from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

You Might Have Missed: Recent Academic Journal Findings III

October 20, 2015

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

This is the third blog post in this series. The previous two were published in February and July, and highlight earlier academic findings.

Elizabeth N. Saunders, “War and the Inner Circle: Democratic Elites and the Politics of Using Force,” Security Studies, 24:3, 2015, pp. 446-501.

If elites have diverse preferences—which is especially likely in crises where the costs and benefits of making or resisting threats are debatable—then leaders will need to balance escalatory pressure from hawks with pressure to deescalate or stay out from doves…

Elite power is by definition more concentrated than voter influence, so that even a few key elites can carry significant weight. This concentrated power can lead to overrepresentation and disproportionate empowerment of certain preferences, such as hawkishness. Constitutional and procedural features of democratic institutions can amplify these effects, as in the case of the United States Senate, which overrepresents certain voices. (p. 476)

Elites need information if they are to impose costs on the leader, but leaders, in turn, can manage or block information flow. Leaders can close information channels to legislators, for example by managing who testifies before Congress. More direct information management and secrecy, even inside the bureaucracy or between the bureaucracy and the military, can help leaders prevent elites from imposing costs. Leaders can cut certain elites out of the information chain, or co-opt others by bringing them into the inner circle. (p. 480)

Even leaving aside deliberate attempts to cue public attention, there remains the risk that intra-elite wrangling and bargaining will find its way into public debate. The possibility of spillover into the public domain will make leaders especially careful to accommodate those elites who would be effective cue givers to the public (that is, surprising or costly cues from inside the leader’s administration or party, or those from particularly powerful figures). (p. 481)


Jonathan D. Caverley and Yanna Krupnikov, “Aiming at Doves: Experimental Evidence of Military Images’ Political Effects,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2015, pp. 1-28.

Indeed, Democratic subjects exposed to the image of Obama alone do actually increase prioritization of education relative to defense—albeit not at a statistically significant level when compared to the control group. Further, none of the other nonmilitary image conditions have any statistically discernable effect in comparisons to the control group. In contrast, the military image (and only the military image) produces a significant shift relative to the control group: a decrease in the percentage of Democrats who prioritize education over defense. (pp. 14-15)

As expected, the Republicans in our sample are less likely, overall, than Democrats to prioritize education, although nearly 40 percent of control group subjects report a higher priority for education than defense (a rate, consistent with survey data, suggesting the unlikelihood of a floor effect). While we do observe that exposure to the soldier image leads to fewer Republicans prioritizing education over defense, this decrease is not significant relative to the control group, and it is substantively smaller than the effect for Democrats. (p. 15)

Our results again show the same pattern: compared to the defense, our pivotal military image moves Democrats toward a more favorable approach on defense, away from their partisan inclination to favor education. We see no effects among Republicans, reinforcing our theoretic argument that securitization is more likely when individuals are responsive to the speaker…

Even when we use potentially imperfect proxies for the extent to which a person finds Obama an authorized speaker, a military image leads to greater prioritization of defense among those more responsive to the president. Moreover, exposure to military images leads individuals to prioritize issues of defense even when this works against their baseline ideological interests. (p. 16)


Julia Macdonald and Jacquelyn Schneider, “Presidential Risk Orientation and Force Employment Decisions: The Case of Unmanned Weaponry,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2015, pp. 1-26.

Through the course of our analysis, we found that variation in the risk orientations of these two US leaders has important consequences for the means by which war is waged by the Bush and Obama administrations, and specifically the more frequent use of unmanned weaponry by President Obama. Further, we find that President Bush’s preference for unmanned weaponry is driven by risk calculations based on changes in the situational context, while President Obama’s risk calculations are better explained by his overall risk propensity and personality traits. (p. 3)

The Obama administration used UAV strikes 6.7 times more frequently (321 v. 48) in a five-year period (2009-2013) than did the Bush administration in the previous five-years (2004-2009). (p. 9)

Bush is overall risk acceptant with an I3 [risk orientation] measure of .39 and is resoundingly acceptant toward conflict with an I4a [timing of action cooperation or conflict] measure of .05. Bush is also risk acceptant toward doing too much, with an I4b [timing of action words or deeds] measure of .36. Conversely, Obama has an overall risk-averse orientation with a .66 I3 measure. Also, his I4a measure (.39) demonstrates a statistically significant less risk-acceptant orientation to conflict than Bush, while his I4b measure indicates he is risk averse toward doing too much. (p. 13)


Ursula Daxecker, “Dirty Hands: Government Torture and Terrorism,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2015, pp. 1-29.

