External provision of support to militant groups is largely conceptualized as one-sided, under-the-table interactions in which states transfer basic munitions to opportunistic, untrustworthy rebels. While this is sometimes the case, overtime events data indicates that, since 1995, governments and foreign militant groups have on average engaged in more intense forms of security cooperation than state-state dyads. Indeed, governments and foreign militant groups frequently engage in partnerships considerably more costly in terms of time and trust: state armed forces and foreign militant groups form joint commands and conduct joint attacks, requiring partners to integrate their command structures and restrict their autonomy. Foreign militants also play a much larger role in these partnerships than recognized: when governments support foreign militants, militant recipients often reciprocate by providing their partner with intelligence, access to their military infrastructure, and logistical support. In various cases, foreign militants send elite units to train and supplement their state partner’s troops.
Although the causes and consequences of these diverse alliances have critical implications for international relations theory and U.S. foreign policy, existing scholarship neither explains the intensity of these partnerships nor forms they take. Conventional explanations point to factors like state motives and rebel groups’ relative strength and ideology to explain why governments provide support to particular armed groups. These explanations, however, are exclusively state-centered, ignoring militant groups’ mutual provision of support. Moreover, this scholarship only examines provision of material support - which is often aggregated into a homogenous category –ignoring more intense forms of cooperation.
My dissertation critically deviates from existing literature by taking an organizational approach to government-foreign militant partnerships. Existing scholarship oversimplifies militants’ organizational structure by characterizing them as either centralized or fragmented groups with few behavioral constraints. In reality, these organizations can possess complex command and control structures that make them look and behave like special operations and conventional forces. Drawing from the organizational sociology and management literatures, I argue that, when partners have similar standard operating procedures and chains of command, they will cooperate more intensely, such as conducting joint operations and providing each other advanced weapons systems. Because these characteristics produce stable patterns of behavior, partners with similar standard operating procedures and chains of command mutually understand – and believe they can predict - how the other will act in different contexts. This reduces uncertainty about their partner’s future actions and boosts partners’ trust that the other will pursue similar objectives. When dissimilar on these characteristics, partners provide less intense forms of support like munitions and non-military aid.
I develop a mixed-methods research design to assess my theoretical framework. I conduct three case studies, using within-case variation to test my causal mechanisms: First, I exploit national-level variation in the U.S.’s provision of support to Syrian rebel coalitions by comparing the CIA’s provision of munitions to the Southern Front and the Department of Defense’s deployment of Special Operations Forces to conduct joint operations with Maghaweer al-Thawra and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Second, I compare U.S. conventional forces’ formation of joint patrols with and provision of economic aid and military support to tribal militias in Anbar and East Baghdad. Third, I compare Hezbollah’s provision of troops, training, and military support to the Syrian Armed Forces to its partnership with Russian Special Operations Forces. My case studies draw on 10 months of immersive fieldwork in Jordan, and over 60 interviews I conducted with U.S. and Jordanian officials and Syrian militants. I have also collected over 130 primary source documents, including U.S, Jordanian, Russian, and Syrian Armed Forces’ manuals and Hezbollah’s internal documents. I use these sources to triangulate information on militant organizational structures and inter-organizational decision-making.
Second, I create a data set of the over 150 Syrian militant groups that received some type of support from the Central Intelligence Agency or Department of Defense. These types of support range from money and light infantry weapons to anti-tank missile systems and the formation of joint commands with U.S. Special Operations Forces. Drawing from Arabic and English news sources, militant groups’ social media accounts, videos posted on YouTube, and militant groups’ websites, I code detailed characteristics of their organizational structure, such as the number of key decision-makers, number of command levels, and whether the leader has prior military experience, among others.
Third, I create a cross-national, time-series dataset of all dyadic provisions of support in conflicts between 1975-2015. My data set codes detailed organizational information on both state armed forces and foreign militant groups, providing a more nuanced understanding of overtime change in organizational structure than existing data. Preliminary analyses suggest that the relationship between shared command and control structures and the provision of more intense forms of support holds outside the Syrian context. My findings have crucial implications for international security and cooperation scholarship. International relations scholarship has identified that uncertainty and mistrust is a key obstacle to inter-state cooperation. My work demonstrates that, when organizations are the salient actors, shared characteristics significantly reduce uncertainty and produce more intense forms of cooperation. By applying an organizational framework to this problem, I show that traits at this new level of analysis provide unprecedented analytic leverage in explaining inter-organizational cooperation. My findings also have key implications for U.S. policy makers in the national security community. Understanding the conditions under which U.S. armed forces form different partnerships with foreign militants – and whether these partnerships facilitate U.S. strategic interests - is essential for designing effective foreign and defense policy.
Ongoing Research Projects
Throughout the course of my academic career, I have pursued three other research agendas outside my dissertation research. First, I have conducted extensive research that elucidates the relationships between refugee communities, service providers, and host governments. In my recent International Studies Quarterly article, my co-authors and I demonstrate that rumors and misinformation influence refugees’ decisions to access particular government services and use smugglers. This article was the foundation for a massive data collection project called Digital Refuge that draws from 10,000 social media posts made by refugees in-transit through Europe and over 7,000 interviews conducted by aid organizations with refugees in Greece to elucidate the transformation of refugee concerns over the course of the 2015-2017 European migrant crisis. My co-authors and I have used this data in a working paper entitled 'Unintended Consequences: Re-examining Smuggling in the Context of the European Refugee Crisis,' which assesses the factors that influence refugees' perceptions of - and trust in - smugglers relative to host government officials and aid workers. I am also working with the Jordanian University of Science and Technology to explore Syrian refugees' perceptions of informal healthcare providers (other refugees who were former doctors, pharmacists, etc.) relative to official government and NGO providers in urban host communities in Jordan.
My second research agenda focuses on identifying the factors that influence informal cooperation between state governments. In my article forthcoming with Barbara Koremenos in the Review of International Organizations, we argue that, in the dyadic context, state partners’ regime type – particularly the transparency of policy implementation and unilateral nature of decision-making – directly influence leaders’ ability and incentive to engage in informal cooperation. We use international events data to construct a novel measure of informal cooperation, and conduct an in-depth case study and text-analysis of informal, secret security agreements between Gulf monarchies. We are currently working on a paper to be submitted to International Organization in November 2019 that disentangles the effects of religion and regime type on state governments’ propensity to engage informal, secret agreements.
My third research agenda seeks to understand governments' use of siege warfare against their own civilians in civil war. I have developed a typology of modern siege warfare tactics, and am in the process of building a novel cross-national, time-series data set that codes governments' and insurgents' use of these different tactics in civil war. I have also conducted an in-depth case study that exploits the Assad governments' and rebels' use of siege tactics in the Syrian civil war. Preliminary analysis suggests that governments use siege warfare because these tactics maximize civilian victimization. By explicitly and publicly violating international norms, these governments signal their resolve to third-party governments and increase the costs of future third-party intervention. These preliminary findings indicate that international norms, such as non-violence against civilians, can create perverse incentives for governments to pursue military strategies that not only target their own civilians, but maximize civilian harm.
You can find specific projects listed under the 'Working Papers' and 'Other Projects' sections of my Publications page.