I made while pursuing this research (namely, the development of k-adic data). I conclude by describing a new research project exploring how international markets and alliance politics influenced the onset of the American Civil War.

(1) Political Economy of Security

How do money and markets influence the acquisition and application of military power? This is the fundamental question asked by scholars who explore the political economy of security. My earliest research delved into this subject, specifically the acquisition of arms and the funding of war. I then explored the economic aspects of alliance relations. I will now describe my research projects in this area. My piece describing the entire Political Economy of Security field will eventually appear in the Annual Review of Political Science. In the meantime, interested readers can read this piece (which summarizes the field and shows how my research contributes to it).

(a) The Debt Financing of War

A series of papers explore states' need to debt finance military expenditures. One paper published in International Organization details how central banks enable governments to credibly commit to repay the massive quantities of debt accumulated during war. Another paper, forthcoming in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, argues that only states with the ``financial wherewithal'' to debt finance military expenditures will enter war (an early probe into the politics of default served as the foundation for this paper).

(b) The Influence of War on the Economy

My war financing research built on earlier research exploring how war influences the economy and how the economy enables and incentivizes a state to acquire and enhance its arms. This work appeared in a book published by McGraw Hill Irwin. In interviews here and here, I discuss policy insights from this research. I have subsequently looked at ways that states seek to acquire security ``on the cheap'', such as the construction of border walls (the policy implications of my wall research is discussed here).

(c) Political Economy of Military Alliances

A prominent topic in the political economy of security is the political economy of alliances. Inspired largely by the history of NATO, this work investigates two core topics: the "arms-versus-allies" tradeoff, and the linkages between economic cooperation and security cooperation.

(i) Using Economic Cooperation to Secure and Maintain Military Alliances

NATO's creation can not be separated from the various economic institutions created at the same time, from the International Monetary Fund, to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, to the European Coal and Steel Community. In what way does economic cooperation enhance security cooperation? Can economic cooperation underpin an alliance by making it more credible? Inspired by such questions, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the use of ``issue linkage'' to achieve cooperation among states. Issue linkages are when states decide to include two or more unrelated issues in a single agreement. The logic is that including multiple issues in a single agreement -- thereby providing ``something for everyone'' -- will make all the parties willing to sign on and adhere to a cooperative agreement. Though this concept has a long literature, it lacked empirical evidence. I used the inclusion of trade cooperation provisions in miltiary alliance treaties as a means of gaining empirical leverage on this question. This entailed collecting new data on failed alliance treaty negotiations and identifying whether those negotiations witnessed trade cooperation offers. The dissertation was published as a series of papers, including in International Organization and the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and received the Walter Isard Best Dissertation Prize from the Peace Science Society. The policy implications of this research are highlighted here.

(ii) The "Arms versus Allies" Tradeoff

The "arms-versus-allies" tradeoff lies at the center of NATO's history. Since it's creation, policy makers in the United States have regularly complained about the "free-riding" done by NATO's European members, whereby the protection offered by the United States through the alliance allows the European states to reduce "guns" production for the sake of "butter". How does the "arms-versus-allies" tradeoff, in general, influence the decision of states to form alliances? How does it influence the decision to arm?
Should states rely on their own arms, the assistance of an ally, or both? Realist scholars have long identified internal balancing (via arms) and external balancing (via allies) as the two core ways that states can oppose a threat. Additionally, a rich literature seeks to identify the conditions under which arms and allies are substitutes, complements, or a bit of both. My own contributions to this literature has appeared in The British Journal of Political Science and The Journal of Conflict Resolution. In the former piece, we argue that since democratic states are perceived as more reliable allies, states are more likely to reduce military expenditures after forming an alliance with a democracy. In the latter piece, we argue that adopting a conscription-based military recruitment system, by signaling a willingness to incur domestic political costs for the sake of security, will ease the ability of a state to form an alliance. Hence, this form of internal arms is a complement to allies.

(2) Alliance Politics

Exploring the political economy issues related to NATO inspired me to investigate two other issues directly related to NATO and the politics of alliances more generally: how established democracies assist new democracies in the creation of international organizations and gain membership in existing organizations, and the conditions underwhich states will agree to actually form an alliance treaty. This research is found in two book-length projects

(a) Agreement and Nonagreement in Alliance Treaty Negotiations

Researching the political economy of military alliances led me to branch away from exclusively studying the political economy of security and begin wrestling with a key question in international politics: how do states gain allies? More precisely, when are states able to sign a new alliance treaty or when do they, instead, walk away from attempts at alliance formation? In a project that builds on the data I collected for my dissertation project, I explore alliance treaty negotiations to understand why some of these negotiations end in agreement (i.e. a signed treaty) and others end in nonagreement (i.e. the states end the negotiations without a treaty). Nonagreement is surprisingly frequent, with over 40 percent of alliance treaty negotiations between European states between 1815 and 1945 ending in nonagreement. In a book manuscript, I argue that understanding why alliance treaty negotiations end in agreement or nonagreement requires thinking of alliance treaties as joint war plans. States are more likely to reach agreement when they enter alliance treaty negotiations with ``highly compatible'' war fighting plans. I support this argument with an assortment of quantitative and qualitative evidence on alliance treaty negotiations prior to 1950, including the negotiation of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty (which founded NATO).

(b) Established Democracies Assisting New Democracies to Form and Join Security Organizations

How can external actors assist states undergoing domestic institutional change? Building on my work on alliances by using the Baltic states' accession to NATO as a motivating example (and as a core case), Johannes Urpelainen and I explore the general relationship between democratic transitions and international organization (IO) membership. Given that democratic regimes are perceived as essential for regional stability and internal security, many security organizations are engaged in democracy promption and assistance. Indeed, democracy protection and assistance is a priority for many alliances in the contemporary world (from NATO to the OAS to ECOWAS). We find that while IOs can provide technical assistance and public good provision to transitional democracies, democratizing states must frequently craft their own organizations to provide these services. This is because membership to the most lucrative existing IOs, such as NATO, is initially closed to transitional regimes. This research appeared in a series of papers, including in World Politics, and a book manuscript on this project will soon appear in the Chicago Series on International and Domestic Institutions. We discuss the policy implications of our research here.

(3) Quantitative Methods For International Relations Research

Because much of the above research required developing and applying new statistical methods, I also research statistical methodology and how it is applied to the study of international relations. This entails thinking about best practices for empirically studying international relations and developing software to assist in this analysis (see my ``Statistics Software" page). Of particular note, in research appearing in Political Analysis, funded by the National Science Foundation, and culminating in the creation of the NewGene Data Management Software, I claim that the k-ad is the appropriate unit of analysis for studying multilateral events, such as alliance formation.

(4) NEW PROJECT: International Politics of the American Civil War

A new project uses both my knowledge of the political economy of security and alliance acquisition to shed new insights into one of the most consequential conflicts in history : the American Civil War. Specifically, a new project explores how attempts by the Southern Confederacy to gain a European ally ignited the war. My initial research on this topic appeared in Security Studies and inspired a co-authored study that appeared in the American Journal of Political Science (with policy implications discussed here).

A book manuscript on the topic will explore how alliance politics shaped the onset of the American Civil War. I contend that Southern secession and the Northern response to secession are largely explained by the South's hope that cotton dependence would secure a European alliance. An initial paper on the topic is featured here and reviewed here.

Below are links to my published papers and replication files. Please contact me with any questions.

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