Working Papers

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

Under review: International Organization

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

Under review: Journal of Politics

Coauthors: 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.

We've Created a MONSTr: A New Dataset of US Military Operations

Under review: Modern War Institute

Coauthor: J Andrés Gannon

Abstract: Despite possessing the most elite armed forces in the world, the US sometimes suffers defeat in war. Why? Several theories offer ostensible answers—war weariness, risk-aversion, military myopia, civil-military relations, miscalculations. We suspected that if we knew how states (and nonstate combatants) fight, we could better answer this consequential why. Aphorisms about winning the battle but losing the war highlight a problem with current approaches. There is a missing middle, an underappreciated meso-level of conflict: operations. Alas, there were little to no data at this level. We created Military Operations with Novel Strategic Technologies in r (MONSTr), an open source and publicly available dataset and website that features: 1) measures of the means of military force across 2) a comprehensive and disaggregated list of US military operations from 1989 to January 2021 that 3) captures dependence between observations. We summarize its distinctive features and future uses.

US Army Leadership: It's Time for Tactical Drones

Under review: Modern War Institute

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.

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.

A Risk-Assessment Model of Violent Nonstate Drone Threats to US Targets

Coauthors: Gary Ackerman and Ori Swed

Abstract: It is well established in academic and practitioner outlets that violent nonstate actors have attained airpower with the advent and advancement of commercial drones. Increasing attention is being paid to this phenomenon to understand its determinants, character, and implications. Despite its salience, quick pace of proliferation, and potential for security disruption, we still know very little about this trend. To resource security providers and analysts, and to advance theory in this area, we construct and analyze a risk-assessment model using Monte Carlo simulation to gauge the probability of successful malign nonstate drone attacks on United States targets. Enriched by empirical knowledge of the determinants of drone use; actor-specific capacities and motives; and technical potentials, limitations, and tradeoffs, we explore generic and swarming attack profiles. Our model combines political science theories and empirics with risk assessment techniques to yield insights on the probabilities, characteristics, and thresholds of success for this emerging homeland security threat. In addition, it establishes a baseline to explore myriad alternative inputs across a wide spectrum of future shifts – from the ideological to the technological – and security vulnerabilities.

War and Complexity: From Institutional Intricacy to Complex Battlefield

Coauthor: Ori Swed

Abstract: This study explain how complexity in military institutions affects battlefield dynamics. The drive for complexity is rooted in two social forces: capitalism and security. Drawing from organizational studies, we focus on a specific type of complexity built on knowledge, skills, technology, and organizational change with the purpose of augmenting offense or defense capacities. We present a compound argument, first explaining that each level of complexity adds new dimensions or vectors of offense/defense. Second, we suggest that the degrees of complexity have implications for the organization in terms of cost and maintenance, and later in the battlefield as capacity enablers, yet primary targets for the opponent military attempting to degrade them. We also explore how external and internal conditions, such as economic conditions or leadership, affect military institutions’ degrees of complexity as well the links between degrees of complexities and conflict dynamics and conditions. Our theory sketches the incentives toward, constraints upon, and implications of modern war preparation and prosecution.

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.