Current Research


DonorISA Catalytic Research Grant
Duration: Ongoing

A better understanding of the conditions under which preventive actions take place and the effect of these actions is highly valuable for both policymakers and scholars, particularly given the increased prioritization of prevention by the United Nations and its member states. Since the inception of the liberal world order, the prevention of mass atrocities has been one of its core aims. The basic assumption underlying the atrocity-prevention norm, and the liberal international order itself, is that the prevention of mass atrocities should supersede state interest and sovereignty. But if the global commitment to mass atrocity prevention is so strong, grounded in international law and operationalized in multilateral institutions, why has it failed so abysmally in Burma, Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Burundi, to name only the most recent examples? By convening scholars and drawing on insights from a variety of academic disciplines, we hope to advance a new research agenda that examines how, why, and when states and multilateral organizations take preventive actions to deter mass atrocities.


DonorU.S. Institute of Peace
Duration: October 2017 –  December 2018

Over the past two decades, international peacebuilding has become mainstream and is now part of the repertoire of most United Nations entities, OECD donors, and many INGOs. The liberal international order that is central to many of these peacebuilding efforts has also been the subject of much criticism. As a result, improved peacebuilding success is not likely to result from ‘business as usual.’ Instead, we need to identify the unlikely sources of peacebuilding success and strengthen them. Over the course of three workshops, this project will convene key individuals around three of these unlikely sources of peacebuilding success: 1) Rule-Breaking Bureaucrats; 2) Emerging Powers and International Peacebuilding; and 3) Non-violent Peace and Resistance Movements. By convening key actors who have the capacity and will to strengthen emergent peacebuilding capacities, the project hopes to contribute to the future growth of effective peacebuilding.


Donor: Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA)
Duration: Ongoing

What causes peace in the midst or aftermath of civil war? In spite of the breadth of research on conflict-affected countries, we still do not have answers to this fundamental question. In fact, most research on peacekeeping and peace processes measures peace as the absence of violence, rather than the presence of peaceful cooperation. As a result, it identifies the factors that lead to the absence of violence, not those that sustain peace. Building on their previous work in this area, this project team will develop a theory and measure of peace in the midst and aftermath of civil war.

The project will result in a final paper and blog post that will outline how researchers and evaluators can more effectively assess the causes of “peace”. The team will use the case of Colombia to develop this measure of peace, harmonizing existing data sources. Colombia provides unique analytical opportunities to investigate the relationship between violent conflict and peaceful cooperation. The Colombian civil war has been ongoing for over half a century, with a great deal of variation in episodes of violent conflict and peaceful cooperation. As a middle-income country that has made significant investment in its own statistics infrastructure and national research institutions, Colombia has significantly better sub-national data than most countries affected by ongoing civil war. 

Working Papers

”Aiding Peace? International aid to conflict-affected countries” (with Michael findley). book manuscript and article.

  • Over the past two decades, international aid donors have steadily and dramatically increased the amount of aid to fragile and conflict-affected countries, with the goal of reducing violence and increasing stability. Successful outcomes depend on aid being being allocated by country-based staff who are better equipped to respond to changing conflict-affected contexts. Contrary to claims of much foreign aid scholarship, we argue that foreign assistance can be responsive to the ebbs and flows of war-to-peace transitions, particularly when aid donors empower their country-based bureaucrats to allocate aid in politically nuanced ways. But when aid is viewed solely as a foreign policy tool meant to achieve the donor country’s strategic interests, it is likely to be largely unresponsive to the recipient country’s war-to-peace transition. When foreign policy decision-makers use aid to support their favored policy or political actor, they reduce its ability to influence the rapidly shifting conflict dynamics. Ironically, international aid is likely to be least effective in the aid donor’s highest priority conflict-affected countries, where headquarter-based politicians are most involved in aid allocation decisions.


“The Benefits of Bad Behavior: How Global Governors Aid Local Peace” Working paper.

  • When do global governors perform at the local level? International organizations (IOs), international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), and bilateral aid donors increasingly operate at the local level, implementing projects that aim to change the behavior of domestic institutions. While scholarship on global governance has begun to examine the performance of these actors, it has yet to examine the heterogeneous behavior of their country offices. Rationalist explanations assume that IOs, INGOs, and bilateral aid donors perform when they respond to the incentives created by their principals. Constructivist scholars argue that these global actors fail to perform at the local level because of bureaucratic pathologies and international practices. Through the examination of 28 diverse cases of organizational performance in the hard case of international peacebuilding, this article argues that global governors perform at hte local level only when they create informal local accountability routines that circumvent the formal accountability systems established by their principals and headquarters. In other words, “bad behavior” by individual staff is necessary for good performance.

