Palmerston letter

Research Description

I use quantitative analysis and diplomatic history to understand international relations, with an emphasis on international security. I initially focused on the economic aspects of war, such as war finance. This work eventually led to exploring the political economy of military alliances. I then deepened my exploration of alliances, concentrating on understanding how states gain allies. Conducting this research also required developing new methods for quantitatively studying international politics.

My work in each of these areas, which I will now describe, continues.

(1) Political Economy of Security

How do money and markets influence military power, specifically the acquisition of arms and the funding of war? This is a key question in the political economy of security. Some of my earliest research delved into this question, which I have since continued to explore. I have two research projects in this area:

(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 Economics of Military Power

My research on the debt financing of war built on earlier research on how fighting a 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 the construction of border walls (the broader policy implications of this research are discussed here).

(2) Political Economy of Military Alliances

My work on the political economy of security eventually focused on how economic policies and economic constraints influence alliance politics, namely the acquisition and retention of allies.

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

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) Arms versus Allies

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 Jounral of Political Science and The Journal of Conflict Resolution.

(3) Alliance Politics

My research on the political economy fo military alliances led me to engage a key question in alliance politics: how do states form alliance treaties or gain membership in existing alliances? Besides being an intriguing question in its own right, researching this question offers a window into broader questions and concepts in internaitonal politics, such as how sovereign states cooperate.

(a) 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.

(b) 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).

(4) 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.

(5) 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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