Working Papers

US Military Intervention and Elite Communication Frames

Revise & 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.

Sideways Innovation: When Armies Imitate Rebels

Under review: 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: imitating violent nonstate actors leveraging low-cost commercial platforms. The Ukraine war has captured this trend, stressing that despite earlier expectations of armies maintaining advanced airpower, both militaries developed heavy reliance on commercial drone technology. Framing this trajectory in military and battlefield innovation literature and drawing on studies on commercial drone proliferation among violent nonstate actors, we argue that this constitutes a new trend involving mixed military arsenals enhanced with dual-use commercial technologies.

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.

Hamstrung: Sources of and Solutions for Political-Military Mismatch

Under review: Modern War Institute and US Army War College

Coauthor: J Andrés Gannon

Abstract: Many analysts observe that advanced democratic militaries, the US a paragon, are techno-fetishist to a flaw, swept up in the revolution in military affairs that promises to clear the fog of war and insulate soldiers from harm. We argue instead that domestic constraints on political leaders can lead to the tacticization of strategy. When constraints are nominal, the military is granted the freedom of action to optimally contour its force structure. When hamstrung by low public opinion or high uncertainty, executives truncate the options available to high-tech approaches to avert risks and costs that could electorally reverberate. When these options are ill-suited for a given mission, the military will be challenged to attain success. In these cases, the US should either refrain from intervention, require multilateral engagement to share risks and costs, or outsource them to private military companies.

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.

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.

Empowered Public Opinion in an Era of Emerging Technologies

Coauthor: Ryan Shandler

Abstract: The world is awash in new technological threats, and the public is at once enthralled and alarmed. According to a 2021 poll, Americans ranked cyberattacks as the single most critical threat facing the nation. This eclipsed even Russian militarism, Chinese imperialism, or Iranian nuclear weapons. Similar reactions of awe tinged with terror are aroused by artificial intelligence, human-machine merging, drone swarms, hypersonic weapons, and quantum computing. Spellbound by a sheen of science fiction, publics often overestimate the impact of these applications either as omnipotent protectors or apocalyptic threats. Prevailing wisdom suggests that mass public opinion on foreign policy is shallow, uninformed, and erratic. Consequently, the public plays a minor role in security decision- and policymaking. Emerging technologies are upending this dynamic. We trace two pathways—increased public exposure and increasing public involvement—by which emerging technologies amplify the role of the mass public.

The Voters’ New Voice: Emerging Technology, Public Opinion, and Security

Coauthors: Ryan Shandler

Abstract: The public has little familiarity or influence when it comes to matters of international security. In fact, the public has historically been viewed as irrelevant, irrational, and uninformed actors, tending to meekly follow co-partisan elites in forming policy positions. Yet the pattern of an uninterested and powerless public is being disrupted by emerging technologies --- such as cyber, artificial intelligence, and unmanned systems. In this paper, we trace the pathways between public opinion and security policies to identify the mechanisms by which conventional and emerging domains of conflict generate starkly different roles for public opinion. We argue that citizens are exposed to emerging technologies more frequently and imminently in physical and digital spaces, yet with less credible information and evidence to make sense of them. Since expert or elite consensus on their effects remains in flux, doomsday narratives prick public consciousness more than on settled debates, raising the salience of security issues. We further argue that the amplified salience of emerging technology issues creates a set of conditions in which public opinion can better influence national decision making. Emerging technologies overlap with civilian domains significantly more than conventional ones. Consequently, the public is more competent and normatively empowered to contribute to knowledge and policy production regarding potential uses. Meanwhile, elites eager to dispel public concern and liability are more receptive to public input. Thus, given the salience and ambiguity of emerging threats, elites incorporate public attitudes more thoroughly in policy decisions. We conclude by contemplating how emerging technologies are upending theories of democratic participation and responsiveness that were designed for a pre-digital age, and discuss how distorted public views may inject disfunction into security debates.

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.

War and Complexity: From Institutional Complexity 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.