Book (Oxford University Press)

Among scholars who focus on the politics of natural resources, conventional wisdom asserts that resource-scarce states have the strongest interest in securing control over resources. Counterintuitively, however, in Perils of Plenty, Jonathan N. Markowitz finds that the opposite is true. In actuality, what states make influences what they want to take. Specifically, Markowitz argues that the more economically dependent states are on resource extraction rents for income, the stronger their preferences will be to secure control over resources. He tests the theory with a set of case studies that analyze how states reacted to the 2007 exogenous climate shock that exposed energy resources in the Arctic. Given the dangerous potential for conflict escalation in the Middle East and the South China Sea and the continued shrinkage of the polar ice cap, this book speaks to a genuinely important development in world politics that will have implications for understanding the political effects of climate change for many years to come.

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Bread Before Guns or Butter: Introducing Surplus Domestic Product. (International Studies Quarterly)


Why, as the world grows more peaceful, are some states still choosing to pursue their geopolitical interests by building and projecting military power? Although previous scholarship identifies these trends, it can neither explain why today some states are investing in greater military capabilities, nor identify which states are likely to do so in the future. The answer is that although the level of geopolitical competition for most states has decreased, some states face an increasingly competitive geopolitical environment motivating them to invest in the power to hurt in order to secure their interests. Assessing this argument requires that we develop a unique measure of power projection that is tailored to each individual state. Such a focus allows us to assess the level of geopolitical competition that each state faces and how this competition changes over time. This is challenging because geopolitical competition is not an easily observable empirical construct and is therefore difficult to measure. We therefore present a theory of geopolitical competition that guides the development and comparison of several new measures of this concept. The results demonstrate that where states live influences whether states arm. More precisely, the foreign policy choices of individual states are driven by their unique geographic position within the international system and degree to which their interests are compatible with those states that are powerful and proximate.

Going the Distance: The Price of Projecting Power

(International Interactions)


The central purpose of this article is to establish the relationship between power projection, technology, and economic power. How economically powerful does a state need to be before it can afford the capital intensive technologies, foreign bases, and military and logistical forces associated with global power projection? The specific research question we focus on in this article is: What determines how far states send their military forces? We argue that as the costs associated with projecting power decrease or as the wealth necessary to project power increases, states will project power more frequently and at greater distances. We use a system-level time-series analysis from 1870–1936 and a dispute-level analysis on all militarized international disputes from 1870–2000 to test these propositions. This article is the first to demonstrate empirically that the distance and frequency of power projection is a function of the cost of projecting power. We close with a discussion of contemporary states building power projection capabilities and how future research might build from our research to explain this behavior.

Producing Goods and Projecting Power: How What You Make Influences What You Take. (Journal of Conflict Resolution)


Historically, some states have acquired wealth through trade, while others have extracted land rents from controlling territory. How does a state’s source of wealth condition the domain in which it seeks to project influence?  We argue that what a state makes conditions what they take. Put another way, the source of a state’s income conditions the set of foreign policy objectives it seeks to pursue. Specifically, the less states rely on land rents to acquire wealth, the less interested they will be in seeking control over territory and the more interested they will be in securing access to distant markets. We develop and test several observable implications that should follow if this proposition is true. First, as states become less economically dependent on territory, they should be less likely to fight over territory; second, those states should be more likely to both invest in power projection capabilities and subsequently project power at greater distances. Our findings support our theory. These results are robust across a variety of model specifications that take into account potential confounds, such as regime type, economic development, threat, and geography. If shifts in the nature of economic activity within states lead to changes in the character of their armed forces, we can anticipate how allies and potential adversaries will develop their power projection capabilities over time. In particular, states like China will continue to orient their military power toward the sea as they become more production-oriented, while primary-commodity producers in the Middle East are likely to retain their relatively large armies.

Do U.S. troop withdrawals cause instability? Evidence from two exogenous shocks on the Korean Peninsula (Oxford Academic)


Does keeping U.S. troops deployed overseas deter international crises? Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth (2013) argue that keeping U.S. forces deployed overseas deters security competition and generally increases stability. A short-coming associated with previous studies of the deterrent value of deployed U.S. forces is that they suffer from problems of endogeneity bias. Put simply, we do not know if U.S. presence is causing instability or if instability is causing U.S. presence. Similarly, we cannot be sure if U.S. troop withdrawals are causing stability or if stability results in the U.S. withdrawing troops. We suggest a research design to help alleviate this endogeneity problem. By utilizing exogenous crises that cause U.S. troops to "redeploy" out of South Korea, we are able to estimate the causal effect of a withdrawal of U.S. troops on the probability of instability. We examine several exogenous crises after the end of the Korean War that force U.S. policymakers to rapidly redeploy U.S. forces out of South Korea and into a different country. We then examine the probability of a crisis or MID between South Korea and North Korea, and the United States and North Korea. If deployed U.S. troops do not increase stability, then the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea should not be associated with a greater probability of a crisis. However, if Brooks, Ikenberry and Wohlforth (2013) are correct, then we should observe an increase in the probability of a crises in the period after U.S. troops are exogenously withdrawn.

