Palmerston letter

Research Description

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

The connection between my two substantive areas of research is best understood by briefly detailing my personal research trajectory. I began my research career by studying the economic aspects of war, primarily how war influences an economy and how states pay for war. This introduced me to the literature on the political economy of military alliances. Topics in this area include the influence of allies on the resources states allocate toward arms or how acquiring an ally can open new markets for trade. Studying the political economy of military alliances then motivated me to investigate the politics of alliances more generallly. This includes understanding the determinants of alliance formation and exploring NATO's role in European security. I continue to work on all these topics!

Researching these substantive topics also led me to rethink some of the ways scholars quantitatively study international relations. I will describe below my research is this area after I describe my contributions to the political economy of security and alliance politics. I conclude by describing two new book-length research projects that combine my research on alliance politics and the political economy of security.

(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. My research in this area will culminate with a piece I was invited to write for the Annual Review of Political Science. This piece will situate the political economy of security within the broader field of international relations (a version more appropriate for undergraduates and the general public will be available here).

I have explored this subject from a variety of angles. Overall, I can place my political economy of security research into three topics: the debt financing of war, the economic causes and consequences of security policies, and the political economy of military alliances. I will now briefly summarize my research in each topic:

(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 Economic Causes and Consequences of Security Policies

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, which focuses largely on 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

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

To achieve security, 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 of alliances inspired me to investigate the politics of alliances more generally. Some of this research I describe below in my research on quantative methods. But two issues that are central to the politics of alliances and especially the NATO alliance have led to their own book projects. The first project is on how established democracies assist new democracies in the creation of international security organizations (and international organizations in general). The second project is on the conditions that lead states to end alliance treaty negotiations without a signed treaty. I will now describe both projects.

(a) Security Organizations and New Democracies

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. 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. Rather than exploring whether IOs "tie hands" of leaders to reforms or IOs are simply reflections of the balance of power, this research attempts to change the conversation by focusing on what benefits leaders actually hope to acquire from IOs.

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. This research was assisted by some of my co-authored basic research in comparative political economy: looking at the political survival of democratic leaders (see here), the role of oil in sustaining autocratic regimes (see here), and the steps autocratic rulers take to stay in office (see here). We discuss the policy implications of our research here.

(b) Agreement and Nonagreement in Alliance Treaty Negotiations

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). I argue that understanding why alliance treaty negotiations end in agreement or nonagreement requires thinking of alliance treaty negotiations as discussions over joint war plans. States are more likely to reach agreement when they enter alliance treaty negotiations with ``highly compatible'' ideal war plans. This argument bridges research on alliance formation and intra-alliance relations by showing how states must address ally management issues prior to signing an alliance treaty.

In a book manuscript (presently under review), I develop this argument and empirically evaluate the argument with an assortment of quantitative and qualitative evidence on alliance treaty negotiations prior to 1950. Of particular note, I show how my argument offers insights into the negotiation of the North Atlantic Treaty (which founded NATO) in 1948-49.

(3) Quantitative Methods for International Relations Research

In the course of conducting the above substantive research, I have made two contributions to the quantitative study of international relations.

First, several of my projects required collecting new data. These data are available here. As I state in this public lecture, I collected these data for the same reason that all international relations scholars, going back to Quincy Wright, collected data to study IR: "because they thought that was what was appropriate given the question being asked."

Second and more importantly, because much of the above research required developing and applying new statistical methods, I also research the actual analysis methods 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, research appearing in Political Analysis, funded by the National Science Foundation, and culminating in the creation of the NewGene Data Management Software, claims that the k-ad is the appropriate unit of analysis for studying multilateral events, such as alliance formation and the creation of nonaggression pacts. Because of this research, I was invited to write a piece in International Studies Quarterly which attempts to discuss the questions and theoretical claims for which dyadic analysis is appropriate.


In two new book projects, I combine my research in alliance politics and the political economy of security to explore key aspects of the American Civil War and World War I.

(a) Economic Interdependence, Anticipated Alliances, and the Onset of the American Civil War

The first book project is tentatively titled The Approach of Danger: The International Origins of the American Civil War. It seeks to understand how the global cotton trade influenced the initiation of civil war in the United States in 1861. 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. 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). The Security Studies paper was featured here and reviewed here.

(b) The Influence of World War I on the Modern Global Economic Institutions

The second book project, tentatively titled Forged by War: From Great War to Global Economy, is co-authored with Rosella Capella Zielinski. This project is inspired by work on historical institutionalism and seeks to unpack the legacy of allied economic cooperation during World War I. We contend that core features of prominent institutions that operate in the modern global economy -- from the European Union, to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and even the World Trade Organization -- were first devised during World War I. The strain of war compelled the major powers to experiment with various forms of institutionalized economic cooperation, including the creation of international organizations possessing supranational authority. These wartime institutions then explicitly served as the blueprints for designing the international institutions that shaped the global economy after 1945. While this project is new, Rosella and I have presented (or will be presenting) components of it at the annual meetings of the Peace Science Society and International Studies Association, and in seminars at the University of Southern California, University of Wisconsin, Texas A&M University, University of Illinois, University of Colorado, Dartmouth College, and Yale University.

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

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