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Archive: On Leadership

International Interactions Policy Blog

International Interactions is a peer-reviewed journal with direct relevance to a wide and interdisciplinary audience. Readers include political scientists, economists, historians, mathematicians, statisticians, anthropologists, sociologists, and other social science researchers with an interest in international relations, as well as informed professionals in business and government.

Launched in 2019, the International Interactions blog synthesizes scholarly findings for a practitioner audience. Each blog post describes the policy takeaways of a recent II article, in the authors’ own words, for use by engaged policymakers who can apply this research to current issues and challenges. 

Below, you’ll find an archive of posts relating to Leadership, plus links to the full journal articles. Access all categories alongside the latest post on the blog’s main page.

Constraints and military coordination: How ICTs shape the intensity of rebel violence | April 2021

Martín Macías-Medellín & Laura H Atuesta, Constraints and military coordination: How ICTs shape the intensity of rebel violenceInternational Interactions (2021). Free Access until June 30, 2021>>

The penetration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across the world has dramatically and steadily increased in recent years. For instance, according to the World Bank, even low-income regions like Africa, saw a dramatic rise in internet and cell phone accessibility between 1995 and 2006. In 1995, less than 1 percent of Africa’s population had access to either.  By 2006, 2 percent had access to the former and 14 percent to the latter. These figures imply a change of more than 600 and 1200 percentage points, respectively. By 2011, ICTs accessibility in the region increased by another 200 percentage points. Conversely, armed civil conflicts in Africa seem to be declining in favor of non-violent uprisings. Although this correlation could suggest that technology contributes to a reduction of armed civil conflicts, countries in the region such as Nigeria, Libya, and the Central African Republic keep experiencing high levels of violence.

Recently, scholars have investigated the effects of ICTs on patterns of armed civil conflict, but the directionality of such effects remains elusive. Some studies find that ICTs can increase the likelihood of armed conflicts because they can give armed groups better tools to solve their collective action problems. Other studies, however, suggest ICTs can improve government surveillance, reducing the abilities of rebels to conduct armed attacks.

Building upon this recent literature, we studied the effect of ICTs on the intensity of rebel violence. We suggest that the effect of ICTs varies with the type of technology. Through basic tools such as telephone and SMS services, we argue, cell phone accessibility increases levels of violence by improving rebels’ military coordination to conduct armed attacks. Enhanced peer-to-peer communication provided by cell phones helps rebels solve their collective action problems and improve the logistic organization of military operations resulting from enhanced access to tactical information.

In contrast, greater access to the internet and its platforms, such as social media and websites, would be associated with less violence due to two distinct mechanisms: one related to rebels’ supporters and the other to rebels’ opponents. Through internet platforms, rebel groups have opportunities to expand their audiences and gain both domestic and international support via persuasion campaigns in which they emphasize their moderation in the use of violence. In addition, since the internet gives other actors–victims of violence, journalists, NGOs—tools to disseminate information, rebel groups are more likely to face naming and shaming pressures if they commit excessive acts of violence. Therefore, we argue, with higher internet access, rebels have more incentives to keep their levels of violence low to maximize the effectiveness of their persuasion campaigns and avoid being named and shamed. In other words, given that the internet allows rebels to be in the spotlight, they will try to limit their levels of violence to avoid alienating their supporters.

The other way the internet can contribute to reduced levels of violence is by granting rebels’ opponents, especially governments, better monitoring tools serving to curtail rebels’ attempts to produce violence. For instance, with greater internet access, governments gain the ability to surveil non-state groups and to impose internet outages to crush rebellion.

Using a panel dataset of countries from 1989 to 2007 and the Georeferenced Event Dataset from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, we find a consistent, positive association between greater access to mobile phone services and rebel violence. In contrast, we find that greater internet access is associated with lower levels of violence, although the effect seems to be clustered in more recent years, after the creation of major contemporary social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Although more research needs to be conducted, our study provides initial evidence of how disaggregating the type of technology is important in understanding the effects of ICTs on armed conflicts and how ICTs might affect conflict through mechanisms linked to combatants’ audiences. Moreover, our study suggests that policies focused on internet penetration across communities might be a helpful tool to mitigate the intensity and use of rebel violence. Full article >>

Understanding Multilateral Treaty Ratification  | October 2020

Eyal Rubinson & Tal Sadeh, Perceived to slack: secondary securitization and multilateral treaty ratification in IsraelInternational Interactions (2020). Free access until December 31, 2020 >>

What explains inconsistent multilateral treaty ratification patterns among different states? Treaty accession data between 1948-2016 tell a puzzling story: while some European democracies joined over seventy-five percent of multilateral treaties open to them, states like China, Paraguay, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Iran, Russia and South Korea joined approximately thirty percent, and a third group of States (such as New Zealand, Japan and the US) ratified roughly fifty percent.   