Disentangling Grand Strategy: The Promise and Perils of Grand Theory for Grand Strategy. (Texas National Security Review) 


More than a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the debate continues on the appropriate American grand strategy to succeed containment. Despite widespread consensus on American core interests, there is little progress on what specific policy objectives and tools will maximize those interests. We argue that the lack of progress to date stems from a more basic disagreement about how the world works. Specifically, different groups within the debate rely on differing international relations theories: liberalism and realism. Those theories inform beliefs regarding how far away the United States is from an “optimal strategy,” or, alternatively, how best to reach the Pareto frontier, given American interests. We demonstrate that this framework can best identify competing schools of grand strategy, where and why they disagree, and the degree to which those disagreements can be resolved through empirical tests. In this way, our paper both maps and presents ways to advance the current debate regarding U.S. grand strategy.

Power, Proximity, and Democracy: Geopolitical Competition in the International System

(Journal of Peace Research)


Why do only some powerful states choose to develop power projection capabilities? To answer this question, we test the proposition that states choose to develop power projection capabilities when they face a competitive geopolitical environment. This proposition is derived from our theory, which is used to construct a new measure of the level of geopolitical competition that every state in the system faces. This measure incorporates each state’s relative geographic position to every other state in the international system, the relative amount of economic power of those other states, and the degree to which their interests are compatible. We then apply this unique country-year measure to test the proposition that competitive environments are associated with the development of power projection capabilities, as measured by the tonnage of naval ships maintained by each country each year. We demonstrate that our measure helps explain the degree to which states choose to invest in power projection capabilities.

Under Review

“Exploring New Data and Estimates for Over 500 Years of Latent GDP and Population Estimates”. 


The concepts of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDP per capita, and population are central to the study of political science and economics. However, a growing literature suggests that existing measures of these concepts contain considerable error or are based on overly simplistic modeling choices. We address these problems by creating a dynamic, three-dimensional latent trait model, which uses observed information about GDP, GDP per capita, and population to estimate posterior prediction intervals for each of these important concepts. By combining historical and contemporary sources of information, we are able to extend the temporal and spatial coverage of existing datasets for country-year units back to 1500 A.D through 2015 A.D. and, because the model makes use of multiple indicators of the underlying concepts, we are able to estimate the relative precision of the different country-year estimates. Overall, our latent variable model offers a principled method for incorporating information from different historic and contemporary data sources. It can be expanded or refined as researchers discover new or alternative sources of information about these concepts.

Arctic Shock: Utilizing Climate Change to Test Theories of Resource Competition.


Conventional wisdom asserts that resource-scarce states have the strongest interest in securing control over resources. Counter-intuitively, my book finds that, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Perils of Plenty argues that what states make influences what they want to take. Specifically, the more economically dependent states are on resource rents to extract income, the stronger their preferences will be to secure control over resources. The theory is tested with a set of case studies that analyze how states reacted to the 2007 exogenous climate shock that exposed energy resources in the Arctic. These findings have implications for understanding the political effects of climate change in the Arctic and the prospects for resource competition in other regions, such as the Middle East and the South China Sea.

Crude Calculations: Productivity and the Profitability of Conquest.


Does conquest still pay? Disagreements over this question hinge on different opinions about the size of the expected costs and benefits of conquest. Given this source of contention, it is remarkable that there are virtually no empirical estimates of the actual costs and benefits associated with conquest. To remedy this problem, we develop a theory that specifies the conditions under which conquest pays. We then apply and illustrate the theory by selecting Persian Gulf energy reserves as a case in which conquest is most likely to pay, and systematically estimate the expected costs and benefits associated with conquest. We find that even in this most likely case, the costs of conquest vastly outweigh the benefits for economically advanced states. If conquest does not pay here, it will be unlikely to pay elsewhere for these states. In contrast, we find that conquest is likely to pay for non- advanced states. Our results have implications for resource competition, the decline of imperialism, and the future of territorial conflict.

Productive Pacifists: The Rise of Production-Oriented States and Decline of Territorial Conquest.


Scholarship suggests the profits from conquest have decreased over time. Given this, why were some states faster to abandon profit-motivated conquest, and why are some still seeking wealth from territorial control? We argue that regime type and land-rent dependence influence a regime’s preference for territory. The more autocratic the regime and the more it depends on rents extracted from land (i.e. the more land-oriented the economy), the greater its willingness to invest in territorial conquest. We develop a novel measure of land-orientation, with 200 years of data, to evaluate the linkages between land-orientation, regime type, and conquest. We find robust evidence that regime type and land-orientation are linked to territorial competition across a variety of model specifications. The global reduction in land-oriented states offers a plausible explanation for the decline in the number of large-scale territorial conquests. Our findings also explain why some states retain strong economic motivations for conquest.

Is Research on the Resource Curse Robust?


What are the causal pathways through which natural resources are linked to civil conflict? The most comprehensive answer to this question comes from Ross (2004), who conducted the first qualitative causal pathway analysis on this issue. Despite the study’s prominence, its findings have never been replicated due to the challenge of re-coding thirteen hypotheses across thirteen cases. To overcome this, we conduct the first

qualitative replication in Political Science to employ an original codebook, a team of coders, and inter-coder reliability checks. We find that nearly 20% of Ross’ codings fail to replicate, a large enough share to alter his core findings. Contrary to Ross, we find that resources affect conflict onset through the pathways of both greed and grievance. Additionally, we find that resources generally increase conflict intensity and duration. Our methods and approach can be broadly applied to future qualitative research and are especially useful for medium-N causal pathway analysis.
especially useful for medium-N causal pathway analysis.

International Relations

University of Southern California

© 2020 by SPEC at USC.

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