Charles Mahoney sets out to answer the question “why do some markets for private defense services function efficiently while others are characterized by companies that regularly underperform and shirk their obligations?” (31) This is a puzzle with clear policy implications for governments around the world who may want to efficiently utilize private military and security companies (PMSCs).
More than just answering that question, Mahoney is interested in building theoretical explanations that serve as the basis for future academic work on PMSCs. To do this he uses the building blocks of market structure and a principal-agent framework. His central argument is that…
Category: Article Reviews
A refreshing look at re-conceptualizing the concept of polarity, Benjamin Zala’s “Polarity Analysis and Collective Perceptions of Power: The Need for a New Approach” attempts to offer a new approach in bypassing the definitional, conceptual, and measurement confusions plaguing research on polarity. Seeking to methodologically distance itself from the traditional scholarship on polarity, which revolves around distribution of resources/material capabilities, positional analysis, and hegemonic behavior, Zala proposes an approach that concentrates on perception, agency, and performativity. The author’s proposal, to a strong extent, contrasts the body of literature produced after the end of the Cold War, which brought about the expansive debate over unipolarity, with the debate ranging from modes of counterbalancing, to traditional considerations, to soft-balancing, to scholarly disputes over durability/stability, to the peacefulness and structural coherence of the new unipolar system. Zala’s concern is to provide the theoretical justification for a shift in the operationalization of polarity from explanatory and positional considerations based on capabilities and resources to an ordering concept where status is privileged over capabilities. The author’s attempt at such theory-development revolves around two general approaches: 1) utilizing the notion of perception to qualify status and polar ordering, and 2) offering a case study from the Cold War when the U.S. attempted to restructure the bipolar system into a tripolar configuration by elevating China to polar status.
In “Covert Communication: The Intelligibility and Credibility of Signaling in Secret,” Austin Carson and Keren Yarhi-Milo introduce a theoretical framework to illustrate how leaders can use covert action to signal their state’s resolve to local allies and strategic adversaries. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that states intervene covertly to conceal their role in military operations and minimize the amount of information they reveal to third parties, the authors argue—and demonstrate empirically via case studies of Soviet and American interventions in Angola and Afghanistan during the Cold War—that states can and do use covert action to send intelligible and credible messages regarding their intentions. These actions take place on an international political “backstage” wherein “states share a basic communicative grammar regarding activity in the covert realm that allows leaders to send targeted messages to external actors” (125). Overall, the article is persuasive, clear, and makes a new and important contribution to the bourgeoning literature on covert action. The case studies are intriguing and incorporate a variety of recently declassified documents. As a foundational piece on covert signaling, the article raises three important questions that could pose fruitful avenues for future research.
We thank Christopher Darnton for his thoughtful and useful critique, and we are in agreement with many of his points. However, Darnton perhaps overstates the goals of our article. Notably, Darnton faults the article for failing to test a “causal explanation of Latin American foreign policy against alternatives.” Our article does not claim to test a fully specified, causal theory of soft balancing; in the prominent literature of the subject, no such theory has been enunciated (as noted on 134). That theory would need to clearly specify external conditions and causes for cross-case testing and delineate observable implications of a causal process for within-case testing. This is an important task, but ultimately not one we attempted. The literature on soft balancing, our article included, is more focused on concept formation. We extend the concept to a new case and to the context of regional unipolarity, while striving not to dilute it.
From deciding whom to engage in business, romantic, and other relationships to which professors to take courses from, to whether to entrust one’s fortune and wellbeing to unknown strangers – for instance, a doctor, a real estate broker or a babysitter – we often rely on our “gut” feeling upon initial contact to estimate a person’s intentions, character, and competence. First impressions matter.
More than four decades ago, Robert Dahl observed that the most stable democracies emerged in countries where party competition evolved gradually, allowing elites to learn how to work together peacefully and respect the rules of the game. Ideally, this process of habituation occurred in a sovereign nation-state (a polity free from foreign influence or domination), and where the suffrage was limited to these elites at first and gradually expanded to the rest of the population. Dahl cited as examples countries such as the United Kingdom and United States.
In an analytical review of alliance research, James Morrow posed the title question, “Alliances: why write them down?” A decade and a half later, Keren Yarhi-Milo, Alexander Lanoszka, and Zack Cooper revisit this issue, posing their own title question: “To arm or to ally?” Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper pose this question through the structural lens of hierarchical relations, setting it up as a “patron’s dilemma” of how patrons can best ensure a client state’s security—through either a formal guarantee to defend the state against foreign attack, the provision of significant arms, or both (or neither). Hierarchical relations and patrons’ dilemmas have received increased attention in security scholarship, with several scholars expounding upon the nature of international hierarchy and its role in security provision, economic relations, democratization efforts, and many other international political issues. In their article, Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper focus on the central alliance tradeoff of credibility versus flexibility. By agreeing to a formal institutionalized security pact in the nature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a patron can send a clear and credible signal of commitment, but such an ironclad commitment may trap the patron in an unwanted conflict. Conversely, simply supplying arms provides greater flexibility and will enhance the client’s security, but not to the degree that a formal defense pact would. How then do patrons decide which strategy to adopt? Yarhi-Milo, Lanoszka, and Cooper seek to answer that question.
Max Paul Friedman and Tom Long argue that Latin American foreign policies, particularly those of Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico, constitute a case of ‘soft balancing’ against the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century. Rather than engaging in issue-specific contestation or bilateral negotiations with Washington, Latin American leaders and diplomats focused on building regional institutions and shaping norms in favor of nonviolent dispute resolution and respect for state sovereignty. The named foreign policy doctrines of Argentine jurist and Foreign Minister Luis María Drago, Argentine diplomat Carlos Calvo, and Mexican Foreign Minister Genaro Estrada not only anchored the arguments of international lawyers and the foreign policies of their countries, but also circumscribed, constrained, and influenced U.S. foreign policy in the Americas. Ultimately, the authors argue, Latin American statecraft generated the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration’s Good Neighbor Policy, a commitment to non-intervention that reversed more than three decades of North American military practice in the circum-Caribbean (135, 152).
Why do combatants engage in sexual violence during civil and interstate wars? This research question has received much-needed attention from scholars across multiple disciplines in recent years. It forms part of a larger research agenda focusing on why combatants deliberately seek to harm civilians in a variety of ways, whether through massacres, forced population movement, torture, terrorist attacks, indiscriminate bombing and shelling, and so on. This research agenda is an important one for the scholarly understanding of conflict. In particular, it addresses the puzzle of why combatants would resort to targeting civilians, when there is considerable evidence that doing so can, under a range of circumstances, undermine the likelihood that they will achieve their political and military objectives. This work also holds the promise of devising interventions that could minimize human suffering during conflict. Research on sexual violence is an important part of this movement, and scholars working this area have begun to identify the strategic, organizational, and cultural factors that drive rape and other forms of sexual abuse during wartime.