In a 2014 article in International Security, I argued that scholars suggesting that war is on the decline have overstated their case. The strongest empirical basis for the “declinist theory of war” is a decline in battle deaths. But over the same time period that battle deaths have declined, there have been dramatic improvements in military medicine. The effects of military medicine are especially evident in mortality rates for militaries of advanced industrialized states where, as a percentage of those deployed, more military personnel are returning home having survived injuries they would not have survived in past conflicts. I am now extending this research as part of a book project in which I argue that improvements in military medicine, alongside the expansion of veterans benefits, have increased the long-term, downstream costs of war for the United States. While most of this project relies on qualitative and historical data, I have also been conducting a series of survey experiments on casualty aversion that take explicit account of the wounded as part of an effort to examine the long-term societal costs of addressing the host of issues accompanying the returned wounded.
Laws of War
My most recent book, Wars of Law: Unintended Consequences in the Regulation of Armed Conflict (2018: Cornell University Press), is on the consequences of the proliferation of the laws of war over the past two centuries. The first argument of the book is that belligerents in both interstate and civil war use the laws of war very strategically. The second argument of the book is that the nature of this strategic relationship varies tremendously between states engaged in interstate war and rebel groups engaged in civil war. For example, I argue that the proliferation of codified law of war provides an explanation for the declining use of declarations of war to begin interstate war and peace treaties to conclude these wars. Secessionist rebel groups engaged in civil war, on the other had, behave quite differently when it comes to the laws of war. For these groups, engaging positively with international law is a means to signal their willingness and capacity to be good citizens of the international community. I continue to work on issues relating to international humanitarian law, particularly on the questions of why some rebel groups commit to abiding by the laws of war (with Rita Konaev), whether armed groups that self-identify as Islamic subscribe to a different view of the laws of war (with Emilia Powell), and when and why the International Committee of the Red Cross violates its practice of discretion and “goes public” in condemnation of armed conflict actors (with Minju Kwon).
I have been working on several projects related to secessionism. Ryan Griffiths and I argue that the benefits of becoming a state have increased over time, and that this increase has translated into the rise of secessionism we observe today. In much of my work on internal armed conflict, I highlight how the political aims of rebel groups, especially secessionists, condition how they conduct themselves in war. In other work, I highlight what I call the “Secessionists’ Dilemma” – the idea that secessionists believe they should abide by norms set out by existing states, but are rarely rewarded for their good behavior.
Work in Progress
“Life and Limb: New Estimates of Casualty Aversion in the US.”
“Islamic Humanitarian Law and Islamic Insurgent Groups.” With Emilia Powell.
“#sorrynotsorry: Cyber Attacks and the Logic of Non-Denial Denials.” With Joseph Brown.
“Naming, Shaming, and the Laws of War: When Does the ICRC Go Public?” With Brooke C. Greene and Minju Kwon.
“The Medicine of Counterinsurgency”
“What is the International Community?”
“Interstate War Initiation and Termination (WIT), 1816-2000.” With Page Fortna, Jessica Stanton, and Alex Weisiger.
“Guerrillas in the Mist: The Use and Misuse of Insurgency in Civil War.” With Page Fortna.