Archival documents in Dublin, Ireland.
Below you'll find descriptions of and links to some of my research papers. These are either under review or being prepared for review.
Why do members of states' political and coercive institutions defect during popular uprisings? I argue that patterns of defection are linked to convergent or divergent responses to political dissent. While all dissent threatens regime elites, only some threatens their coercive and political agents. These agents also respond differently to threats: they generally strengthen the bond between regime elites and coercive agents who collaborate to survive, but weaken their bond with political agents who defect to save face and preserve future access to power. The results of a cross-national quantitative analysis and a case study of Serbia's Bulldozer Revolution confirm my expectations. This study is one of the first to directly compare the competing logics of defection among a state's most trusted agents, and the results have implications for understanding popular uprisings, mass atrocities, elite cohesion, authoritarian politics, and for designing effective strategies of resistance.
Why do mass killings occur during some popular uprisings but not others? From anti-Soviet uprisings in Cold War Eastern Europe to the Arab Spring, some civil conflicts have elicited state-led massacres while others have faced much lower-intensity levels of state coercion. In this article, we show how focusing on characteristics of the uprising itself help to predict this variation better than focusing solely on the characteristics of the regimes they oppose. We identify the factors associated with mass killings that occur during and after major episodes of contention (MECs). Drawing on data from 1955-2014, we develop a series of models that (1) identify the structural and campaign-level correlates of mass killings during and after popular uprisings; and (2) validate those models by forecasting out-of-sample atrocities. Structural variables associated with mass killings during national uprisings are generally consistent with those identified by prior literature on atrocities more generally. However, characteristics of the campaigns—such as whether the episode is primarily nonviolent, the elicitation of foreign support for the campaign or the regime, and the behavior of the military during the episode—also play a crucial role. While campaign-level factors play less of a role in post-conflict mass killings, we find that the duration of the preceding episode continues to influence whether a mass killing takes place after the crisis as well. These findings further demonstrate the case for observing the behavior of various actors in the midst of popular uprisings as a way to better explain, anticipate, and prevent atrocities. We conclude by briefly identifying the implications of this study for scholars, human rights advocates, and dissidents themselves.
The Islamic State is one of the most military successful rebel groups in recent history that managed to fight like, and to defeat, traditional state forces. What enabled IS to achieve such performance is neither the superior motivation and dedication of its fighters, nor is it exceptional leadership. Rather, their battlefield success flowed from the experience of their members - members who were once military generals in Saddam Hussein's army, insurgents who survived the American-led surge, and terrorists who honed their craft over years of service in Al Qaeda and elsewhere. Why, then, do all rebel groups not solely focus their recruitment efforts on experienced fighters? We argue that experienced fighters pose organizational risks that are commonly overlooked, and these risks explain why groups are hesitant to recruit them. On the one hand, the benefits of skilled recruits are rather intuitive: they bring new capabilities, have lower training needs, are often able to train others, and pose lower odds of being state agents. On the other hand, the risks are also significant: recruiting and retaining combat veterans may prove more expensive, they may find it difficult to integrate and accept their new roles in the group's established hierarchy, and their defection from peer organizations may spark intergroup conflict. We therefore expect insurgents to embrace veterans, accept the associated risks, and to prioritize combat experience over other concerns, when conflict realities compel them to be more risk-acceptant. This occurs under several circumstances: when they are initially building their organization, when transitioning to new modes of warfare and seeking out new tactical capabilities, and when competing with peer organizations for dominance. Using a case study of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Iraq, we find strong support for our theoretical intuition.
Existing scholarship on irregular regime transitions is siloed, exploring the causes and consequences of coups, uprisings, and interventions in isolation of the others. This article introduces a theoretical framework that ties these various types of transitions together. It does this by investigating how the size of the coalition that brings a leader to power --- the transitional coalition --- combined with the presence or absence of outside influence affects the prospects for democratization. Irregular transitions involving large transitional coalitions are the most likely to result in democratic gains. The opposite is true for transitions with small coalitions. External influence can be a mixed blessing, exerting a democratizing effect in some contexts and an autocratic effect in others. Analyzing the universe of successful irregular regime transitions since 1955, we find strong support for our theoretical claims. These findings advance understanding of the major drivers and inhibitors of democratization following irregular transitions.
“Honor Among Thieves: Understanding Cooperation Among Violent Non-State Actors," with Christopher Blair, Erica Chenoweth, Michael C. Horowitz, and Philip B. K. Potter.
Cooperation among militant organizations contributes to capability, but also to present security risks. As a consequence, for cooperation to persist when it is needed most, militant groups must have means of committing to cooperation even in the context of substantial state repression. We posit that shared ideology plays this role. Specifically, shared ideology aids cooperation by lengthening the shadow of the future, facilitating monitoring and enforcement, leveraging pre-existing authority structures, and fostering trust. We test this theory using new, comprehensive, time-series data on all relationships between militant organizations from 1950-2016, which we introduce here. Results show that when groups share an ideology, and especially a religion, they become more likely to cooperate materially as repression increases. By contrast, commitment is more difficult to sustain in rhetorical alliances. These findings help contextualize important existing research that suggests the connections between violent, nonstate actors strongly shape their tactical and strategic behavior.
“The Evolution of Terrorist Tactics: The Case of Aerial Hijackings,” with Philip B. K. Potter and 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.