UAS in Urban Attacks {monograph}

Venue: weTHINK.

Download the report here.

Abstract: This report addresses the pressing concern of terrorist exploitation of commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) against urban targets. Recognizing the growing accessibility and allure of UAS for malicious purposes, this study employs red teaming methodologies to excavate terrorists’ decision-making processes when employing UAS to attack critical infrastructure and population-centric settings. Randomly assigning participants to distinct terrorist profiles—extreme left, extreme right, and jihadist—and capturing several qualitative and quantitative metrics on target selection, planning and attack courses of action, and evaluation of UAS attributes, it reveals nuanced trends that can enrich forecasting, policymaking, and security provision. Ultimately, this research contributes to the understanding of how UAS are harnessed by violent nonstate actors and informs efforts to mitigate these emerging threats in urban environments.

US Military Intervention and Elite Communication Frames

Conditionally accepted (pending data replication)Journal of Politics

URL: forthcoming

Abstract: Nations militarily intervene in other countries for a variety of reasons—strategic, economic, humanitarian, and more. Not all interventions are equal, and publics do not endorse the risk and expenditure of blood and treasure evenly across instances. Knowing this, democratic leaders are both constrained by and attempt to shape public attitudes. One way that executives can lead the public is in framing the reasons for military action. I argue that executives justify the international use of force in popular schemas even when they do not apply, and censor less popular ones even when they do, to strategically maximize public support. Using quantitative text analysis, this paper explores the congruence between military objectives and elite communication frames employed in US presidential speeches, remarks, and Congressional announcements to justify international militarized interventions. It then uses regression techniques to examine whether the frames comport with the underlying objectives depicted by the International Military Intervention dataset, or whether leaders launder less favorable actions in more publicly palatable rhetoric.

2023 - Emulating Underdogs: Tactical Drones in the Russia-Ukraine War

Venue: Contemporary Security Policy


Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: Early studies on state drone proliferation argued that it would be temperate, constrained by high financial, technical, and infrastructural requisites and fielded according to the logic of scarce, exquisite airpower. While this rationale has held for limited conflicts, the high attrition and massive demand of a total war compelled strong standing armies to follow a different model of adoption: emulating weaker violent nonstate actors leveraging low-cost commercial platforms. The Russia-Ukraine war has captured this trend. Despite earlier expectations of armies maintaining advanced airpower for strategic ends, underdog Ukraine, followed by Russia have developed heavy reliance on commercial drone technologies for tactical aims. Framing this in military and battlefield innovation literature and drawing on studies on commercial drone use among violent nonstate actors, we argue that this constitutes a new trajectory involving mixed military arsenals enhanced with dual-use commercial platforms.

2023 - A Wiki-Based Dataset of Military Operations with Novel Strategic Technologies (MONSTr)

Venue: International Interactions



Coauthor: J. Andrés Gannon

Abstract: Research on strategies and force employment in modern warfare is prolific, but siloed. While some examine boots on the ground, others focus on aerial bombing or unpiloted platforms. Consequently, most studies focus on the effects of one approach, seldom considering it in lieu of or conjunction with others. Furthermore, there is less knowledge on the origins and implementations of these strategic choices analyzed in isolation. The primary reason for these gaps lies in data limitations. This paper introduces a comprehensive dataset on the universe of United States military operations from 1989 to 2021 from a single source: Wikipedia. Using automated extraction techniques on its two structured knowledge databases–Wikidata and DBpedia–we uncover information about individual operations within nearly every post-1989 military intervention described in existing academic datasets. The data we introduce offers unprecedented coverage and granularity that enables analysis of myriad factors associated with when, where, and how the United States employs military force. We describe the data collection process, demonstrate its contents and validity, and discuss its potential applications to existing theories about force employment and strategy in war.

2023 - The Empirical Determinants of Violent Nonstate Actor Drone Adoption

Venue: Armed Forces & Society


Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: Commercial drone advancements have enabled terrorists with crude airpower, challenging states’ aerial dominance. Today, many groups skillfully use drones for propaganda generation, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, and attacks. Despite their obvious value, there is wide variation in adoption begging questions about who is using drones and why. Prominent in practitioner and security provider circles, academics are just skimming the surface of this important phenomenon. The small existing literature suggests that violent nonstate actor (VNSA) drone use is little more than Iran-sponsored jihadist terrorists with territory in the Middle East. Using an original dataset on group characteristics across 998 VNSAs from 1995 to 2019, we explore the empirical determinants of terrorist drone adoption. Though Iran-sponsorship is a significant factor, we find that network affiliations are the strongest predictors of adopting a drone program. We also demonstrate that groups with more intensive attack profiles and to some extent narco groups are more likely to pursue UAVs. Our study provides the first quantitative probe of the drivers of VNSA drone use, putting academic assertions and policy prescriptions on firmer empirical ground.

