Please find abstracts for working papers and works in progress I am currently developing below. Feel free to contact me at the email address above for the latest versions of some of the papers below.


Emerging Technology and the Political Consequences of Eroding Government Secrecy (with Erik Lin-Greenberg)

How do emerging technologies that erode governments’ near-monopolies on intelligence information affect public support for leaders and their foreign policies? Information gathering technologies – like imagery satellites – that were once the domain of state governments are now increasingly available to commercial and private actors. As a result, non-government entities can reveal information whose disclosure was once firmly controlled by states. We argue that non-government entities with access to these technologies serve as alternative information sources that can verify government claims or reveal activities governments have not previously acknowledged. Using original survey experiments we find that commercial satellite imagery can serve as an informational cue that shifts public opinion, and, depending on its content, either attenuates or bolsters the effect of similar cues from government sources. The findings advance academic and policy debates over secrecy in international relations and on the effect of emerging technologies in the security domain.


Battlefield Setbacks, Military Credibility, and Presidential Decision-Making During Wartime

Why might presidents defy their top military advisors during wartime? Proponents of civilian control of the military insist that civilian policymakers have the "right to be wrong" in overriding the professional military advice they receive, even when such decisions result in undesirable policy outcomes. Little work, however, has examined the conditions under which presidents will defy their military commanders, whose specialized expertise in warfighting and proximity to the battlefield allows them to wield substantial political leverage during wartime. I argue that the manner by which presidents resolve disagreements among their top civilian and military advisors during earlier decision periods will shape subsequent strategic reassessments. When confronted with battlefield setbacks, presidents who previously deferred to the military's preferences will be more empowered to defy the advice of senior military officers at subsequent mid-war decision points. These setbacks erode the military’s political bargaining leverage in mid-war reassessments relative to other top-level advisors who dissent from its position. I develop and test this argument using comparative case methods and explicit Bayesian process tracing of Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War decision-making in the aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive and George W. Bush's 2007 "surge" decision in the Iraq War.


Military Advice and Civilian Deference Among Newly Inaugurated Leaders

Why do some newly inaugurated leaders intensify involvement in ongoing military interventions? Several studies suggest changes in political leadership or winning coalitions liberate newly installed decision-makers from the domestic punishment their more culpable predecessors would expect to suffer from a military defeat or less favorable negotiated settlement. Yet several U.S. presidents -- from Richard Nixon in Vietnam to Donald Trump in Afghanistan today -- have opted to intensify American involvement in interventions they inherit even after campaigning to wind down these wars. I argue that newly inaugurated political leaders, particularly those with little combat experience, will defer to the preferences of senior military officers to avoid the political risks of defying military advice early in their tenure. Given the well-established preferences of uniformed officers to intensify fighting in pursuit of victory, presidents will prolong ongoing interventions to avoid domestic political risks of dissent from the military's ranks, even at the expense of their own preferences. I evaluate my argument using Bayesian process tracing methods and comparative case studies of the wartime decisions of President Eisenhower in Korea, President Nixon in Vietnam, and Presidents Obama and Trump in Afghanistan early in their first terms.


Using Bayesian Process Tracing to Reassess Sources of Johnson's Decisions in the Vietnam War After the 1968 Tet Offensive (Latest Draft: September 2019)

Why did Lyndon Johnson opt to forego substantial escalation during the Vietnam War in the aftermath of the 1968 Tet offensive? Conventional explanations for Johnson’s decision underscore the declining popularity of the war domestically and the strategic victory North Vietnam inflicted on the United States, which exposed deficiencies in the its military strategy despite its tactical successes in militarily reversing Hanoi’s gains shortly after the Tet assault. Using explicit Bayesian process tracing methods, I reconsider President Johnson’s strategic reassessment of the Vietnam War in the aftermath of the Tet offensive. Analyzing evidence drawn from over 2,000 pages of archival materials, I argue Johnson ultimately strove for compromise between his military commanders seeking a 205,000 troop increase to reinforce tactical victories in Tet’s aftermath and those civilian advisors seeking disengagement from a war they argued promised higher casualties and continued stalemate. In contrast to existing explanations that treat the president’s March 1968 announcement as a product of domestic political pressure or strategic necessity, I find Johnson’s decision to forego substantial escalation while simultaneously bolstering the strategic reserve and imposing a limited bombing halt in North Vietnam reflected an effort to accommodate the views of senior military officers seeking greater infusion of resources and manpower and those civilian advisors seeking greater disengagement from Vietnam within the president’s inner circle.


