Related Papers on Variation in Stateness

Publications | Working papers

In addition to my major research projects, I have several publications and working papers that relate to the two big questions on the state that define my research agenda.

Two papers examine one of the constitutive elements of stateness: territory. Territory defines the spatial extent over which states exercise sovereign authority. States prize territory, sacrificing significant blood and treasure to defend their territories and acquire more. Because sovereignty is mutually exclusive, these actions have significant implications for determining who is subject to whose authority.

What explains stability and change in the territorial configuration of states? The international relations literature suggests that post-1945 norms of territorial integrity and laws against anti-annexation are responsible for territorial stability. Despite these norms and laws, territorial conquest still occurs. I show that, to a surprising extent, the origins of modern conquest lie within militaries and occur as a result of self-aggrandizing actions of senior military officers. Third-party states sometimes seek to enforce the territorial order and reverse territorial seizures, but democratic leaders must build coalitions to support enforcement action. My work shows that two common justifications – the illegality of seizure and the consequences of seizure for international stability – increase support for enforcement.

Other publications on variation in stateness examine state capacity and public goods provision, the effect of government performance indicators in inducing third-party pressure on poorly performing states, and the unintended effects of foreign aid on state capacity.


Selling International Law Enforcement: Elite Justifications and Public Values.” 2020. Research and Politics July-September: 1-7. (with Lauren Prather)

International law enforcement is an understudied but indispensable factor for maintaining the international order. We study the effectiveness of elite justifications in building coalitions to enforcement violations of the law against territorial seizures. Using survey experiments fielded in the United States and Australia, we find that the effectiveness of two common justifications for enforcement — the illegality of a country’s actions, and the consequences of those actions for international order — increase support for enforcement and do so independently of two key public values: ideology and interpersonal norm enforcement. These results imply elites can build a broad coalition of support by using multiple justifications. Our results, however, highlight the tepidness of public support, suggesting limits to elite rhetoric. This study contributes to the scholarship on international law by showing how the public, typically considered a mechanism for generating compliance within states, can impede or facilitate third-party enforcement of the law between states.

Third Party Policymakers and the Limits of the Influence of Indicators.” 2020.  In The Power of Performance Indicators, eds. Judith Kelley and Beth Simmons, 341-374. New York: Cambridge University Press. (with Aila M. Matanock).

Global Performance Indicators (GPIs) serve many policy purposes, including setting agendas, shaping discourses, and permitting comparative judgment between rated entities. Yet these mechanisms are unlikely to provoke reform among states resistant to social pressure. In those cases, material power is an important tool of international influence. Do GPIs influence the application of material power? An important mechanism through which GPIs potentially shape rated state behavior is influencing third-party policymakers’ decisions to employ their material power to press for change. We examine whether ranking states by corruption – an important dimension of state fragility – induces this type of pressure on offenders. We theorize that GPIs influence third-party policymakers through their ability to provide focal points and especially through the attention they draw to the best and worst cases on the particular issue area on which states are evaluated. We test this argument for a highly-visible GPI: Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. We find that the states rated as the top ten most corrupt tend to appear in media reports about corruption while the next ten do not, and we leverage this finding to then compare outcomes among states on either side of this “threshold.” While this GPI garners significant media attention, it does not appear to influence third-party policymakers’ decision to shame or punish corruption offenders by changing the levels of foreign aid or types of foreign aid. Our results raise important scope conditions on the power of GPIs and suggest that their ability to alter state behavior through third-party pressure may be limited

Aid Externalities: Evidence from PEPFAR in Africa.” 2015. World Development 67: 281-294. (with Melina Platas)

Do targeted aid programs have unintended consequences outside of the target issue area? We investigate this question with an examination of one of the largest targeted aid programs in the world: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Critics of PEPFAR worry that a targeted program focusing on single diseases has a negative externality, in which the influx of massive amounts of target aid damages broader public health systems in countries that receive PEPFAR funds. Using a difference-in-differences identification strategy, we find statistical evidence that supports critics of targeted aid.

Taking the State Back Out: Statehood and the Delivery of Collective Goods.” 2014. Governance 27(4): 635-654. (with Gregor Walter-Drop and John Wiesel)

State-building is a central tenet of many current development efforts. This primacy of the state rests on a global normative script that emphasizes the role of the modern state in providing collective goods and services from security to education to health. We analyze state performance in six dimensions of service delivery in a cross-sectional sample of more than 150 countries. In addition to exploring the explanatory power of statehood, we examine various control variables and also analyze whether external actors affect the delivery of collective goods and services. The core finding of this article is that there is remarkably little evidence of a consistent relationship between statehood and service delivery. This result casts doubt on the conventional wisdom about the centrality of the state for the provision collective goods and services, and suggests that other factors may explain the observed variation.

See our response to Peters and Pierre.

“The Causes of Modern Conquest.” Revise and resubmit. (with Dan Altman). 

Although conquests of entire states became rare after 1945, conquests of small pieces of territory persisted. With puzzling frequency, states continue to seize — and even fight wars over — what are often remarkably small areas. This study investigates the causes of conquest attempts since 1945 by combining new conquest data with new geospatial data on territorial disputes. We argue that traditional explanations predicated on the value of the disputed territory — resources, strategic location, population, and ethnic composition — fail to explain modern conquest, in part because they are mismatched with the size of the seized territories. We theorize instead that the roots of modern conquest lie in careerist incentives within militaries. Military officers confront distinctive incentives to seize small pieces of territory in pursuit of promotions and in service of political aspirations. States in which militaries hold more power provide environments more conducive to these officers either seizing territory on their own initiative or successfully lobbying the government to back these operations. We find evidence in favor of this argument and some evidence supportive of domestic diversion and status dissatisfaction. Taken together, these results suggest that actors more often seize territory to be seen to have seized it rather than because they value the territory itself.