“Weapons of the Weak State: Contracts and Constraints on Intervention in Conflict-Affected States” (with Aila Matanock). Working paper.

  • Dozens of international organizations (IOs), international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), and foreign donors intervene in conflict-affected countries. International relations literature assumes that once these global governors exercise, possess, or assert their authority to intervene in a country’s domestic territory, they do not have to renegotiate this authority. This paper argues that a conflict-affect state renegotiates the authority of intervening IOs, bilateral aid agencies, and INGOs regularly through their contractual agreements that exist in many cases. Interveners require the agreement and cooperation of the ‘host’ government to operate at all, import tools, hire staff, establish their offices, and implement new programs. Through these daily interactions, the host government reclaims some of its sovereign authority from these intervening organizations. The maintenance of contracts therefore enables supposedly weak states to wield significant power over the actors in global governance that operate on their territory. Contrary to claims in the international relations literature that international interveners impose their agenda on weak states, this paper uses detailed fieldwork and archival research to show that conflict-affected states are increasingly using contractual arrangements to exercise significant power over international actors intervening on their territory. Indeed, this type of resistance is expected under these contracts in which the international community uses its position to reshape institutions in these weak states, reshaping power structures unless the resistance succeeds.

“Understanding the Local Effects of UN Peace Operations: A Quasi-Experimental Spatial Impact Evaluation in Burundi” (with Michael Findley). Paper in progress.

  • When do UN peace operations have the desired sub-national effect in post-conflict countries? The literature on UN peacekeeping argues that the presence of robust and well-resourced UN peacekeeping operations provides a security guarantee and deters fighting between warring factions, contributing to short- and long-term violence reduction (Walter 1997; Doyle and Sambanis 2000; Fortna 2004; Hultman et al. 2014). While these cross-national studies provide important insight into the influence of UN peacekeeping on civil war, they overlook crucial heterogeneity at the sub-national level. First, peacekeeping is no longer solely the realm of peacekeepers. Numerous civilian personnel work for and alongside UN peace operations to build security, governance, and economic institutions. Second, UN peacekeeping does not operate uniformly throughout a territory, instead targeting particular sub-national locations. A sub-national examination of multidimensional UN peace operations gives a very different picture of its effects and the causes of these effects. Based on a quasi-experimental impact evaluation of the UN Mission in Burundi – combining a large household level survey with almost 200 semi-structured interviews – we show that the way the mandate is implemented at the sub-national level has an impact on the sub-national and national-level success of the UN peace operation. By capturing the multidimensional work of UN peace operations at the sub-national level, this paper identifies a crucial omitted variable – sub-national mandate implementation – that has been overlooked by all previous studies of UN peacekeeping.

“Rules of Aid: A Survey Experiment on the Logic of Aid Allocation in Post-Conflict Countries” (with Gabriele Spilker). Working Paper.

  • International aid donors have increasingly focused their resources on fragile and conflict-affected countries to help them break out of the cycle of violence and underdevelopment. Scholarship on international aid, however, argues that donors are not motivated by the needs of the recipient country but by their own strategic interest. Relying on an original survey-embedded experiment administered to over 1,100 experts working for donor and implementing organizations, this paper argues that aid allocation behavior is not determined by strategic interest alone. Instead, it is based in heuristic, as opposed to holistic, foreign policy decision-making that leads donors to allocate aid in predictable ways in response to signals from the conflict-affected country that conflict dynamics are increasing or decreasing. The responses from the first global survey experiment of donor and implementer country-level staff, shows that these results hold regardless of the recipient country or donor organization. 

Work in Progress

International Donors and Local Armed Groups: Understanding the Sub-National Effect of Aid on Conflict (with Karsten Donnay). Research in progress.

Deterring Atrocities: Identifying the Logic of Credible Prevention (with Kate Cronin-Furman). Research in progress.

Matrix of IOs: Transparency and Accountability of Aid (with Leonard Seabrooke). Research in progress.

Agents of Aid: A Survey Experiment on Aid Worker Perceptions of Donor Behavior (with Gabriele Spilker). Paper in Progress.

Peace Versus Society: Why Peace Agreement Implementation Excludes Civil Society (with Jessica Maves Braithwaite). Research in progress.

Networks of Influence and Support in Civil War and Peace (with Jessica Maves Braithwaite). Research in progress.

Measuring Peace in War. Research in progress.