Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Proliferation 

With Nuno P. Monteiro
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Studies in International Relations, 2017.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Empirical International Relations Theory. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

Game theory is a set of mathematical tools used to analyze the strategic interaction between decision makers. Proponents of game theory have offered different perspectives about its potential benefits in the study of politics: It is a rigorous apparatus that can offer a solid foundation for the scientific enterprise; it offers predictions that could be tested with statistical analysis; it can account for the essence of unique cases and could be tested with qualitative evidence. Critics of game theory, in political science and international security specifically, argued in the 1990s that it had generated few empirical insights. Two decades later, game-theoretic approaches to international security remain a robust research program, but their prevalence remains limited. It is important to evaluate the potential benefits of game theory and the contributions that it has made to international security, so as to devise appropriate strategies to maximize its empirical purchase. The controlled comparison approach, using qualitative evidence on a medium number of cases, appears especially promising.

With Nuno P. Monteiro
Annual Review of Political Science. 20: 331-349, 2017

This article critically reviews scholarship on the role of conflict and cooperation in conditioning nuclear proliferation. We start by laying out the trajectory of scholarship on the causes of proliferation, organizing it in three waves: (a) security and (b) nonsecurity drivers of proliferation, and (c) supply constraints on nuclear acquisition. We then examine the recent turn in the proliferation literature toward a strategic interaction approach, focusing on how conflict and cooperation between proliferators, their adversaries, and their allies shape the spread of nuclear weapons. We argue for an integrated framework for analyzing the tools states can deploy to foster or stymie proliferation. Finally, we sketch an agenda for research on nuclear proliferation. Here, we argue that scholarship should (a) incorporate nonsecurity dynamics into the strategic interaction approach to the study of proliferation and (b) combine rigorous theory with careful historical research to further our understanding of the causes of proliferation.

Living by the Sword and Dying by the Sword? Leadership Transitions in and out of Dictatorships

International Studies Quarterly. 60(1): 73-84, 2016.

What makes certain dictatorships more likely than others to democratize? I argue that military dictators, as specialists in violence, often remain threats to their successors. However, when democratic systems replace military dictatorships, that expertise presents less danger to new incumbents. Because democracies select leaders through elections, they reduce the importance of military expertise—and the role of associated violence—in contests for office. Thus, military dictatorships should prove more likely to transition quickly to democracy; military dictators will expect a lower likelihood of punishment—including death—at the hands of their successors than if they are replaced by other dictators. Therefore, incumbent military dictators see democratic systems as less dangerous to them; they face specific incentives to ensure a quick and effective transition to democracy. I provide support for my theory with evidence from the post-World War II period.

Circumstances, Domestic Audiences, and Reputational Incentives in International Crisis Bargaining

With Jessica Weiss 
Journal of Conflict Resolution. 60(3): 403-433, 2016. 

We present a new theory of interstate crisis bargaining. A country's resolve is a function of intrinsic qualities of the government and external circumstances, both of which are unknown by the domestic electorate and the foreign country. When domestic political debate reveals that circumstances favor the use of force, the government can extract better terms than if circumstances are revealed to be unfavorable. The revelation of circumstances, however, exacerbates reputational incentives. Because governments can no longer hide behind unknown circumstances, voters can better discern the government's type from its actions, strengthening the incentives to appear resolved. The model bridges the gap between audience costs and its critiques, showing how domestic audiences punish leaders for inappropriate policies rather than empty threats. At the same time, it highlights how the prospects for peace are worse if uncertainty about the circumstances is removed, suggesting that greater transparency does not always promote peaceful outcomes.

The Strategic Logic of Nuclear Proliferation

With Nuno P. Monteiro 
International Security. 39 (2): 7-51, 2014. Published article here and appendix here. Earlier (ungated) version at SSRN here.

When do states acquire nuclear weapons? To address this question, a strategic theory of nuclear proliferation must take into account the security goals of all of the key actors: the potential proliferator, its adversaries, and, when present, its allies. To acquire nuclear weapons, a state must possess both the willingness and the opportunity to proliferate. Willingness requires the presence of a grave security threat against which no ally offers reliable protection. Opportunity requires that the state pursuing nuclear weapons possess high relative power vis-à-vis its adversaries or enjoy the protection of a powerful ally. Whereas a relatively weak state without a powerful ally lacks the opportunity to develop a nuclear capability, one with such an ally lacks the willingness to do so. Therefore, only powerful states or relatively weak states with allies that do not guarantee fulallment of at least some of their key security goals will acquire the bomb. These claims are supported by the overall pattern of nuclear proliferation as well as detailed analyses of the Soviet, Iraqi, Pakistani, South Korean, and West German nuclear development cases. 

