Sanctions, Uncertainty, and Leader Tenure. (With William Spaniel, accepted for publication at International Studies Quarterly).

Abstract: When do states impose sanctions on their rivals? We develop a formal model of domestic power consolidation, threats, escalation, and imposition of sanctions. With complete information, the target regime’s consolidation of power determines the result—leaders with stable control can weather sanctions and thus deter their imposition, while vulnerable leaders concede the issue. However, when an imposer is uncertain of a foreign leader’s consolidation, vulnerable types have incentive to bluff strength. Foreign powers sometimes respond by imposing sanctions, even though the parties would have resolved the crisis earlier with complete information. We then hypothesize that opponents of newer leaders—particularly in autocracies—are more likely to suffer from this information problem. Employing the Threat and Imposition of Sanctions (TIES) dataset and carefully addressing selection problems common to the sanctions literature, we show that sanctioners are indeed more likely to follow through on threats against such leaders.

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Military Coalitions and the Politics of Information 

Abstract: How does uncertainty about potential members of a military coalition influence the outcome of international crises? Using a formal model in which states may form coalitions for war, I challenge the long-held intuition that communication and cooperation are easiest for states with similar interests. I demonstrate formally that incentives to lie are greatest when allied states agree on how to settle a dispute. Additionally, the audience of communication matters. In contrast to standard results, communication is more effective in private. These findings highlight previously unacknowledged differences between crisis bargaining models and foundational results in informational economics. As such, the model rationalizes patterns of behavior among allies not predicted by existing theories.

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Introducing Nu-CLEAR: A Latent Variable Approach to Measuring Nuclear Capability (with William Spaniel)

Abstract: Latent nuclear capability is a concept of central importance to scholars of nuclear proliferation. However, existing measures of nuclear latency are plagued by a number of issues due to the fact that nuclear latency is inherently unobservable. To overcome this, we adopt a statistical approach well-suited to the estimation of unobservable quantities and apply it to the study of nuclear latency. Specifically, we develop a model grounded in item-response theory that recovers an estimate of this unobserved capability. By estimating the model in a Bayesian framework, we can also assess the inherent uncertainty of our measures in a straightforward way. Throughout, we demonstrate a number of ways in which our scores improve upon the additive-indexing approach taken in existing measures of nuclear capability. In particular, our estimates provide information about activities related to nuclear production in addition to information about state capability. For example, the estimates indicate, contrary to existing arguments, that the possession of enrichment sites is a relatively poor indicator of nuclear capability. We also demonstrate the utility of these scores for empirical scholars with applications. Finally, we provide user-friendly code for scholars to reestimate these scores as new data on state activity becomes available.

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Neutrality, Commitment, and Entangling Wars

When do third parties prefer neutrality, and how does this preference influence the prospects for peace? I develop a complete information model of crisis bargaining in which a third party chooses its own cost of waging war. I show that third parties with moderate settlement preferences may undermine their own ability to intervene by artificially inflating the cost of war. This incentive to commit to neutrality prevents potential allies from reaping the benefits of military cooperation. In an extension, I show that this creates an incentive in which war is preferable to a bargained settlement. When a third party prefers moderation, it is at risk of being forced into conflict that does not serve its interests. War may occur even with complete information  due to the incentive to entangle a third party before it can commit to neutrality.

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Leaders, Uncertainty, and War (with William Spaniel)

How do new leaders impact crisis negotiations? We argue that opposing states know less about such a leader’s resolve over the issues at stake. To fully appreciate the consequences, we develop a multi-period model of negotiations. In equilibrium, as a proposer becomes close to certain of an opponent’s type, the duration and intensity of war goes to 0. We then test whether increases to leader tenure decrease the duration of Militarized interstate disputes. Our estimates indicate that a crisis involving new leaders is  24.5% more likely to last one month than a crisis involving leaders with two years of tenure. Moreover, such conflicts are more likely to result in greater numbers of fatalities.

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Coming Soon:

That’s What Friends Are For: Multilateral Coalitions and Conflict Initiation

Risky Business: International Ideology, Crisis Initiation, and Conflict Duration (with Peter Bils and William Spaniel)

Measuring State Engagement With the UNHRC: Who Cares? (With Gleason Judd)