We see that predicted number of events increases across the range of scarring torture allegations (logged). When scarring torture is varied across its entire range from zero to five, the expected number of terrorist incidents increases from 2.3 to 9. Varying the scarring torture variable from 0.2 to 2.6 (+/- one standard deviation from the mean) increases the expected number of terrorist incidents from just below 2.5 to 4.6. (p. 11)

Empirical findings show that scarring torture—a technique that leaves visible marks and for which the government struggles to deny responsibility—leads to more backlash. In contrast, stealth torture has no statistically significant effect on the probability of terrorism. (p.18)

While findings show that the use of less visible tactics does not produce backlash, this evidence should not be interpreted as a how-to manual for governments to engage in torture without consequences…While stealth torture is less immediately counterproductive than other techniques, none of the findings support the notion that any type of torture technique succeeds in reducing or eradicating the use of terrorism by nonstate actors. (p. 19)


Thomas Gift and Daniel Krcmaric, “Who Democratizes? Western-Educated Leaders and Regime Transitions,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2015, pp. 1-41.

We argue that Western-educated leaders are more likely to democratize than other leaders for two reasons:

(1) Western universities socialize students to view democracy as a legitimate form of government.

(2) Western education creates transnational linkages that increase the willingness and ability of Western-educated leaders to democratize. (p. 2)

In every model, the coefficient on Western-educated leader is statistically significant and positive. Therefore, Western-educated leaders are linked to democratic reform using multiple measure of democracy, verifying that our results are not limited to a particular coding scheme. (p. 15)


Ron E. Hassner and Jason Wittenberg, “Barriers to Entry: Who Builds Fortified Boundaries and Why?International Security, 40:1, 2015, pp. 157-190.

Why do states erect fortified boundaries? We conclude that most are built by wealthy states to keep out unwanted migrants, particularly those originating from Muslim-majority states. Contrary to conventional wisdom, states that construct such barriers tend to be involved in a significant number of territorial disputes. The primary motivation for constructing fortified barriers is not territory or security but economics.

First, states are building fortified boundaries at an accelerating rate. Second, although barrier builders tend to be considerably richer than barrier targets, they are not freer or more democratic than target states. Finally, Muslim-majority states are more likely to be the targets of fortified boundary construction than other types of states. (p. 158)

More formidable than conventional borders but less robust than militarized boundaries, a fortified boundary is intended to thwart the flow of unwanted people and goods from a neighboring state. We identify 51 such boundaries that have been built since 1945, roughly half of which were built from 2000 to 2014. (p. 187)


Mark S. Bell, “Beyond Emboldenment: How Acquiring Nuclear Weapons Can Change Foreign Policy,” International Security, 40:1, 2015, pp. 87-119.

What happens to the foreign policies of states when they acquire nuclear weapons? Despite its importance, this question has not been answered satisfactorily. Nuclear weapons can facilitate six conceptually distinct foreign policy behaviors—aggression, expansion, independence, bolstering, steadfastness, and compromise. This typology of foreign policy behaviors allows scholars to move beyond simple claims of “nuclear emboldenment,” and allows for more nuanced examination of the ways in which nuclear weapons affect the foreign policies of current and future nuclear states. (p. 87)

Nuclear weapons did not lead to British expansion or aggression. Instead, Britain—a declining power—saw nuclear weapons as a substitute for its conventional forces that would allow it to maintain, but not to expand, its position in international politics. (p. 103)

Across a series of crises, British responses in the period following 1955 were characterized by greater steadfastness, greater independence from the United States, and a reduced inclination to compromise. (p. 116)

That Britain became more independent from the United States in 1955 does not prove that nuclear weapons caused this change. This change in behavior is consistent, however, with Britain’s reasons for acquiring nuclear weapons. The desire to reduce Britain’s dependence on the United States was a critical driver behind British nuclear acquisition. (p. 117)

First, substantial traction on the effects of nuclear weapons can be gained by using a more discriminating conceptual language. “Emboldenment” is a convenient catch-all term, but it conflates conceptually distinct behaviors and misses other effects that nuclear weapons may have…

Second, the typology itself provides insights into the role of nuclear weapons in international politics. For example, since the end of the Cold War it has become increasingly common for scholars to think of nuclear weapons as “weapons of the weak” or “the great equalizer.” It is certainly true that because of their limited conventional capabilities, conventionally weak states gain from the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, powerful states have regularly sought and benefited from the acquisition of nuclear weapons. (p. 118)


Jason Sorens and William Ruger, “Globalisation and Intrastate Conflict: An Empirical Analysis,” Civil Wars, 16:4, 2015, pp. 381-401.

