PhD Dissertation and Book Project

Cities and Vulnerability: How Urban Geography Shapes International Security

How does urbanization and urban geography affect international security? Urbanization is one of the most important transformations in modern history, but its impacts–and the impacts of persistent inequalities in urbanization and urban geography–on interstate conflict and national security policies remain largely unexplored. I investigate how differences in countries’ urban geography and policy-makers’ understandings of urban vulnerability inform strategic thinking and behavior, from the willingness to engage in military confrontation and performance in crises, to decisions regarding nuclear weapons. I argue that the increased importance and vulnerability of cities to modern warfare generally produce higher expected costs of conflict, contributing to a decreased appetite for war. Moreover, I show that there is substantial variation in states’ levels of vulnerability owing to differences in urban geography across countries. These differences account for variation in countries’ willingness to engage in conflict and their ability to prevail in crises.

Finally, I show that vulnerability caused by urban concentration is an important factor in explaining nuclear doctrine, force posture, proliferation, and the varying degrees to which states follow the logic of the “nuclear revolution.” I utilize case studies drawing on extensive archival research in the US and UK and interviews in South Korea, as well as a variety of statistical techniques such as factor analysis, Extreme Bounds Analysis, cross-validation, and classification trees, which I deploy to analyze new data on urban geography, interstate conflict, and nuclear proliferation. This project offers a new way of thinking about geography in international relations and contributes to our understanding of the structural factors that shape international security. Additionally, this study has gained new urgency in light of recent developments that raise the specter of conflict and force U.S. leaders and policy experts to again confront the risks of nuclear devastation reaching American cities.

Other projects

I am also engaged in research projects on: the effects of urban concentration on civil conflict; the neglected importance of Cold War dynamics in quantitative studies of crisis behavior; power and international authority; rethinking the distribution of capabilities and polarity in the international system; the irrelevance of nuclear superiority in international crises; the role of gender in the peer-review process; the domestic politics of US covert action; and nuclear-history lessons for political science nuclear research.

My previous research includes: Chinese foreign and economic policies; the political economy of China-Latin America relations; civil-military relations and Brazilian foreign and defense policies; US foreign policy and nuclear proliferation in South America; conceptual issues in terrorism and political violence; and the challenges to trust building and cooperation among nuclear rivals. See publications.