States that tend to ratify in scores and those that generally avoid treaty ratification hold many well-established reasons to do so: multilateral treaties can help resolve international disputes, provide public goods, advance new norms and reforms, promote a de-politicized environment and help facilitate collective international problem-solving. On the other hand, the same treaties were also viewed as constraining independent action, undermining public discussion, incurring significant transaction costs, and driving governance inefficiencies. Therefore, the groups of states that seemingly join treaties without a consistent pattern are particularly puzzling.

One of these undecisive states is Israel – having ratified about fifty-five percent (193 of 349) of multilateral treaties open to it between 1948 and 2016. It has been averse to ratifying not only hardcore security treaties, but also maritime and aviation treaties, as well as environmental and human rights ones. At the same time, however, Israel has ratified scores of multilateral treaties on trade and investments, conventional disarmament, telecommunication, nuclear materials, education, science and culture. Israel has sometimes rejected treaties on very similar issues to those it previously ratified. For example, it refrained from ratifying a 1972 convention on cultural and natural heritage, but did ratify a 1956 treaty on cultural property.

We propose an original explanation for at least part of this pattern: states refrain from ratifying a treaty that is facilitated by an International Organization (IO) when they perceive a great potential for undesired IO action. States are likelier to perceive IOs to act undesirably when they interpret IO action as incompatible with their national security interest. Perceptions about action against such interests are, in turn, enhanced by what we define as secondary securitization – speech acts that introduce security discourse into the policy-making process, even in non-security issue-areas, by actors who are not security experts, invoking emergency measures to remedy a given challenge. The concept of secondary securitization offers two advantages over the conventional concept of securitization. First, it better captures the preferences and perceptions of threat in particular communities. Second, evidence of secondary security is easier to come by than classified discussions with security experts. We hypothesize that the probability of a state ratifying a multilateral treaty drops with acts of secondary securitization.

To support our argument, we analyze Israel’s policy of ratifying multilateral treaties, relying on an original dataset based on documents retrieved from Israel’s State Archives, Knesset Archives, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, encompassing 243 ratification discussions. Survival analysis shows that secondary securitization has indeed reduced the likelihood of ratification by thirty-five to forty-six percent, all else being equal. These results are robust to controls for potential primary securitization, to a procedure that corrects for the possibility of undocumented acts of secondary securitization, and to a restricted version of the model with fewer co-linear variables.

We also examined the potential of undesirable IO action in three human rights treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This analysis (scope, mandates, and mechanisms of control) showed that all three IOs are monitoring bodies without any authority to coerce their member states into action, greatly reducing their potential for undesired action. We then examine several secondary securitization episodes associated with the debate about Israeli accession to these treaties, demonstrating how perceptions of undesired action shaped Israeli policy choices. Non-security officials expressed concern that Israel’s enemies would abuse these treaties and capture their IOs in order to promote hostile and aggressive measures against Israel. One compelling example comes from Israel’s Assistant General Manager of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shlomo Argov (19 July 1976):

“Our actions against the politicization of IOs require special attention… to caution against the Arab intention to recruit such organizations to the battle against Israel… in a transparent attempt to turn agencies…into a stage for direct clash.”

While Israel is often regarded as a special case, we believe our conclusions travel especially well to other countries with a major perceived security challenge, a professional bureaucracy, and perceived or real hostility from international organizations. It is particularly interesting to observe South Korea – another state facing a serious security challenge from an adjacent neighbor (North Korea) since its establishment. Like Israel, South Korea is a relatively small state, born out of dire conflict that has simmered for decades, where security concerns constitute the central theme of national decision-making in all issue-area. Like Israel, South Korea has been at odds with the UN for decades over its armed conflict with its neighbors.

