Deterrence with Proxies

DwP case exampleThe United States and its allies are shifting away from direct attacks on terrorists to a posture that projects power by inducing proxies, such as as Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, to control transnational threats emanating from their own territory. Yet proxies typically do not value containing these threats as much as the United States does; so they cheat. Conventional theories of deterrence inadequately address this strategic challenge.

The Deterrence with Proxies team aims to create an overarching framework of dynamic deterrence in proxy relationships that builds on recent progress in understanding dynamic principal-agent relationships. In this framework, the proxy has an informational advantage in suppressing terrorism, and so can do so more cheaply than the principal, but does not share the principal’s objectives.

A robust framework of deterrence with proxies can provide guidance on how to design policy implemented through local allies: specifically, diplomatic, informational, military, and economic efforts that motivate proxies to manage emerging insurgent and terrorist threats. The same approach might apply to other transnational threats from non-state actors, including cyber-threats, drug trafficking, smuggling, and human trafficking.

Research Agenda

Research will draw on three sources: 1) new theoretical findings which allow more flexible models that generate testable implications; 2) data from conflicts in Gaza/Israel and India that allow testing in environments not studied in developing the theory; and 3) case study evidence from multiple countries where we will assemble cases and use data previously collected to study decision-making and behavior of protagonists in deterrent/proxy relationships.

The team will carry out four linked research activities which simultaneously expand the conceptual framework, test its implications with subnational data, and explore cases.

1. Theory Development

Leads: Gerard Padró i Miquel, David Laitin, and Pierre Yared

Will extend the theoretical framework to allow a more direct link with the empirical projects.

2. Hamas as a Proxy in Gaza

Leads: Eli Berman, Esteban Klor

Will test the theoretical model with new data from Israel’s relationship with Hamas.

3. The Proxy’s Political Calculus

Lead: David Lake

Will study decision-making of proxies, considering the case in which the proxy is a U.S. ally and examining how domestic political forces influence our ally’s costs of effort and its vulnerability to punishment.

4. Suppression of Naxalites by State Governments

Leads: Jacob Shapiro, Oliver Vanden Eynde

Will test the theoretical model with new data to empirically analyze how New Delhi (the principal) induces eight states (as proxies) to suppress Naxalite violence through what we conjecture are a set of transfers and threats of intervention.


Upcoming Events

Minerva Annual Meeting
Fall 2018
Washington, DC

Empirical Studies of Conflict Project Annual Meeting
May 10–11, 2018
Washington, DC

DwP Sponsor Review Meeting
May 9, 2018
Washington, DC

Past Events

ONR Program Review: Minerva and Fleet Training
June 20, 2017
Washington, DC

Addressing Persistent Confict: Empirical Studies of Conflict Project Annual Meeting
May 1819, 2017
Washington, DC
Agenda [pdf]
Speakers [pdf]

DwP Sponsor Review Meeting
May 17, 2017
Washington, DC

Minerva Annual Meeting
September 15, 2016
Washington, DC


Publications and Papers

Biddle, Stephen, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker. "Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Effectiveness of Security Force Assistance." Journal of Strategic Studies (2017), doi: 10.1080/01402390.2017.1307745.

Biddle, Stephen and Jacob Shapiro. “The Problem with Vows to 'Defeat' the Islamic State.”The Atlantic, August 21, 2016.

Felter, Joseph, and Jacob Shapiro. “Limiting Civilian Casualties as Part of a Winning Strategy: The Case of Courageous Restraint.” American Academy of Arts & Sciences 146:1 (2017), doi: 10.1162/DAED_a_00421.

Lake, David, and Eli Berman. Proxy Wars: Suppressing Transnational Violence through Local Agents. (Under review by Cornell University Press).

Lehne, Jonathan, Jacob N. Shapiro, and Oliver Vanden Eynde. Building Connections: Political Corruption and Road Construction in India. Ideas for India blog, September 13, 2016.

Padró i Miquel, Gerard, and Pierre Yared. “The Political Economy of Indirect Control.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 127 (2012): 947–1015. 

Shapiro, Jacob. "The Flawed Logic of Trump's Executive Order:How Not to Fight Terrorism." Foreign Affairs. January 30, 2017.

Shapiro, Jacob. “How We Can Kill Terrorism with Kindness.” Time, January 5, 2017.

Shapiro, Jacob. “A Predictable Failure: The Political Economy of the Decline of the Islamic State.”CTC Sentinel (September 2016): 2832.

Shapiro, Jacob N., and Caitlin Tulloch. “A Military Guide to Accessing Research on Fragile States.War on the Rocks, June 22, 2016.

Media Mentions

"Wars of None: AI, Big Data, and the Future of Insurgency." Lawfare [blog], July 1, 2018. Small Wars, Big Data by Eli Berman, Joseph Felter, and Jacob Shapiro is reviewed. 

"Raytheon CEO Says Allies WIll Keep Buying US Defense Systems Despite Trade Disputes." CNBC, June 20, 2018. Stephen Biddle is quoted.

"Small Wars, BIg Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict." New Books Network, June 7, 2018. Podcast interview with Jacob Shapiro. 

"Trump Tightens Screws on Trade, Raising Risks for Economy--and Himself." Christian Science Monitor, June 5, 2018. Stephen Biddle is quoted.

"Trump Tariffs Against Key US Military Allies Could Be a Blow to National Security." CNBC, May 31, 2018. Stephen Biddle is quoted.

"After Missile Strikes, What Is the US Policy in Syria?" WJLN Washington, April 16, 2018. Stephen Biddle is quoted. 

"Donald Trump's Threat to Strike Syria Carries Peril." Boston Herald, April 12, 2018. Stephen Biddle is quoted. 

"Obscured by Ryan's Exit, US-Russia Tension Boil." Roll Call, April 11, 2018. Stephen Biddle is quoted. 

"Winning A War Against North Korea Would Come at Great Cost." Washington Examiner, August 14, 2017. Stephen Biddle is quoted. 

"Blackwater Boss Resurfaces with $10bn Business Plan for War in Afghanistan." Arab News, August 13, 2017. Stephen Biddle is quoted. 

"Blackwater Founder Resurfaces Selling Afghan Plan." Daily Mail, August 11, 2017. Stephen Biddle is quoted. 

"Challenges in Researching Terrorism from the Field." Science, January 27, 2017, 35254. Mentions ESOC project.

US Admiral: ISIS Coming to Pacific,” San Diego Union Tribune, September 15, 2016. Eli Berman is quoted.