With Nuno P. Monteiro
International Organization. 68(1): 1-31, 2014.

Large and rapid power shifts resulting from exogenous economic growth are considered sufficient to cause preventive wars. Such power shifts are rare, however. Most large and rapid shifts result from endogenous military investments. In this case, preventive war requires uncertainty about a state's investment decision. When this decision is perfectly transparent, peace always prevails. A state's investment that would produce a large and rapid power shift would prompt its adversaries to launch a preventive war. Internalizing this, the state is deterred from investing. When investments may remain undetected, however, states may be tempted to introduce large and rapid shifts in military power as a fait accompli. Knowing this, their adversaries may strike preventively even without unambiguous evidence about militarization. In fact, the more effective preventive wars are, the more likely they will be launched against states that are not militarizing. Our argument restricts the role of commitment problems and emphasizes the role of imperfect information as causes of war. It also provides an account of why powerful states may attack weaker targets suspected of military investments even in the absence of conclusive information. We illustrate our theory through an account of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Regime Type, the Fate of Leaders and War

With H.E. Goemans
American Political Science Review. 104(3): 430-445, 2010. copyright Cambridge University Press.

We propose and test a formal model of war and domestic politics, building on recent evidence on the relationship between regime type, the effect of war on the probability of losing office, and the consequences of losing office. The less the outcome of international interaction affects a leader's tenure and the less punitive are the consequences of losing office, the more is a leader willing to make concessions to strike a peaceful bargain. We demonstrate that our theory successfully predicts war involvement among non-democratic regime types. Moreover, our theory offers an intuitive explanation for the democratic peace. Compared to non-democratic leaders, the tenure of democratic leaders depends relatively little on the war outcome and democratic leaders fare relatively well after losing office. Thus, democratic leaders should be more willing and able to avoid war, especially with other democrats.

With Gretchen Helmke
Quarterly Journal of Political Science. 5(3): 209-241, 2010.

Inequality is generally thought to affect the electoral fortunes of the left, yet the theory and evidence on the question are unclear. This is the case even in Latin America, a region marked by enormous inequalities and by the stunning return of the left over the last decade. We address this shortcoming. Our game-theoretic model reveals that the probability that the left candidate is elected follows an inverted U-shaped relationship. At low levels of inequality, the rich do not bribe any voters and poor voters are increasingly likely to vote for the left candidate based on redistributive concerns. At high levels of inequality, the rich want to avoid redistribution and bribe poor voters, causing the left candidate to be elected with decreasing probability. We find support for our hypothesis, using 110 elections in 18 Latin American countries from 1978 to 2008.

Economic Theories of Dictatorship

The Economics of Peace and Security Journal. 5(1): 11-17, 2010

This paper reviews recent advances in economic theories of dictatorships and their lessons for the political stability and economic performances of dictatorships. It reflects on the general usefulness of economic theories of dictatorship, with an application to foreign relations.

This is a pre-print of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in The Economics of Peace and Security Journal (2010, 5(1): 11-17); The Economics of Peace and Security Journal is available online at:

Legislative Bargaining under Weighted Voting: Corrigendum

With James M. Snyder Jr. and Michael M. Ting
Internet Corrigendum, September 2009

This note corrects a mistake in the proofs of Propositions 3 and 4 of Snyder, Ting and Ansolabehere (2005). It also corrects a mistake in the statement of Proposition 4, and characterizes the payoffs more fully than done in Proposition 4.

'To be' or 'Ought to be,' the Questions of Empirical Content and Normative Bias in Leon Walras's Methodology

Journal of the History of Economic Thought. 26(4): 479-492, 2004. Copyright Cambridge University Press.


Work in Progress

The Political Effects of Nuclear Proliferation (latest version: June 23, 2017)

With Nicholas D. Anderson and Nuno P. Monteiro

An Economic Theory of War (latest version: June 23, 2017)

With Nuno P. Monteiro

Income, the Middle Class, and Democracy (latest version: May 27, 2015)

With Kevin M. Morrison