Book Project: Moral Language and International
My book project investigates the role of government rhetoric
during international bargaining. I examine the impact of moral language on public
preferences for compromise, negotiation processes, and dispute escalation.
I use a mix of survey experimental methods, text analysis, and
qualitative case studies to explore the core research question.
My dissertation, which the book is based on, received the 2019 John McCain Dissertation Award.
Abstract: How does moral language affect international bargaining? When countries rely on moral language to frame a disputed issue, they decrease the probability of peaceful compromise and increase the probability of the dispute escalating with military action. This language operates through two pathways. First, moral language prejudices domestic audiences against compromise over the disputed issue, thereby limiting the options available to negotiators during bargaining. Second, moral language prompts the dispute opponent to also utilize moral arguments to defend its position. The ensuing moral debate moralizes both sets of domestic audiences, consequently reducing opportunities for compromise and narrowing the bargaining range. Negotiated concessions then frustrate the bargaining opponent and elicit accusations of hypocrisy from domestic audiences for compromising on the principle at stake. This backlash triggers crises and pressures the government to stand firm on its previously principled (and uncompromising) position, increasing the probability of military escalation. An examination of the effects of moral language on negotiation breakdown and dispute escalation in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas case probes the theory. The findings illustrate how moral language can shape a government's behavior far into the future, constraining its ability to broker a peaceful compromise.
Abstract: Several decades of research have explored the links between exposure to violent entertainment media and subsequent aggression. However, there has been little research on the effects of exposure to images of real-life violence. In the present study, participants viewed either a video portraying acts of real violence, fictional violence, or a nonviolent video. After watching the video, mild aggressive behavior was assessed using the competitive reaction-time task. In 11 of the 17 preregistered measures, participants who viewed scenes of real-life violence exhibited lower levels of mild aggressive behavior compared to participants who viewed scenes of fictional violence from films and television shows. However, these effects were consistently small. The results suggest that exposure to images of real-life violence in the media may have a small inhibition effect on mild aggressive behavior in some contexts.
Abstract: What is the impact of gender on international affairs? In this paper, we argue that existing theories of international relations often miss the crucial role of gendered perceptions in politics. We draw on research in experimental psychology and the comparative politics of gendered leadership to understand how gender influences reactions to female foreign policy. We argue that female leaders in particular face gender stereotypes that cause dispute opponents to underestimate their resolve during bargaining. Using data on the gender of leaders in militarized disputes, we find evidence of gender biases in bargaining interactions: Female-led states are more likely to have their disputes reciprocated and are consequently more likely to forcefully escalate a dispute than male-led governments. These findings point to the importance of stereotypes and cognitive biases when studying how the increasing heterogeneity of policymakers—and especially world leaders—impacts foreign policy.
Abstract: Theories of crisis bargaining suggest that military mobilizations act as costly signals of resolve, increasing the credibility of coercive threats. In this article, I argue that air mobilizations, as a subset of military signals, demonstrate a lack of resolve during coercive bargaining for four reasons: they cost less in terms of human and financial resources (sunk costs), generate lower political costs (hand-tying), do not raise the risks of engagement (manipulation of risk), and do not significantly shift the balance of power—all compared with other military signals. Using new data that disaggregates military demonstrations into air, naval, and land signals during 210 cases of compellence, this article presents systematic evidence that air signals decrease the probability of coercive threat success compared with the alternatives. This finding holds important implications for theoretical and policy debates regarding the role of costly signals in international bargaining.
Abstract: Theories of crisis bargaining suggest that costly signals can enhance the credibility of one’s coercive threats. In particular, engaging in conspicuous military mobilizations or demonstrations of force are thought to communicate one’s resolve in a crisis. Yet there is disagreement about why this might be the case. One set of theories emphasizes the hand-tying political and reputational effects of visible military action. A different collection of theories argues that mobilizations create bargaining leverage by shifting the balance of power in favor of the mobilizing side. This paper uses new data on coercive threats in international crises to discriminate between these two explanations. It makes two key contributions. First, it presents systematic evidence that military mobilizations during a crisis bolster the effectiveness of coercive threats. Second, it demonstrates that such signals are likely effective because they alter the local balance of military power, not because they tie the hands of political leaders.
Abstract: This paper explores how political discourse affects public support for the use of nuclear weapons. Several recent studies have found that U.S. public is quite willing to support the use of nuclear weapons in military operations. Yet we do not know how firm these views are. Drawing from insights in political behavior research, we suggest that public support for using nuclear weapons is likely to be fragile because citizens know little about nuclear weapons issues and therefore have only weakly-held opinions about them. As a result, individuals may change their views when they are exposed to arguments and opinions they have not yet considered. We test this theory using a survey experiment in which respondents encounter arguments supporting and opposing a hypothetical military strike. When respondents are presented with arguments against the use of nuclear weapons, support for using them in this hypothetical scenario drops considerably. Notably, however, similar arguments have no effect on support for the use of conventional weapons in an otherwise identical scenario. In other words, U.S. public opinion appears malleable with respect to the use of nuclear weapons but not conventional weapons. The results suggest that the U.S. public is not inherently indifferent to the use of nuclear weapons, and is quite susceptible to political arguments against using them.
"Preventing the Flood: Statecraft, Policy Tools, and Border Control" (under revision).
(with Bill Bernhard, Aycan Katitas, and David Leblang)
Abstract: How do refugee flows affect leadership incentives? In our paper, we find that refugee shocks-unanticipated refugee flows into the host country-decrease a leader's time in office. This effect is exacerbated in democratic nations where the leaders are more responsive to public opinion and when the refugees come from more culturally different nations. In response to and in anticipation of this, leaders take a variety of measures to "prevent the flood" of refugees, especially those that are culturally different, from upsetting their tenure in office. These measures include building border walls, joining preferential trade agreements, providing foreign aid, and militarily or economically intervening in the state producing the refugees.
Works in Progress
"The Rhetoric of North Korean Nuclear Negotiations."
"Flying to Win? Nuclear Capabilities and Air Power in Crisis Bargaining."
"Technology, Innovation, and Credibility in International Affairs."
"Leaders and Military Signaling During International Crisis Bargaining."
"Racial Stereotypes and Bargaining during Military Interventions."