Interestingly, Israel and South Korea ratified the ICCPR and the ICESCR at roughly the same time (1991 and 1990, respectively). Evidence suggests that civilian administrators in South Korea were influenced for most of those years by the military establishment, subjecting ratification of those human rights treaties to perceived security threats and regarding human rights advocacy as exacerbating the threat posed by Communism. We hope our research can inspire a future in-depth study of archival material in other similar case-studies, to pursue a more fine-grained process-driven comparison of the place that cognitive processes have in multilateralism.  Full article >>

Mutual Uncertainty in Foreign Policy | June 2020

Brandon Yoder & Kyle Haynes, Mutual uncertainty and credible reassurance: experimental evidenceInternational Interactions, 46:4 (2020). Read now >>

In this paper, we present a laboratory experiment testing a theory of interstate reassurance we developed in another recent article.¹ There, we showed that, in many real-world contexts, mutual uncertainty about intentions can allow states to credibly reassure each other. Specifically, this holds with respect to policy issues where cooperation is subjective – in other words, where it is not clear ex ante which types of policies the receiver would view favorably or unfavorably. Under this sort of “subjective” cooperation, high uncertainty about the receiver’s preferences leaves the sender with little incentive to misrepresent their own preferences.

We test this theory using a laboratory experiment that replicated the incentives of our previous model (Haynes and Yoder 2020). The model yielded four hypotheses. First, we expected senders to be more likely to honestly signal their preferences when they were highly uncertain of the receiver’s preferences. Second, we expected receivers, as a result of these more honest signals, to be more likely to correctly guess the sender’s preferences when the latter was highly uncertain. We also expected receivers to express greater confidence in these guesses. Finally, because we expected receivers to have better information about the sender’s preferences when the sender was highly uncertain, we expected receivers to be more likely to implement an optimal strategy toward uncertain senders.

Our results largely supported the theory, but with one very interesting wrinkle. Senders were indeed far more likely to signal honestly when they were less certain of the receiver’s preferences. In response, receivers were more likely to both implement an optimal strategy toward the sender, and guess the sender’s type correctly. But importantly, receivers did not express greater confidence in their guesses of the sender’s preferences, even when they had monetary incentives to accurately state their confidence.

This finding suggests that receivers were indeed forming more accurate beliefs about the sender as the theory would expect. The receivers simply didn’t realize that their beliefs were more accurate, and so did not express greater confidence in them. Our experiment thus highlights the possibility that the accuracy of policymakers’ beliefs might significantly diverge from the confidence with which they hold these beliefs. Existing research on signaling typically assumes that more confident beliefs are also more accurate, and vice versa. We show that, in practice, these distinct dimensions of policymakers’ beliefs can differ significantly.

Our findings have important implications for contemporary international politics. In particular, scholars and policymakers have spent decades debating the extent to which China’s future intentions are incompatible with America’s preferences for the global order. We suspect that this durable uncertainty arises in part because the United States’ transparent domestic institutions, and extensive role in shaping the international status quo, have given Chinese policymakers a very clear idea of America’s foreign policy preferences. This theoretically allows China to more effectively misrepresent any revisionist intentions it holds, since its leaders would know precisely how to mimic American preferences.

But importantly, the presidency of Donald Trump has blown apart the prior consensus across Democratic and Republican parties regarding the general shape of the international order. As a result, foreign policymakers cannot know with any meaningful degree of confidence what American foreign policy preferences are today, much less what they will be a year from now. As a result, we argue, foreign leaders today have far less incentive to conceal their true policy preferences from American leaders. They simply can’t know what the US wants, and so can’t parrot US preferences in order to conceal their own. In effect, the incoherence of US foreign policy under the Trump administration may actually yield more accurate information about the foreign policy preferences of other states.

But our experimental results also show that, while these dynamics may produce more accurate beliefs about foreign leaders’ policy preferences, these beliefs may not necessarily be held more confidently. Our article revealed the possibility of a divergence between accuracy and confidence of beliefs, but did not explore the implications of this divergence in great detail. Future research should explore this divergence further, specifying when it is most likely to occur, and what types of consequences might follow from it. Full article >>

¹Haynes, Kyle and Brandon Yoder. (2020) “Offsetting Uncertainty: Reassurance with Two-Sided Incomplete Information.” American Journal of Political Science 64(1): 38-51.

Leadership, Combat Experience, and Crises | May 2020

Ross A. Miller, Welcome to the Jungle: a research note on leader entry, combat experience, and dispute targetingInternational Interactions, 46:4 (2020). Read now >>

Are new leaders with combat experience less likely to be threatened by international adversaries than those without? Unfortunately, not. In fact, they are about three times MORE likely to be challenged.

