Dissertation: Power and Purpose: The Durable Settlement of Self-Determination Conflicts.

My dissertation seeks to explain why some governments and separatist ethnic groups commit to peace while others revert to violence following the cessation of hostilities in conflicts over national self-determination. Previous studies that examine why peace fails point to irreconcilable ethnic divisions, faulty institutional design, and the adversaries’ inability to credibly commit to demobilize, disarm, and implement the terms of a negotiated agreement. My take is different. I argue that the demographic balance of power delimits the set of potentially viable institutional arrangements that the conflicting parties would prefer to renewed or continued conflict. And in conflicts that involve relatively large separatist ethnic groups, there are simply fewer options that are acceptable to both sides than in conflicts that involve smaller minorities.

This theory is tested using a multi-method research design that combines a quantitative study of 103 violent separatist ethnic groups between 1946 and 2012 with a set of in-depth case studies that focus on the Israeli-Palestinian and the Russo-Chechen conflicts. The findings have implications for conflict resolution, the design of political institutions in post-conflict societies, and international security.

Additional Research Projects

Alongside the dissertation, I have a number of article projects that focus on the relationship between demographics, ethnic politics, and conflict.

The first article (with Kirstin J.H. Brathwaite), entitled “Dangerous Neighborhoods: State Behavior and the Spread of Ethnic Conflict,” is forthcoming in Conflict Management and Peace Science, and explores the political and demographic causes of ethnic conflict contagion. You can access a draft of the article here. The second article examines the relationship between war-related population changes and the spread of violent extremism, looking specifically into the determinants of political radicalization and Islamization within the Chechen separatist movement.

Concurrently, I am also interested in the strategic use of diplomacy by rebel groups in civil wars, and have a coauthored article project (with Tanisha Fazal) exploring why some rebel groups choose to publicly abnegate the use of antipersonnel landmines in accordance with international humanitarian law, while others do not. This project received the Best Paper Award by the International Law Section of the International Studies Association for 2017.

I also have an evolving research program focusing on the security implications of global urbanization. I have a coauthored paper (with Kirstin J.H. Brathwaite) in its late stages which conducts a comparative case study analysis of two urban insurgencies – the Palestinian Intifada and the Troubles in Northern Ireland – to explore how factors such as population density, audience costs, and the acute manpower demands consistent with military operations in urban terrain affect the combat effectiveness of states with advanced conventional military capabilities.