The Impact of UN Security Council Authorization and Domestic Political Cues on Public Attitudes Toward the Use of Force (Latest Draft: April 2018)

What effect does UN Security Council authorization have on public attitudes toward the use of force relative to other cues supplied by domestic partisan elites? Several studies in international relations have suggested that approval from international organizations generates higher levels of support for a president’s use of force. The precise mechanism by which approval from these institutions translates into support among public audiences, however, remains underspecified. Existing work remains insufficiently attentive to the manner by which partisan cues from domestic policymakers and other elites can offset the impact that international organizations have in influencing public opinion on military matters. To account for the relative effects that informational cues from international organizations and domestic partisan elites have in shaping public opinion toward war, this study analyzes the results of an online survey experiment asking more than 1,200 adults in the United States about their support for the deployment of American ground troops in response to a hypothetical crisis scenario in South Asia.  Although public attitudes toward the use of force are shaped more heavily by cues from domestic political actors over international ones, UN Security Council authorization does nevertheless increase public support for a hypothetical deployment of American ground forces, even in the face of countervailing cues from partisan elites. The effect of Security Council authorization, however, can indeed be offset by the united positions of domestic partisan elites from both parties. When Democrats and Republicans are united in their support for the deployment of ground forces abroad, their bipartisan support offsets any increase in opposition resulting from a refusal of the UN Security Council to authorize such action.


Post-9/11 Perceptions of Strategic Vulnerability and the Iraq War

Drawing on insights from affective dynamics in political psychology and theories of agenda-setting in public policymaking, this paper argues the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks precipitated a pervasive sense of heightened strategic vulnerability among President Bush and his top national security advisors that transformed their perceptions of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from an irksome but manageable problem on September 10 but an implacable and imminent threat in the months that followed. I argue the 9/11 attacks substantially reduced the Bush administration’s tolerance for uncertainty and compelled top officials to search for available policy options that could eliminate even remote threats that might manifest themselves as future attacks. The high-intensity affective responses that were sustained by continuous threat reporting of real and imagined dangers at the federal government’s highest levels in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11, coupled with top Bush administration officials’ heightened perceptions of their own vulnerability, became a persistent frame through which they interpreted incoming information and fitted policy responses that met with initial successes in Afghanistan onto other, manifestly disparate threats. Owing to the national security establishment’s preoccupation with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein across three administrations, the availability of military options oriented toward Baghdad relative to other, potentially more threatening alternatives elevated Iraq to the top of the government’s national security agenda.


Private Security Contractors in Iraq and Use of Force in Counterinsurgency Operations

A number of high-profile incidents involving private security contractors in Iraq have contributed to a perception that these armed civilians, who provide protective security services to diplomatic and military personnel in the battlespace, regularly violate rules governing the use of force in a counterinsurgency environment. This study analyzes over 120 serious incidents involving private security contractors and concludes that these contractors have used force with greater restraint in Iraq than many contemporary accounts suggest. At the same time, a smaller but significant number of incidents present evidence of persistent violations of the rules of force in ways that risk eroding the military’s broader counterinsurgency mission. Often the result of split-second decisions to engage civilians who appear to pose an imminent threat in the battlespace, these incidents tend to involve contractor whose disproportionate uses of force in the face of an uncertain threat environment place civilians at the greatest risk for unintended harm. These misuses of force will continue in the absence of improved mechanisms for oversight, coordination and management that can hold these contractors accountable for their conduct in the battlespace.


"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Unfinished Integration of LGBT Service Members

Analyzes the political, legal, and bureaucratic implications associated with the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and its consequences for U.S. civil-military relations.



©2017 by Theo Milonopoulos