Previous studies imply that leaders with military training should deter challengers, because they are assumed to view the use of military force as the “continuation of politics by other means.” The commonly-held assumption is that the more “trigger happy” the leader, the less likely an international challenge is. Indeed, in October 2008, then-Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Biden Jr. appeared to apply this very logic, when he warned that, if elected, Barack Obama—a candidate with no military training—would be tested by an international challenger within six months of taking office.

This article argues that, although leaders with combat experience have military training, they have also encountered the human costs of war, which fundamentally changes their worldviews on the utility of military force. Instead of seeing war as simply a “continuation of politics by other means,” combat-experienced leaders are conservative in its application, because they understand all too well its costs. Adversaries account for this conservatism, making combat-experienced leaders attractive targets of demands, especially early in their tenure.

Empirical analyses of about 200,000 observations of state-to-state interactions from 1900-2001 reveal that the risk of an international challenge is greatest early in the tenure of combat-experienced leaders. They are significantly more likely to be the targets of a threat, display, or use of military force than other leaders—including those with military service. Over time, this risk declines as both leaders and adversaries adapt. Full article >>

An Alternative Theory of Diversionary Behavior | March/April 2020

Dennis M. Foster & Jonathan W. Keller, Single-party government, Prime Minister psychology, and the diversionary use of force: theory and evidence from the British case,International Interactions,46:2 (2020).Read now >>

How does the structure of party government in parliamentary systems – and in particular, the presence or absence of a legislative majority by a single party – affect the likelihood that a country will use military force abroad to divert attention from domestic economic failings? While much previous work has examined diversionary conflict in the context of the US presidential system, and many scholars have looked at general tendencies towards diversion from various domestic problems across all democratic states, relatively few have developed theories specifying differences in the expectation of diversion across particular governmental arrangements. Of these, nearly all contributors surmise that one particular arrangement is least prone to diversion from economic problems: single-party majoritarian (or SPM) government. In SPM government, according to this account, one party’s legislative contingent operates as the government without the necessity of coalition building; therefore, policy formulation and execution is seen as being accomplished by a cohesive, disciplined, and unfettered unit of co-partisan government actors, from the elite to the rank-and-file. At the same time, the Prime Minister (PM) is relatively constrained in the unilateral conduct of foreign policy, due to parliamentarism’s merger of executive and legislative functions. Thus, PMs in SPM systems are alleged to have relatively little need to engage in diversion from poor performance (as single-party government allows for the development of effective policy fixes) and little institutional capacity to engage in diversion (as the PM is but primus inter pares among the government’s foreign policy decision-makers).

We develop an alternative theory of diversion from economic difficulties by SPM systems that, first, raises questions about the ease with which SPM governments can fix economic problems. If reversing inflation or unemployment, or increasing economic growth proves difficult – and much literature in political science and economics claims that it often will be – then PMs in SPM systems sit atop a government that cannot deflect blame from its failures to “right the ship.” Furthermore, the historical record indicates that these leaders are, in fact, often able to exercise a fair amount of autonomy from the Cabinet in the conduct of coercive diplomacy and the use of force. Given these factors, we contend that, all else equal, the structural and environmental influences of SPM government on the likelihood of armed diversion are indeterminate. Instead, drawing on a substantial literature on leadership psychology, we turn to an examination of PM’s cognitive frames to gauge the likelihood of diversion from economic problems under SPM governments. In short, the way PMs perceive the indeterminate environment and structure that surrounds them is the primary predictor of whether they believe economic fixes to be viable, the use of force to be applicable, and diversion to be preferable. Specifically, we hypothesize that the more a PM’s psychological profile tends towards distrust – a trait that favors the use of blunt and forceful policy instruments, causes hypersensitivity to criticism and cost, and compels the leader to see other domestic actors as challengers to one’s position of power – the more likely s/he is to view economic problems as dangerous and insurmountable, and thus the more likely s/he is to pursue diversionary military gambits when faced with a poor economy.

In the absence of comprehensive data on the psychological traits of PMs across states, we offer a partial test of this hypothesis via analyses of the British foreign policy experience in the period 1945-2007. The UK, a militarily and economically powerful state characterized by SPM government, represents an exemplar, in that we can gauge the behavior of both trusting and distrustful PMs who have a relatively strong capacity to either ameliorate economic difficulties or to use force abroad instead. Our findings show that the likelihood that the UK initiates Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs) given higher levels of economic misery (the sum of inflation and unemployment) is indeed contingent upon levels of distrust evinced by PMs in their scripted and spontaneous rhetoric in the House of Commons, with more distrustful PMs being significantly more likely to use force when economic misery is high than more trusting PMs. Full article >>

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