2023 - Violent Nonstate Exploitation of Commercial Drones {book chapter}

Venue: The De Gruyter Handbook on Drone Warfare 

URL: forthcoming

Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: In the last decade, many violent nonstate actors have attained crude airpower with homemade, commercial and, in some cases, military-grade drones. While early adoption was constrained to groups with higher capacity, around 2013 the rapid advancement of commercial unmanned aerial system technology enabled a broad, diverse, and growing range of militant groups to harness them. Now, groups of manifold goals—terrorists, insurgents, rebels, cartels, criminal syndicates, extremists—use them to advance their agendas. The phenomenon is as geographically spread as ideologically, occurring in every region except Antarctica. The reason for this surge in malign drone use mirrors those of licit nonstate users: commercial drones are feasible and effective. As the industry expanded, these platforms became increasingly affordable and sophisticated. Flexible for multiuse functions, they can replace or reduce risk to manpower, yield intelligence to support operations, and serve as weapons from an aerial vantage point where many targets have not developed defensive measures. Each of these factors is critical for violent nonstate actors vying against stronger states and other nonstate competitors. The most common application is for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Militant groups also use them for target acquisition, propaganda, to disrupt enemy forces and broader political and economic processes, and for weaponized attacks. Already a security concern in several venues, we anticipate that the malign drone threat will grow in use, innovation, and complexity. We conclude with some prescriptions, emphasizing early mitigation, technological solutions, and training.

2022 - International Crisis Termination and Presidential Approval

Venue: Foreign Policy Analysis


Coauthor: James Wright

Abstract: Previous research has extensively analyzed the existence and extent of rally effects following crisis initiation with respect to United States public opinion and presidential approval. Relatively less known is how crisis termination affects presidential approval. The theory presented in this article suggests that crisis terminations are prime for rally effects. They are salient, demonstrate competence, and thus activate a significant boost of executive approval akin to rally effects at crisis onset. Insofar as executives might use them as diversionary tools, crisis terminations overcome the strategic conflict avoidance argument and require less cynical assumptions about leaders’ self-interest than the conventional domain of diversionary theory, crisis initiations. We test the claim that crisis terminations have significant ‘‘halo effects’’ using monthly US presidential approval data during 48 international crises between 1953 and 2016. Results demonstrate that crisis termination has consistently positive effects on presidential approval. In addition, these surges are conditioned by the degree and disposition of public attention. The findings indicate that US public opinion is quite sensitive to the whole trajectory of an international crisis.

2022 - Conflict Contagion Via Weapons Proliferation Out of Collapsed States

Venue: Small Wars & Insurgencies


Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: The Weberian definition of the state as the legitimate monopoly on the means of violence links arms to national power. In practice, the monopoly entails exchanging capital for arms to equip security forces with weapons of war. We examine what happens to these arms when a state collapses. Focusing on Libya, we explore the regional diffusion of small arms and light weapons ejecting out of the power vacuum in the wake of its breakdown. Before the 2011 uprising, the Libyan armed forces were considered one of the best equipped in Africa. When the regime collapsed, the country became the hub of an illicit arms market supplying rebels and extremist groups across the Sahara-Sahel and Middle East. We argue that upon collapse, a reversal of a specific, key aspect of state-making obtains in which uncertain and opportunistic nonstate actors with a sudden surplus of scavenged weapons exchange arms for capital. Using United Nations documentation on illicit arms smuggling and georeferenced Uppsala Conflict Data Program information on substate violence, we examine the links between state collapse and regional substate violence. We find that this exogenous material boost has been critical in the rise of violent groups and their consolidation into regional threats.

