Research

Book
The Clash of Brothers: Wars to Avoid Diffusion in a Contagious World.; In Preparation.Abstract

My dissertation, a book-length project, adds a new dimension to our understanding of the causes of interstate conflict. I challenge the fairly common understanding that cultural proximity (e.g. sharing the same civilization, religion, political values) makes a country-pair more peaceful. My central argument is that wars and lower-level hostility are the most likely when two countries are culturally similar, but differ in their political institutions (most typically a contrast between a repressive regime and a more democratic one). The example of the two Koreas serves as a vivid illustration of my mechanism. North Korean citizens are most likely to advocate change when the inspiration comes from a culturally-similar democracy such as South Korea. Thus the North Korean dictator will become aggressive against South Korea. My dissertation uses both a game-theoretic model to generalize the case of the two Koreas to any pair of countries with cultural similarity and institutional differences, and extensive empirical analysis. On the empirical side, I am following a three-pronged strategy. One is statistical analysis on all interstate wars and hostility over the last two hundred years. The second prong is the use of a number of case studies ranging from the Russian invasion of Hungary during the 1848 Revolutions to the Iran-Iraq War (1980-8). The third prong is a quantitative media analysis of two current East Asian crises: the 2013 Korean Crisis between the two Koreas, and the East China Sea dispute between China and Japan.

Most recent presentation: Harvard's Economic History Workshop (Spring 2014)

Journal Article
Wars to Extinguish Inspiring Flames. Submitted.Abstract

Can attraction be a source of wars? I argue that the answer is yes: the attractiveness of political institutions such as democracy can rationally cause inefficient wars, which are started by a dictator to combat diffusion. Using Markov Perfect Equilibria, my game-theoretic model shows that attraction can lead to more warfare when old elites are afraid of losing their position to a newly inspired citizenry, as these elites destroy the external source of inspiration. In my model I derive social learning through information about income under different institutions.
Most recent presentation: Harvard's Political Economy Workshop (Spring 2014)

The Clash of Brothers: Wars in a Contagious World. Submitted.Abstract

Can shared identity be a source of wars and lower-level hostility? This paper argues that it can, but only in the presence of differences in domestic political institutions. When shared identity is based on visible cultural markers, identity ties facilitate the spread of democratization. My game-theoretic model shows that elites in repressive regimes are threatened by a culturally-similar country where citizens are empowered. Thus the dictator uses force against the culturally-similar democracy to ensure that his or her citizens see their empowered brothers as an enemy rather than a model. Using a new dataset on cultural similarity, coupled with the Correlates of War Militarized Interstate Dispute (1816-2008) dataset, I show that the most war-prone country pairs share culture, but differ in their political institutions. The cultural similarity variables are based on race, religion, and civilization, all of which are positively correlated with questions about political culture in the World Values Survey.

Most recent presentation: American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (August 2014): please find the paper here.

The Dark Side of Attraction. Submitted.Abstract

I argue that the diffusion of domestic political institutions is a source of wars. In the presence of an inspiring foreign regime, repressive elites fear that their citizens emulate the foreign example and revolt. As a result, a dictator starts a war against an attractive foreign regime, seeking to destroy this alternative model. Such wars are particularly likely when there are strong religious, ethnic or cultural ties between the dictator's opposition and the inspiring country - connections that allow citizens to draw easy comparisons. My posited mechanism explains three case studies. The first describes the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1849. The second case study analyzes the origins of the First World War (1914-8), where Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia. The final case study discusses the Iran-Iraq War (1980-8). In all three cases, a dictator started a war in order to extinguish the foreign flame that fueled his domestic opposition. Most recent presentation: Harvard's International Relations Workshop (Spring 2014)

The Torn Revolutionary: Overlapping Identity Dimensions and Political Violence. Submitted.Abstract

This paper explores how multidimensional identity affects regime transition and violence in multicultural countries. First, a game-theoretic model of regime change finds that the size of the overlap of identity dimensions (e.g. language, religion, class) between the old and the new elite plays a key role. A big overlap has two effects on society: although it makes repression less likely, it also lowers the probability of regime change. I test my theory on a case study, comparing the actions of the eleven nationalities that comprised the Austrian empire during the 1848-9 revolutions, at the same time also contrasting these nationalities with their ethnic kins beyond the borders of the empire. Most recent presentation: Harvard-MIT-Yale Conference on Political Violence (Spring 2013)

Working Paper
Diffusion After Wars Against a Common Enemy. Working Paper.Abstract

What makes some countries models of democracy for others? The existing literature argues that democratization spreads between countries which share some underlying identity. I argue that this shared identity can be created or reinforced by dramatic and highly-visible events, in particular, by wars. First, my game-theoretic model explores the mechanism: fighting a common enemy reveals similarity between two countries, and this new information manifests itself in (reinforced) shared identity, which can lead to subsequent institutional diffusion. Next, I use the example of Poland and Hungary to illustrate this mechanism. Finally, I use worldwide data on democratization (1950-2010) to show that my theory is generally applicable. I address the concern of endogeneity in various ways.

Most recent presentation: Harvard's Political Economy Workshop (Spring 2014)

International Institution Building Through the Lens of Domestic Institutions. 2013.Abstract

Can dictatorships participate in international agreements as effectively as democracies? To answer this question we need to know what the international commitment power of an authoritarian regime is. I build an infinitely repeated bargaining game to investigate. The dictator faces a domestic commitment problem: a ruler cannot commit to redistribute resources to their citizens in low pressure periods. As a result, the authoritarian regime needs to do everything in its power to redistribute resources when domestic pressure on them turns high. My equilibrium shows that unstable dictatorships may not be able to commit to binding international agreements. The reason is that in an unstable dictatorship reneging in times of domestic pressure is more likely. I use the European Union's attitude to dictatorial member states and candidates as a case study. Most recent presentation: Harvard's Political Economy Workshop (Spring 2012)

Interstate Integration and Recessions: A Complicated Relationship. 2012.Abstract

Can the European integration project survive the ongoing economic crisis? I build a game-theoretic model which analyzes this question at an abstract level. I find that a recession offers a unique opportunity to deepen interstate integration. I assume that in a crisis one country needs the aid of another. In my model, integration can occur over two different issue areas over two periods. If a recession occurs in the second period, integration over the second issue area can take place on terms which are more beneficial to the bail-outer and less helpful to the country in need. Thus a recession forces deeper integration by requiring one country to compensate the other for its aid through deeper integration on the bail-outer's terms in an issue area. The issue area can be completely unrelated to the crisis. The model also sheds new light on why regional integration deepens and widens, yet only gradually: issue areas often are best saved for a crisis. I test my ideas on a brief case study on the gradual nature of the European integration project.

Most recent presentation: Harvard's Political Economy Workshop (Spring 2012)

An early paper on SSRN (2009): Cognitive Dissonance and the Success of Democracy. [Internet]. 2009. Publisher's Version
An early paper on SSRN (2008): Marrying Behavioural Economics and Growth Theory. [Internet]. 2008. Publisher's Version