"When Foreign Countries Push The Button: Does the Nuclear Taboo Only Begin at the Water’s Edge?" Revise & Resubmit at International Security.
How strong are the constraints against nuclear use? Pessimistically, experimental studies find a majority of citizens in multiple major powers would approve of nuclear strikes by their own government. But what if the nuclear taboo only begins at the water’s edge when individuals evaluate the use of nuclear weapons by a foreign government? Many policymakers believe that the international reaction to nuclear use would be severe, especially among allies, but prior studies have not tested this assumption. This paper develops a theory of how variation in the identity of who conducts nuclear attacks conditions the constraints against nuclear use. It posits that support for nuclear use should be higher when conducted by domestic and allied governments compared to other foreign countries because it will be perceived as more ethical. A series of four survey experiments in the U.S. and India provide evidence for this theory. However, in contrast to the expectations of many policymakers, approval is not significantly less for allies or strategic partners than it is for domestic governments. Absolute support for nuclear attacks is also alarmingly high, even when it is foreign countries pushing the button. On balance, these findings are inconsistent with the existence of a nuclear taboo.
"Madman or Mad Genius? The International Benefits and Domestic Costs of the Madman Strategy," Revise & Resubmit at Security Studies.
According to the “Madman Theory” outlined by Daniel Ellsberg and Thomas Schelling, and embraced by Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, being perceived as mad can help make seemingly incredible threats—like starting a nuclear war—more credible. However, recent research has largely concluded that the Madman Theory does not work. In this study, I theorize that the international benefits of the Madman Theory have been underestimated, but also that there are significant domestic barriers associated with adopting such a strategy that undermine its effectiveness. Through a series of five novel survey experiments, I find evidence that perceived madness does provide limited advantages in coercive bargaining vis-à-vis foreign adversaries, but also entails significant domestic costs that potentially erode its efficacy. Overall, this study provides clearer support for the Madman Theory than most previous literature has found, but also breaks new theoretical ground by analyzing the domestic politics of perceived madness.
"The Gendered Peace Premium" (with Christopher W. Blair).
The adage that “only Nixon could go to China” suggests hawkish leaders face fewer domestic political barriers to pursuing conciliation with foreign adversaries. Since hawks are viewed as less ideologically predisposed to peace than doves, their efforts at rapprochement are more likely to be perceived as in the national interest because they go "against type." We explore how this conventional wisdom intersects with prominent gender stereotypes about women’s role in national security. Do gender stereotypes that women are inclined towards peace make it more difficult for women leaders to pursue conciliation? In a series of survey experiments, we find evidence of a gendered peace premium—a penalty women leaders face for pursuing peace. When women leaders propose peace with foreign adversaries, they are perceived as acting “according to type.” Consequently, women’s conciliatory policy proposals are viewed as less likely to be in the national interest than identical policies pursued by male leaders. Partisanship dynamics significantly moderate the gendered peace premium, and policy success can attenuate women leaders’ disadvantage. Overall, the results suggest that gender stereotypes may constrain women leaders from pursuing peace.
"To Compete or Retreat? The Global Diffusion of Reconnaissance Strike" (with Michael C. Horowitz).
The reconnaissance strike complex is a critical element of modern military power, and realist theories would have predicted rapid proliferation after its public debut in the first Gulf War. In fact, the reconnaissance strike complex has proliferated slowly. To explain this puzzle, we theorize that interstate security threats significantly impact proliferation, but not in the way traditionally presumed. Drawing on the economics literature and game theoretic insights from political science, we argue that the relationship should resemble an inverted-U. When states have rivals with moderate reconnaissance strike capabilities, they have security incentives to compete with them. However, when states face highly advanced adversaries, it becomes more difficult to escape or match their competition, making acquisition less appealing. While most prior research focuses on narrower aspects of the reconnaissance strike complex like missiles, we test our theory on a novel dataset tracking country-level acquisition of eight aspects of the reconnaissance strike complex from 1980-2017. We find strong support for our inverted-U argument, which contributes to the literature by helping explain both why some states continue to invest heavily in conventional capabilities despite an already-large lead over their adversaries and why other states instead opt to invest in alternative capabilities rather than balancing symmetrically.
"Think Globally, Act Locally: The Determinants of Local Policymakers' Support for Climate Policy" (with Sabrina B. Arias).
[Washington Post Article][Harvard Belfer Center Presentation]
Given the lack of sufficient progress at the national level to combat climate change, local environmental initiatives have taken on increased importance. However, relatively little research examines the policy preferences of local policymakers themselves, whether the design features of climate policies impact their preferences, and whether policymaker and public preferences are contradictory or congruent. To address these gaps in the literature, we conduct a conjoint experiment on over 500 local policymakers and pair this elite experiment with an identical replication conducted on the American public. Per our theoretical expectations, we find that a range of climate policy design elements have a significant impact on policymaker support, and elite preferences are largely congruent with public preferences. Although national polarization over climate change suggests hope for progress is far-fetched, our findings demonstrate the probability of policy adoption can be increased by strategic design and local climate initiatives can potentially gain the support of both policymakers and members of the public.
"Does Fossil Fuel Divestment Impact the Public's Policy Preferences? (with Paul Lendway and Abolfazl Nuri)
Divestment is a prominent strategy championed by activists to induce positive social change. For example, the current fossil fuel divestment movement includes over 1,500 institutions that control $40 trillion in assets. A primary pathway through which divestment is theorized to be effective is by influencing public opinion and thus pressuring policymakers to take action. However, prior research only tests this argument via qualitative case studies. Our study develops a theory of how and under what conditions exposure to information about the fossil fuel divestment movement could impact the public’s policy preferences. We posit that divestment can act as an informational signal about the beliefs of the divesting organizations. For example, when organizations divest from fossil fuel companies, they send a signal that climate change is real, a threat, and requires action to combat it. This signal could then stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and increase concern about climate change as an issue (mechanisms), which, in turn, could make the public more supportive of climate policies (main effect). We further theorize that when divestment is perceived as more financially costly to the institution divesting and a more diverse group of entities engage in divestment, it should serve as a stronger signal and thus have a bigger impact on public opinion (moderators). We assess the impact of exposure to information about fossil fuel divestment on public opinion through the use of national survey experiments in three major greenhouse gas emitters: the United States, India, and South Africa. Across a range of different types of treatments and in contrast to our pre-registered expectations, we find surprisingly little evidence that exposure to information about the fossil fuel divestment movement can increase public support for policies that address climate change. Our findings suggest that divestment movements may be less effective at changing policy preferences than previously realized.