Working Papers

The Empirical Determinants of Violent Nonstate Actor Drone Adoption

Revise and Resubmit: 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.

US Military Intervention and Elite Communication Frames

Revise and Resubmit: Journal of Politics

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.

Fight or Flight: Intervention in Civil War for Resilient FDI

Under Review: International Studies Quarterly

Abstract: Foreign direct investment (FDI) densely spans the world, including in nations imperiled by civil conflict. The consensus is that multinational firms divest in anticipation or upon exposure to instability to mitigate risks and costs to profits. Vexed by a continuous stream of disconfirming evidence, scholars are paying increasing attention to investors’ heterogeneous traits and responses amid conflict. I argue that multinational enterprises in extractive and vertical investment have distinct opportunities and constraints that generate risk-acceptant, experience-bred resilience to remain in country during conflict. Yet, being profit-maximizing and profound in influence, they have motives to engage external actors to manage and resolve violence. Using Uppsala Conflict Data Program and FDI data from 1975 to 2009, I demonstrate that conflict nations with high volumes of extractive investment and vertical integration are significantly more likely to experience external intervention. To showcase the elusive causal mechanism of investors bidding for in-network intervention, I catalog extensive industry and anecdotal evidence. This contributes to security, international political economy, and business-based corporate responsibility literatures by theorizing and validating that private investors, powerful in motive and impact, influence war and peace.

Rally Effects Amid Diversionary Conditions

Under Review: Foreign Policy Analysis

Abstract: Diversionary theory depicts a leader who attempts to engineer a public opinion rally by marching to war when his domestic performance is weak. It stops at conflict initiation, however, leaving a question about whether supposed diversionary behavior would even work. Existing explanations for rallies in the public opinion literature--patriotism and information--offer contradictory expectations. I develop and test a theory about public attitudes under diversionary conditions that reconciles these in structuring the probability and process of rally effects. I argue that during domestic good times, the public extends perceptions of leader competence into foreign policy with small scrutiny, leading to reflexive rallies. During bad times, the public will be anxious and uncertain about a weak leader going to war. This compels information-seeking and rational evaluations of conflict initiations which, assessed from a domestic vantage point signaling incompetence and motives for private electoral gain, diminish the size and reliability of rallies. Using a sample of United States military interventions from 1950 to 2013, empirical tests of the moderating effects of disapproval on public opinion at times of conflict onset yield support for the theory. Results based on economic conditions are more complex, showing that voters punish hawkish Republicans when they resort to war under high unemployment but give dovish Democrats the benefit of the doubt. This study extends diversionary theory, particularly the non-monotonic argument that diversionary motives are meaningful in the middle, to the next logical step and fills a gap in the theoretical links between domestic, executive, and international politics.

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

Under Review: International Interactions

Coauthor: J Andrés Gannon

Abstract: Research on strategies and 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, 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 with data limitations. In this paper, we introduce the first comprehensive dataset on the universe of US military interventions from 1989-2019. Scraped from the understructure of Wikipedia using SPARQL, a database query language, we offer unprecedented coverage and granularity that enables analysis of myriad determinants—domestic, international, geographic, temporal—of how states fight. The data are also nested, providing opportunities to model interventions in the strategic campaigns and operations in which they were planned. We describe and demonstrate the data’s contents and utility, then suggest how the novel, fine-grained information can contribute to theories about the effects of technological innovation on international conflict.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Suboptimal Strategies in Limited Wars

Coauthor: J Andrés Gannon

Abstract: The traditional theory of democratic victory depicts democracies as superior warfighter because of their stringent selection into war and battlefield effectiveness. This finding does not seem to hold in unconventional contexts, which are increasingly common in the modern era. Existing literature cites military myopia, a cultural argument, and capital-rich force structures, an economic hypothesis. Both assume a flawed elite and fail to explain important variation in how democracies prosecute unconventional wars. We introduce a theory that combines the strategic incentives and constraints of political and military leaders to explain the conditions under which they select suboptimal strategies. Using original data on all US militarized interventions since 1989, we demonstrate that domestic political constraints constrict military planners to risk-mitigating strategies through high technology. High-tech approaches are usually poor counterstrategies in unconventional conflicts, resulting in not only reduced progress but retrogression of political objectives, even loss. This contributes to the literatures on the domestic politics of war, elite dynamics, and US foreign policy by examining the linkages between the public, elites, and international adversaries to provide a more comprehensive explanation for variation in the use of military force.

The Whole Package: The Tailoring of US Force Structure Combinations 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.

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.