I am driven by one purpose: to understand the causes and consequences of military competition and conflict. I study the economic and environmental economic drivers of the development and use of military power.
My work comprises three broad and related lines of research:
First, I investigate the role that natural resources and economically valuable territory play in leading to military competition.
Second, I investigate the extent to which economic power can and will be translated into military power. Third, I focus on power projection and U.S. Grand Strategy.
My work illuminates how the likelihood of conflict will be affected by major global trends, such as economic development and climate change, as well as geopolitical shifts in the global distribution of power and the return of great power competition.
Economic and Environmental Drivers of Resource Competition and Territorial Conquest
Book: The Perils of Plenty
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.
Book Explainer Video
Crude Calculations: Productivity and the Profitability of Conquest
(Forthcoming at International Organization)
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
(International Studies Quarterly)
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.
Producing Goods and Projecting Power: How What You Make Influences What You Take (Journal of Conflict Resolution)
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. 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 whether 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.
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.
Replicating the Resource Curse: A Qualitative Replication of Ross 2004
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 24% 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, especially medium-N causal pathway analysis.
The Relationship between Economic and Military Power: How Economics Influences the Distribution of Power, Threat Environment, and States Incentives to Arm and Project Power
New Estimates of Over 500 Years of Historic GDP and Population Data
Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDP per capita, and population are central to the study of politics and economics broadly, and conflict processes in particular. Despite the prominence of these variables in empirical research, existing data lack historical coverage and are assumed to be measured without error. We develop a latent variable modeling framework that expands data coverage (1500 A.D–2018 A.D) and, by making use of multiple indicators for each variable, provides a principled framework to estimate uncertainty for values for all country-year variables relative to one another. Expanded temporal coverage of estimates provides new insights about the relationship between development and democracy, conflict, repression, and health. We also demonstrate how to incorporate uncertainty in observational models. Results show that the relationship between repression and development is weaker than models that do not incorporate uncertainty suggest. Future extensions of the latent variable model can address other forms of systematic measurement error with new data, new measurement theory, or both.
Bread Before Guns or Butter: Introducing Surplus Domestic Product
(International Studies Quarterly)
Scholars systematically mismeasure power resources and military burdens by using gross domestic product (GDP) as a proxy for the income states can devote to arming. The core problem is that GDP confounds two conceptually distinct forms of income into one additive indicator. Subsistence income represents resources needed to provide the “bread” necessary to cover the basic subsistence needs of the population. Surplus income represents the remaining resources that could be allocated to “guns” or “butter.” Our new measure of surplus domestic product (SDP) corrects for this measurement error by decomposing subsistence income and surplus income from total GDP. Validation exercises demonstrate that SDP outperforms GDP at measuring the distribution of power resources. Though theoretically we expect states’ decisions to arm are influenced by the distribution of power; empirical models using GDP find mixed support for this expectation. Strikingly, using SDP reveals strong support for this proposition.
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.
U.S. Grand Strategy and Power Projection
Do U.S. Troop Withdrawals Cause Instability? Evidence from Two Exogenous Shocks on the Korean Peninsula
(Journal of Global Security Studies)
Does withdrawing forward-deployed US troops increase instability? This question is at the heart of current grand strategy debates, yet endogeneity issues make this very difficult to answer. Put simply, stability may cause the United States to withdraw forces and lead one to incorrectly infer that withdrawals do not lead to greater instability. We suggest a research design to help alleviate this endogeneity problem. By utilizing exogenous crises that cause US troops to redeploy out of South Korea, we are able to estimate the causal effect of a withdrawal of US troops on the probability of instability. We examine several exogenous crises after the end of the Korean War that force US policymakers to rapidly redeploy US forces out of South Korea. We then examine the rate of conflict between South Korea and North Korea, and the United States and North Korea. We find that US troop withdrawals do not cause greater conflict, but withdrawals are at times associated with other behaviors, such as conventional arming, nuclear proliferation, and diplomatic initiatives that could affect the future likelihood of war.
Disentangling Grand Strategy: The Promise and Perils of Grand Theory for Grand Strategy (Texas National Security Review)
This article assesses the underlying sources of disagreement among competing scholarly treatments of U.S. grand strategy. It argues that much of the debate centers on differing conceptions of the roles of power and domestic and international institutions in international politics. In addition, it cuts through conceptual confusion that clouds much of the debate by clearly delineating interests, objectives, and policy levers. This framework will allow existing and future research to more usefully address and advance the debate. Finally, it provides a baseline with which to assess initiatives by U.S. administrations
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.