Research Blog

Recent articles

  1. A new piece in International Security by Asfandyar Mir examining the different possible effects of drones, using remarkable fieldwork and new data from Pakistan.
  2. Another new piece in IS by Matt Kocher, Adria Lawrence, and Nuno Monteiro, exploring the indeterminacy of nationalism as an independent variable in IR research.
  3. I just came across this very fascinating, unique survey-based article in Pacific Affairs on professionalism and views of politics in the Royal Thai Army, by Punchada Sirivunnabood and Jacob Ricks. Very cool stuff.
  4. Rajesh Venugopal has a nice overview of the return of Mahinda Rajapaksa in The Wire.
  5. Kheder Khaddour wrote an informative (at least to a non-Syria-watcher like me) article on the status of pro-state militias in contemporary Syria for Carnegie.

Recent recommended readings

  1. Ashley Tellis provides valuable background on the US-India tensions that have emerged from India’s purchase of the S-400 air defense system.
  2. ThePrint gives a really fascinating historical overview of the 1967 India-China clash at Nathu La.
  3. The Wire has been running a great nine-part series on the historical evolution of political violence in Bengal, both before and after colonialism. Here’s the first article. This part jumped out at me for my ongoing project on leftist insurgencies in democracies, where I’m finding much (though far from all) of the action comes in intra-left feuds and spiraling rivalries:
    “The political system – bourgeois democracy, as it was in Naxalite and Marxist parlance – was seen to be the biggest impediment to any kind of meaningful social change. Food shortages, rampant unemployment and grinding poverty – nothing seemed to matter to those in power. The young revolutionaries even began to perceive in the formation of United Front governments, where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (the parent party Naxalites had broken away from) was the dominant partner, as a betrayal of ‘the people’. To them, being part of the government meant becoming a part of that corrupt and decrepit system.”

Pakistan, Myanmar, and the future of military politics in Asia

Ahsan Butt, Dann Naseemullah, and I have a new article out (currently ungated and free to the public) in the Journal of Strategic Studies, entitled “Pakistan’s Military Elite.” Here’s the abstract:

“The Pakistan Army is a politically important organization, yet its opacity has hindered academic research. We use open sources to construct unique new data on the backgrounds, careers, and post-retirement activities of post-1971 corps commanders and directors-general of Inter-Services Intelligence. We provide evidence of bureaucratic predictability and professionalism while officers are in service. After retirement, we show little involvement in electoral politics but extensive involvement in military-linked corporations, state employment, and other positions of influence. This combination provides Pakistan’s military with an unusual blend of professional discipline internally and political power externally – even when not directly ruling.”


The paper is the culmination of several years of hand-crafted, artisanal data collection that proved both easier and far more challenging than I’d originally expected. I thought we’d get more on the personal backgrounds of the corps commanders, and less on their post-retirement activities. I plan to periodically update these data moving forward.

At the same time in Myanmar, we have seen the outrageous sentencing of two journalists to seven years in prison for accurately reporting on one of the massacres involved in the mass expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine state.

What is the overlap of these two topics? In today’s Asia, militaries do not directly govern (Thailand being a notable exception). But some continue to exert remarkable influence on politics, whether through access to their own revenue, formal institutional prerogatives, the lingering but unexercised threat of a coup, networks of sympathizers in the media, civilian parties, and bureaucracy, and/or parallel military institutions that plant stories, blackmail dissidents, and repress (or credibly threaten) to repress opponents. Cook’s classic book on Ruling but not Governing is now highly relevant to Asia: some militaries have been able to survive the tides of formal democratization – and technically returning to the barracks – without actually losing political power. Explaining variation in the survival of these “military enclaves” (Cook’s evocative term) is a future research question I’m excited to get into.

Armed groups and elections

Aila Matanock and I have a new article out in Perspectives on Politics. It grapples with the variety of ways in which armed groups can try to involve themselves in electoral politics, aiming to build a bridge between the classical civil war literature and the study of electoral violence, party politics, and “mainstream” politics more broadly. It’s free and ungated until the end of September 2018 Here’s the abstract:

“Armed actors are often involved in electoral politics, from the fusing of ballots and bullets in armed political parties to insurgents covertly backing politicians. We develop new concepts and theory to better understand these complex relationships between violent actors and democratic practice. We first offer a novel conceptualization of armed groups’ electoral strategies that systematically maps out variation in the organizational directness and public openness of groups’ involvement in elections. We then use comparative case studies to develop theory about the conditions under which each of these electoral strategies is most likely, and what can trigger changes between them. The interaction of armed groups’ power and expectations of popular support with governments’ policies of toleration or repression determines the strategies of electoral participation that groups pursue. These concepts and arguments lay the foundation for a systematic research agenda on when and how “normal” and armed politics become intertwined.”