Use Their Force: Interstate Security Alignments and the Distribution of Military Capabilities

The capabilities that comprise a nation’s military determine the international disputes it is involved in, the types of threats it can credibly make, and the consequences of resorting to force. My research focuses on understanding the political factors that drive a state to possess the combination of military capabilities that it does. In particular, I examine the role that international alliances play in explaining a state’s decision to have a highly specialized military that is highly capable in some areas, but not others, or a diversified military that is roughly equally capable in all areas. I argue that states make a decision about whether they should specialize their military capabilities by looking at the extent to which they can rely on the military capabilities of their allies. When the alliance is reliable – because interests are closely aligned or the alliance is highly governed – states will specialize their military capabilities by embracing a “shared production model” of military capabilities. But if the alliance becomes less reliable, they will embrace a force structure that is redundant with those of their allies in the event that they need to defend themselves on their own.



Peer-Reviewed and Edited Volumes

Signaling in Foreign Policy” (with Erik Gartzke, Shannon Carcelli, and Jack Zhang) for The Oxford Encyclopedia of Foreign Policy Analysis, ed. Cameron Thies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)  

Book Reviews

Review of A New Strategy for Complex Warfare: Combined Effects in East Asia, by Thomas A. Drohan. 2016 Parameters. 46(4)

Working Projects


After Deterrence: Explaining Conflict Short of War


Policymakers are increasingly concerned about the “gray zone” — the region between peace and war where, it is feared, challengers are able to alter the status quo without triggering larger military confrontations. A central puzzle is why capable aggressors choose to limit the potency of their attack. We offer two logics for this behavior. First, to the degree that deterrence works, challengers opt to “pull their punches” by adopting sub-optimal strategies to avoid triggering a larger contest.  Defenders in this scenario can respond by “doubling down” on deterrence, further containing the contest and forcing an aggressor to withdraw or continue to fight inefficiently. Second, in contrast, the challenger may not be deterred but deliberately choose a low-cost strategy because it is militarily optimal. In this case, doubling down on deterrence is counter-productive and risks escalation. We test the two arguments be examining Russian foreign interventions since the end of the Cold War. We find that Russia is sensitive to deterrence as evidenced by its choice of tools employed. Russian cyber and intelligence operations, which are unlikely to provoke retaliation, are ubiquitous. More overt and muscular operations are inversely correlated with the credibility of Western deterrence. Russian gray zone operations are thus a reaction to the success of Western deterrence. Concerns about the gray zone may be well founded, but one should not overstate its general efficacy.

Presentation at the annual American Political Science (APSA) Conference (September 2018)

One, if by land, and two, if by sea: Introducing a Dataset on the Domains of Crisis Behavior


The military capabilities a nation employs during a crisis - known as domains - are widely believed to be important in the study of international relations, yet scholarly research on this topic remains limited. This paper introduces a new dataset on the military domains and units employed by state actors during 455 international crises from 1918 to 2007. It discusses the coding procedures, describes global trends, and provides one empirical application of the dataset to show how the study of the means used during international crises contributes to our understanding of international relations. We provide preliminary evidence that crisis outcomes are more likely to favor actors that deploy naval units.

Presentation at the International Studies Association (ISA) Conference (April 2018)

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: The Effects of US Cruise Missile Strikes Since the Gulf War


Research on aerial bombing has primarily focused on its effects. However, less is known about variation in the manner in which that bombing occurs. This paper contributes to research about how states fight by providing the first comprehensive dataset of the entire universe of US cruise missile strikes from 1991-2017 – a type of bombing that has been largely excluded from prior analysis on aerial bombing campaigns. This fine-grained data allows scholars to examine how the type of bombing a state undertakes is affected by international and domestic factors, geography, and tactical considerations. We demonstrate how new information on military platforms, the geography of long-range strikes, and the timing of conflict alters theories about the effects of technological innovation on international conflict.

Presentation at the ISSS-IS Conference (November 2018)

Keeping Your Friends Close, But Acquaintances Closer: Why Weakly Allied States Make Loyal Coalition Partners


What determines the degree of alliance contributions to conflict theaters? France's military budget was twice the size of Italy's at the outbreak of the Gulf War, yet their troops contribution was ten times the size. This disparity demonstrates a simple but consequential point: alliance commitments are always unequal. We shed light on this important but under-explored topic by exploring the determinants of the degree of alliance contributions to conflict theaters. Through a new data set of relative country-level military contributions to the war in Afghanistan (2001-2014), we measure the extent to which states committed troops to the war during its early years, relative to how many troops they could have contributed. Drawing upon measures of position within the alliance network we argue that states contribute to ongoing conflicts in proportion to their potential gains in the broader security community. Countries that are already closely aligned with the central coalition actors and those stranded on the periphery alike tend to under-commit troops relative to the largest contributors, whose moderate alignments leave substantial room for subsequent gains to be had from signaling their commitment to the leading coalition actor.

Presentation at the American Political Science Association (APSA) Conference (August 2018)

Churning Butter into Guns: Identifying Latent Military Capacity


Military capacity is considered central to national power, yet its measures remain aggregated and generalized. This paper aims to produce a better understanding of military capacity through a nuanced analysis of military technology. The acumen of these technological bundles determine the military systems available to a given country and thus shape military strategy, structure, and success. This paper introduces new data using the DoD's Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) to shed light on the composition of technological bundles as well as empirically identifying military domains based on technological portfolios. This new way of thinking about military technology through empirical validation rather than non-military proxy will shed light on nations' system integration skills, the complementarity and substitutability of military technologies, and the role that alliances, trade ties, and domestic factor endowments play in shaping a military's technological portfolio.

Presentation at ISSS-IS Conference (November 2018)

I Saw the Sign: Explaining Military Signals


Signaling one's resolve and capabilities should help countries avoid war by communicating the conditions for a negotiated bargain that can serve the same ends as war. However, the spiral model of conflict holds that communicating resolve and capability could cause your opponent to feel threatened and respond in kind, thus escalating tensions. How can preparation for conflict be a deterrent, yet also be a precursor to conflict? This disagreement begs the question of why countries sometimes signal prior to conflict but in other instances they do not. To fully understand a country's decision to signal or not signal prior to a conflict we must therefore understand the relationship between signaling and what a country hopes to 'win' in a dispute. This paper suggests that countries hoping to achieve a negotiated settlement will militarily mobilize in an informational manner designed to signal while those that hope to fight a conflict will militarily mobilize in a tactical manner designed to win. Analyzing signaling through military mobilization in 470 crises over the past century reveals variation in the military tools used, their role in signaling, and the consequent effect on what crises escalate to conflict.