2021 - The Proliferation of Drones to Violent Nonstate Actors

Venue: Defence Studies


Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: Scholarship on the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) mainly focuses on states’ use, sidestepping the consequential proliferation of drone technology to violent nonstate actors (VNSAs). Meanwhile, an increasing corpus of media, military, and policy publications underscores the latter’s importance. The source of the gap is that existing proliferation models overlook civilian drone technologies. Applying supply- and demand-side proliferation models, we confirm conventional wisdom that military-grade drones are not likely to proliferate to VNSAs. Including civilian drones inverts proliferation logic across the boards. Shifting from cost-prohibitive, inaccessible, and technically complex military technologies to cheap, simple civilian platforms, we demonstrate that VNSAs have the resources, capacity, and interest to effectively incorporate drone programs to advance their aims. Furthermore, in context of state and nonstate actors’ security environments and normative constraints, the proliferation of civilian drones matters for international security. Norm-abiding states need expensive, high-performance, norm-enabling drones. For norm-defying VNSAs, civilian platforms are sufficient, even efficient, to advance their agendas.

2021 - Between Scylla and Charybdis: The Threat of Democratized Artificial Intelligence {book chapter}

2020 - Off the Shelf: The Violent Nonstate Actor Drone Threat

Venue: Air & Space Power Journal


Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: The proliferation of civilian drone technologies to violent nonstate actors (VNSA) gives them a new offensive edge and increases challenges to security providers. Though far inferior to exquisite military-grade drones, commercial models enable VNSAs to leverage airpower’s unique attributes for violent attack, intelligence gathering, and propaganda generation. Also, as more VNSAs join the airspace, security providers must divert scarce resources—attention, time, and technology—to mitigate the growing threat. We survey the empirical record to demonstrate how VNSA-operated drones impact international, domestic, and aviation security. Our objective is to highlight and describe the scope and potential impact of the VNSA drone threat. In responding to the threat, we encourage military planners, practitioners, and security providers to consider cost proportionality and sustainability, logistical disruption, and operating context.

2020 - Domestic Political Consequences of International Rivalry

Venue: Journal of Conflict Resolution


Coauthors: Daehee Bak and Toby Rider

Abstract: Given the conventional claim that external threats increase internal cohesion and government capacity, cross-country studies have examined how interstate conflict events influence domestic politics. This article reevaluates the in-group and outgroup mechanisms by examining how international strategic rivalry, which indicates the presence of persistent external threats even in the absence of military conflict, affects domestic political competition. An alternative explanation suggests that the effect of external threats on political incentives of domestic actors differs between regime supporters and oppositions. We posit that the presence of international threats from rival states inflames domestic unrest and oppositions’ antiregime challenges, while making governments rely more on repressive tactics given resource constraints and a high level of domestic political intolerance. In addition, we propose that the domestic consequences of international rivalry are heterogeneous depending on the characteristics of political systems and the level of threat perception. Empirical tests reveal robust evidence for the hypotheses.

2020 - Are Women More Averse to Corruption than Men? The Case of South Korea

Venue: Social Science Quarterly


Coauthor: Aie-Rie Lee

Abstract: Previous research asserts that women are less prone to corruption than men. It is not without contestation, leading to a complex corpus with mixed findings suggesting that perceptions might be context-specific. This study investigates whether, how, and under or through what conditions gender impacts individual perceptions of corruption in South Korea, a case exemplifying “Asian exceptionalism.” Employing the World Values Survey and statistical regression techniques, we leverage a quasi-experiment analyzing individual attitudes across all regime types in South Korea’s recent history. Examining three types of corruption—state benefit fraud, tax evasion, and bribe-taking—we find no significant differences until Korea democratizes, when we observe a surprising increase in the gap between perspectives. Women’s differential tolerance is mixed across types of corruption, implying that corruption is not a homogenous concept and that perceptions are conditioned by individual opportunities and constraints.

2020 - Exploring Bias in Student Evaluations: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity

Venue: PS: Political Science & Politics


Coauthor: Kristina Mitchell

Abstract: Research continues to accumulate showing that in instructor evaluations students are biased against women. This article extends these analyses by examining the dynamics between evaluations and gender and race/ethnicity. In a quasi-experimental design, faculty members teaching identical online courses recorded welcome videos that were presented to students at the course onset, constituting the sole exposure to perceived gender and race/ethnicity. This enables exploration of whether and to what degree the instructors’ characteristics influenced student evaluations, even after holding all other course factors constant. Findings show that instructors who are female and persons of color receive lower scores on ordinal student evaluations than those who are white males. Overall, we add further evidence to a growing literature calling for student evaluations of teaching (SETs) reform and extend it to encompass the effects on racial/ethnic minorities in addition to women.