We find no evidence that foreign investment affects civil conflict, suggesting that governments’ fundamental security interests trump the economic losses they can expect to suffer from failing to compromise with potential rebel groups. (p. 381)

The results on FDI and FPI stock vary somewhat but in general strongly reject a large pacifying effect, while there is some fragile evidence that trade may reduce conflict onset risk, at least in developing countries. On the control variables in both tables, the results are largely as expected. GDP negatively associates with conflict, and new states experience more new conflicts, while regime instability, noncontiguity, mountainousness, and ethnic fractionalisation may increase conflict likelihood. (p. 393)


Penelope Sheets, Charles M. Rowling, and Timothy M. Jones, “The View from Above (and Below): A Comparison of American, British, and Arab News Coverage of US Drones,” Media, War & Conflict, 2015, pp. 1-23.

Consistent with research on social identity theory and ethnocentrism in news, they find that US coverage was more likely to frame the policy favorably—emphasizing its legality, strategic value and technological sophistication while downplaying civilian deaths—while British and, to a greater extent, Arab coverage was more critical. (p. 2)

American public opinion seems to reflect these pro-drone policy positions. A Spring 2012 Pew poll, for example, showed 62 per cent of Americans approve the use of US drone strikes, with solid majorities of Republicans (74%), Independents (60%) and Democrats (58%) expressing support for the policy.

Public opinion abroad, however, is significantly more negative: 60-70 per cent of Europeans and more than 80 per cent of Middle Easterners disapprove of US drone strikes, and the vast majority of the public in countries that have traditionally been US allies—France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and Turkey, to name a few—staunchly oppose the policy (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2012). (p. 2)

The broader consequences of such differential framing can be quite striking: take, for example, the implications associated with labeling the US military scandal at Abu Ghraib as an isolated case of ‘abuse’ (as US journalists did; see Bennett et al., 2008) versus a systemic policy of torture (as European journalists did; see Jones and Sheets, 2009). Public reaction to an isolated incident of abuse is likely to be much less critical than if the incident were understood to be part of a larger policy of torture. Because the torture label was largely absent from US news, substantive public debate within the United States about the underlying causes, scope and broader consequences of the scandal diminished considerably. The same, we argue, could very well be true for the US drone program. (p. 4)

These patterns, we argue, suggest that social identity and cultural proximity dynamics may indeed have shaped how US, British and Arab journalists reported on the US drone program. (p. 16)


Rachel M. Stein, “War and Revenge: Explaining Conflict Initiation by Democracies,” American Political Science Review, 109:3, August 2015, pp. 556-573.

The greater the proportion of dyad-years that a democracy has retained the death penalty, the more likely it is to initiate a militarized dispute with another state, even when controlling for respect for human rights, the age of the democracy, ongoing and recent civil war experience, income inequality, executive ideology, independence post-1990, and ethnic fractionalization. (p. 565)

Switching the United States from fully abolitionist to fully retentionist increases the predicted probability of initiation by 1.8%, which more than doubles the overall chances of initiation (1.4% compared to 3.2%). Similarly, initiation is more than twice as likely for a fully retentionist India (9.3% compared to 4.3%), Turkey (9.1% compared to 4.0%) and Venezuela (2.9% compared to 1.3%). This effect is similar in magnitude to the between dyad effect of the target’s major power status, which significant and negative across all models indicating that initiation is less likely when the target is a long lasting major power. Taking the values of the covariates for the United States-Iraq dyad, changing Iraq to a major power decreases the predicted probability of initiation by 59%. In comparison, changing the United States from fully retentionist to fully abolitionist produces a 55% decrease in the likelihood of conflict. (p. 567)

Democracies with a higher average level of vengefulness are generally more likely to engage in belligerent behavior. (p. 568)

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