Palmerston letter
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Research Description

I use quantitative analysis and diplomatic history to understand international relations, with an emphasis on international security.

More specifically, I research war finance and alliance formation. My substantive research focuses on war finance and alliance formation for a simple reason: it is well recognized that one influences the other. Realist scholars have long written of states engaging in internal balancing (i.e. the acquisition of arms) and external balancing (i.e. the acquisition of allies). A rich literature looks directly at the relationship between arms and allies, seeking to identify if arms and allies are substitutes, complements, or a bit of both (my recent work on the ``arms versus allies'' tradeoff is here and here). In short, a scholar can only fully understand one by studying both.

In the process of researching these two substantive areas (and their intersection), I have also developed new quantitative methods for international relations research. I will now describe my research projects in each of these areas:

(1) War Financing

How do money and markets influence military power, specifically the acquisition of arms and the funding of war? Some of my earliest research delved into this question, which I have since continued to explore:

(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) Related Work

My research on the debft financing of war built on earlier research on the political economy of security, namely how fighting a war influences the economy and how the economy enables a country to acquire the means (both material and financial) to fight a war. 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 the construction of border walls (the broader policy implications of this research are discussed here).

(2) Alliance Formation

By what processes do states form alliances or gain membership in existing alliances? Besides being an intriguing question in its own right, researching this question offers a window for exploring broader questions and concepts in international politics, such as how sovereign states cooperate. At present, this work falls into four projects:

(a) Forming Alliances with Issue Linkages and Side Payments

How do states achieve cooperation under anarchy? I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the role of ``issue linkage'' in facilitating cooperation amoung states in the international system. 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, by 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. Given my interest in the political economy of security, 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 in 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.

(b) Membership of New Democracies in Security Organizations

How can external actors assist states undergoing domestic institutional change? 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.

(c) Alliance Treaty Negotiation

What explains why states, from time to time, will walk away from attempts at international cooperation? In a project that builds on the data I collected for my dissertation, 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).

(d) NEW PROJECT: International Alliances in Internal Conflicts

What role do international actors play in fomenting domestic unrest? A new project approaches this question by exploring the attempts by actors embroiled in civil wars to form formal international alliances with outside actors. Research on how this process influenced the onset of the American Civil War appeared in Security Studies, inspired a co-authored study that appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, had policy implications discussed here, and will serve as the foundation for two books.

One book will explore this topic from the perspective of IR theory, bringing to bear a host of quantitative and qualitative evidence. Initial work exploring the data on international actors and civil wars led to the writing of a paper on international mediation in civil wars.

Another book is a largely historical piece in which I 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.

(3) Quantitative Research Methods For International Relations Research

In all of the above projects, I have given much consideration to the best practices for empirically studying international relations and developed 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.

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

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