"Explaining the Development of International Norms: The Humanitarian Turn at the United Nations Security Council."
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has transformed from a body almost exclusively focused on conflict to one that addresses a variety of issues. Unfortunately, we still lack clear understanding of why and when international institutions change their missions. The author argues that while international politics is usually characterized by inertia, shocks to the system, or focal point events, can compel actors to adopt new logics of appropriateness. Since 1945, the end of the Cold War and the signing of the Helsinki Accords stand out as such events. Through unstructured topic modeling, UNSC resolutions divide into the subjects of War, Punitive, and Humanitarian. The topic Humanitarian exploded in frequency after the Cold War, and more refined models show that words related to human rights and elections similarly increased after Helsinki. These changes are rapid and occur in the immediate aftermath of focal point events, showing their importance for norm diffusion.
"Virtue in Our Own Eyes: How Moral Identity Defines the Politics of Force." (with Robert Trager)
Constructivists argue that the need states have to maintain a positive self-image is central to global political processes. This conflicts with public opinion and experimental research arguing that the public is mainly concerned with security and power. In experiments involving the U.S. population, we find evidence that the need to maintain collective self-esteem drives public preferences over foreign policy in fundamental ways. When Americans consider aggressive action, foreign casualties sometimes matter more than American casualties, symbolic harm is more important than potential physical harm, an alliance with a dictator makes individuals more likely to want to overthrow him, and the desire to avoid violating the principle of non-interference is more important than the need to check a rising power. Taken together, the results indicate that moral behavior in the international arena may be rooted in the desire of members of the public to maintain the collective self-esteem of their country.
"The Other Intelligence Failure: The Tabula Rasa Fallacy and How the US Misjudged Postwar Iraq."
It is widely believed that opponents of the Iraq War within the US government were generally vindicated in their postwar predictions. This article challenges this view, arguing that the inability to understand which actors the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein would empower was an intelligence failure at practically all levels of government. This mistake was theoretical in nature, as both prominent supporters and opponents of the Iraq War alike fell victim to the tabula rasa fallacy, believing either that the Iraqi people would welcome the Americans as liberators or that how the majority Shia reacted to the invasion was to be determined by US actions. This article contributes to the fields of intelligence studies and the literature on the Iraq War by connecting them to some of the most fundamental contributions of political psychology and authoritarian politics. Saddam Hussein faced internal threats to his regime, and knowledge regarding the nature of these threats would have been the best way to predict which actors would come to power after his overthrow. While even prominent war opponents believed that the Shia could be won over to American views, political psychology regarding ingroup-outgroup relations and the study of authoritarian politics, which would have suggested studying the ideologies of organizations on the ground, imply otherwise. The findings presented have deep implications for American policy with regards to regime change, suggesting that the lack of success in the aftermath of such policies is deeply rooted in false theoretical assumptions about the nature of politics.