Working Papers

Fighting in the War Room: Electoral Origins of High-tech Warfighting

Coauthor: J Andrés Gannon

Abstract: How do states fight? The objective model of civilian control of the military provides an ideal type answer: political leaders determine entry into war, then military elites determine how to fight to win it. If the military is singular in formulating strategy and translating it to operations and tactics, explaining variation in warfighting is more straightforward. Civil-military relations research suggests that this is not the case, however, political leaders being causal in the development of strategy and sometimes intervening at operational and tactical levels. Yet the civilian side of this exchange is underexamined, leaving blind spots about profound electoral incentives and constraints on wartime decisions. We present a theory that when politically vulnerable, executives interfere further in the grammar of war to reduce electoral liability. Specifically, they shift the range of acceptable military options toward higher-tech force structures, which avert risks and offer higher civilian control over operations and optics. Using new data that features the means of force for an expansive list of US military operations from 1989 to 2021, we demonstrate robust support that higher presidential disapproval is associated with higher tech means of force. This contributes to literatures on civil-military relations, force structure design and warfighting, the domestic politics of war, and the politics of emerging technologies.

Public Opinion, Emerging Technologies, and Foreign Policy Attitudes

Coauthor: Ryan Shandler

Abstract: Foreign policy is a perpetually low salience issue for voters. Yet emerging technologies are upending public opinion toward foreign affairs by making modern warfare salient to the public in small but tangible, regular doses. We propose and experimentally test two distinct mechanisms by which emerging technologies increase the salience and certainty of foreign policy attitudes. The first is a participatory mechanism. The decentralization of technological prowess has generated conditions in which the public can more directly engage with international security issues. The second is an exposure mechanism. States’ heightened willingness to deploy new technologies that operate below the threshold of armed conflict exposes the public to security threats that once would have occurred behind the military veil. To test these mechanisms, we conduct a survey experiment that engages voters in vivid and interactive experiences relating to cyber warfare and aerial drones, two platforms with high public engagement. The experimental stimuli were designed to closely resemble the manner of participation with and exposure to emerging technologies in conflict situations. The results confirm that mounting public interaction with emerging technologies is compelling voters to formulate stronger, clearer, and more independent foreign policy positions.

An Advocation for Tactical Drones

Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: The Russia-Ukraine War has illustrated that simple drones are no longer a nuisance from nonstate actors that can be ignored, mitigated, or countered. Because threats in international security are increasing in quantity and modern warfare is changing in quality, more states will emulate the use of tactical drones in Ukraine. We urge the US military to prepare accordingly, not only to counter them but to harness them. Although many associate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) with the Air Force, the Army is most apt to develop a tactical drone fleet that would neither replace nor compete with strategic models.

N Sides to Each Story: Competing Public Narratives of US Military Operations

Coauthor: J Andrés Gannon

Abstract: Conventional wisdom holds that history is written by victors. In the modern information environment, however, narratives on all sides are published and updated on easily accessible online forums. In this context, the role of publicly available information during and after conflict is more prominent, ranging from mis- and disinformation campaigns to stoke public animus and resilience amid wars to competing accounts of their prosecution and impact in the aftermath. While the amplified effects of this copious open-source information are well-acknowledged in academic and policy circles, its construction and distinctions are underexamined. Leveraging a novel dataset of United States military operations from 1989 to 2021 scraped from Wikipedia, we compare objective and subjective covariates to the foreign language Wiki pages of actors listed as adversaries in each operation. With information on the time, content, and location of edits, we identify the attributes of common agreement and disagreement and explain the conditions under which contradictory records emerge. This contributes to literatures examining the public constituents and political consequences of modern warfighting.

The Whole Package: The Tailoring of US Force Employment in Modern Warfare

Coauthor: J Andrés Gannon

Abstract: Research on force structures in modern warfare is prolific, but siloed. While some examine boots on the ground, others focus on aerial bombing or unmanned platforms. Consequently, few studies consider them in conjunction. Meanwhile, modern warfare features an increasingly broad spectrum of combatants and technologies. With civil war now constituting more than 90% of contemporary armed clashes, diverse nonstate actors regularly contest state powers through terrorism, insurgency, and irregular warfare. Yet interstate wars endure and great power competition persists, compelling states to prepare for these higher-stakes antagonisms accordingly. As a result, advanced modern militaries are cross-pressured to equip and train for dramatically dissimilar security threats. At the same time, political leaders face domestic constraints to avert risks and costs. The United States, with a sharp qualitative military edge and enemies ranging from ragtag rebels to global powerhouses, is a paragon of this challenge. In this paper, we analyze US force structure combinations by their commonness and context. Leveraging original data on the means of force used in all US military interventions from 1989 to 2019, we describe and explain how war planners tailor applications of force to balance military efficacy with domestic and resource constraints.

Economy of Shells: Attrition in Modern Warfare

Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: Most modern wars, especially those involving state combatants, have been limited or low-intensity conflicts. With intervals and investments to refurbish equipment and replenish supplies, militaries do not suffer attrition. In fact, if the perception of external threats persists the military is likely to grow in quantity or quality in the context of limited war when demand and supply dovetail. In total war, attrition is likely to surpass this pace and thereby degrade military capabilities over time. With novel data on captured, damaged, or destroyed equipment in the Russia-Ukraine War, we demonstrate and quantify the degree of degradation that has occurred since the conflict’s onset. From this foundation, we theorize on how this has affected three aspects of combat. First, we describe a shift in tempo as remaining assets must be spread thinner across time and space. Second, as combatants resort to dated or inferior platforms that remain, military effectiveness decreases and casualties—both soldier and civilian—increase. Third, states are compelled to substitute depleted equipment with commercial analogs or import military-grade replacements, which might entail more variability of the tools of conflict, external political pressures, or the forging of geopolitically destabilizing partnerships. As great power competition grows in salience, we contribute to studies on modern and future war and force planning.

Drone Webs: The Diffusion of UAV Innovation via Social Networks

Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: In the last few years, there has been a rise in the drone threat from violent nonstate actors (VNSAs). Across multiple arenas, VNSAs now use these platforms frequently, broadly, and to great effect. Though the phenomenon is widespread and increasing, it is not ubiquitous. Cross-sectional analyses of the factors driving their use reveal that the strongest predictor is whether an organization is networked with other VNSA drone users. This implies that the malicious nonstate drone threat is diffusing through social networks over time. We leverage social network analysis tools to map these affiliations and temporally trace the diffusion pathways. We find that prior to the commercial market’s cascade into society in 2014, intrinsic innovation, external sponsorship, and cooperative ties to seeds in the network are the most important factors predicting adoption. Once commercial drone manufacturers began to lower the costs, risks and technical requisites for adoption, there were fewer gatekeepers controlling the flow of material and nonmaterial goods in the network. Consequently, the variety and interaction of internal and external influences becomes more complex after 2014 with transnational terror ties, emulation of enemies, and peripheral influence increasing in importance. This study demonstrates the independent effect of social network diffusion for a key contemporary technological innovation.