RESEARCH

Archival documents in Dublin, Ireland. 

Click on the following links for descriptions of several ongoing research projects. 
“Tactical Diversity in Militant Violence” with Dr. Michael C. Horowitz and Dr. Philip Potter.
“Fragmentation, Formation, and the Survival of Militant Splinter Groups.”
 
“How Regimes Crumble: State and Security Defections in Subnational Conflicts.”
 
“Clandestine or Covert? Rethinking Secrecy in Cyberspace” with Dr. Michael Poznansky. 
“The Evolution of Terrorist Tactics: The Case of Aerial Hijackings,” with Dr. Philip Potter and Dr. Michael C. Horowitz.
“Terrorist Competition and the Severity of Violence: A New Approach to Outbidding.”
 
Tactical Diversity in Militant Violence” with Dr. Michael C. Horowitz and Dr. Philip Potter. [SSRN Link]

Militant groups, like all organizations, carefully consider the tactics and strategies that they employ. In this article we assess why some militant organizations diversify into multiple tactics while others limit themselves to just one or a few. This is an important puzzle because militant organizations that employ multiple approaches to violence are more likely to stretch state defenses, achieve tactical success, and threaten state security. We theorize that militant organizations respond to external pressure by diversifying their tactics in order to ensure their survival and continued relevance, and that the primary sources of such pressure are government repression and inter-organizational competition. We find consistent support for these propositions in tests of both the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and Minorities at Risk Organizational Behavior (MAROB) datasets. We then bolster these findings with an additional specification that employs ethnic fractionalization in the first stage of a multi-process recursive model. Finally, we demonstrate both qualitatively and quantitatively that diversification, even when detached from the related concept of escalation, is both theoretically and empirically important. These findings are not only relevant for academic research, but for policy as well – while it is difficult for countries to anticipate the character of future tactical choices, they may be able to anticipate which groups will most readily diversify and thereby complicate counterterrorism efforts.

Return to top.

“Fragmentation, Formation, and the Survival of Militant Splinter Groups.”

Why can some militant groups successfully establish a foothold in society, attract recruits, and survive, while so many others quickly fall apart? I explore this question by examining variation in the survival of militant splinter groups that break away from preexisting violent organizations. These groups provide an excellent perspective into the dynamics and challenges of emerging organizations since their battle to survive is especially dicult. Leveraging similarities to business start-ups and emerging political parties, I argue that much of this variation is explained by the clarity of a group's agenda. A clear agenda signals group intentions both to members of the parent group and the broader community, reducing uncertainty and attracting an increasingly homogeneous core of recruits. Additionally, a more focused agenda helps splinter groups to establish themselves vis-a-vis their more well-known competitors, which is important to recruiting new members and generating support. All else being equal, locals should choose to support an established organization rather than an unknown newcomer, but a clear agenda helps to cultivate an original identity, justify their exit, and win support. Analyzing a new data set of militant group formation from 1970-2012, I nd strong evidence in support of my theory. Ultimately, these ndings shed light on an understudied yet particularly threatening subset of armed actors. With their experienced, knowledgeable members, splinter groups can often evolve into especially capable threats. More broadly, these ndings underscore how a group's agenda fundamentally shapes not only its perception in society and who it attracts but rather a range of organizational dynamics including its ability to survive.

Return to top.

“How Regimes Crumble: State and Security Defections in Subnational Conflicts.”

Why do some subnational resistance campaigns experience regime defections and others do not? And more precisely, what determines when defections occur? This paper seeks to understand the logic of regime defections during both violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns. This is an important topic: existing research finds that defections and elite divisions are often key determinants of success, yet on its own this topic has received surprisingly little attention. First, no study has compared the logics of state versus security defections to see whether the two follow the same or different logics. Even more troubling is that the vast majority of existing research is solely concerned with military defections, and almost nothing has been to done to understand when or why members of the political apparatus might switch sides. Second, studies into security force defection are typically qualitative and small-n. As a result, we do not know if these findings hold across space and time. This paper seeks to rectify these issues. Using data from the Nonviolent and Violent Campaign Outcomes (NAVCO) dataset, I systematically compare competing explanations of regime defection. The findings demonstrate that political and security defections follow very different logics, suggesting that future research must be careful to not over-aggregate or stretch this concept. Overall, this paper significantly contributes to our understanding of an important conflict dynamic that is relevant to both ongoing political science research and to contemporary conflicts around the world.

Return to top.

“Secrecy and Cyber-Warfare” with Dr. Michael Poznansky.  [SSRN Link]

Secrecy is central to the strategic and political dynamics of cyberspace operations. The ease with which actors can launch attacks while masking their identity poses serious problems for both attribution and retaliation. Moreover, scholars often argue that cyber is distinct from more traditional elements of state power and cannot be used to accomplish foreign policy goals such as coercion. However, recent behavior by both state and nonstate actors to shun anonymity and embrace sponsorship of attacks calls into question some of the most basic assumptions of cyberspace. In this article, we draw a distinction between two fundamentally diff erent forms of secret operations - clandestine and covert actions - to shed light on the dynamics of attribution and secrecy in cyberspace. First, we argue that while operational concealment is a strategic necessity, concealing sponsorship is a strategic choice. In other words, while cyber operations are necessarily clandestine they need not be covert. Actors can - and often do - take credit for their actions. Having made this distinction, we then outline several factors that influence the decision to either claim or deny credit for cyber attacks. Speci fically, we focus on how characteristics of the perpetrator as well as the goals being pursued shape the pursuit of plausible deniability in cyberspace. Our findings reveal how secrecy is more complex than typically assumed and how scholars and practitioners alike can leverage variation in credit-claiming behavior to derive inferences about the nature and objectives of cyber warriors.

Return to top.

“The Evolution of Terrorist Tactics: The Case of Aerial Hijackings,”
with Dr. Philip Potter and Dr. Michael C. Horowitz.

We argue that terrorists are rational actors when it comes to tactical choices. Organizations adopt and continue use tactics based on the prior effectiveness of these tactics. However, organizational constraints can limit strict adherence to this cost-benefit calculation. We develop these intuitions by focusing on airline hijacking as a tactic that has developed through its entire life cycle. Drawing on both existing and original data, we find that groups are highly responsive to prior successes in terms of demands met and hijacker escapes when determining whether to continue with the tactic or adopt it for the first time. This suggests a functionalist explanation for the decline of the tactic. However, the failure of many previous adopters of hijacking to adopt suicide terrorism, the next major innovation in terrorist tactics, indicates that organizational politics play a critical role shaping terrorist group behavior as well.

Return to top.

“Terrorist Competition and the Severity of Violence: A New Approach to Outbidding.”

How does competition between terrorist groups influence the severity of violence? Although severity is largely understudied from an empirical perspective, scholars typically use the outbidding framework to explain how group interaction and competition leads to escalating violent behavior. However, this literature leaves several important questions unanswered and it fails to account for the waning dependency of terrorists on their local populations. In response, I propose a modified version of outbidding that replaces public support with media attention. It recognizes that publicity is a universal component of the terrorist logic and as a zero-sum resource, the media will encourage outbidding behavior. Terrorists will launch more daring and destructive attacks as the domestic environment becomes increasingly congested, prompting an upward spiral of violence as groups vie for attention. To test this hypothesis I model variation in the severity of suicide bombings from 1980-2003 and I find that group plurality, which I use to proxy for competition, is consistently associated with more severe acts of terror. Consequently, this paper significantly improves our understanding of group interaction and the production of violence, confirming that the landscape of oppositional actors is key to explaining their violent behavior.

Return to top.