Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Proliferation 
With Nuno P. Monteiro
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Studies in International Relations, 2017.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Mutual Optimism and War, and the Strategic Tensions of the July Crisis
American Journal of Political Science 66(2): 271-284, 2022.


Is mutual optimism a rationalist explanation for war? Countries are mutually optimistic if they have incompatible beliefs about the balance of power. Private information may fuel such beliefs, but it is unclear how rational countries could maintain incompatible beliefs if favorable information motivates a decision to fight, once countries incorporate their understanding of equilibrium strategies and later observe their enemy’s decision to fight. I show that if countries have multiple reasons to fight – a favorable signal about the balance of power and a high resolve for the issue in dispute -, then rational enemies can hold incompatible beliefs about the balance of power because an enemy’s preference for war may not come from a favorable signal. Rational countries may even celebrate such an announcement, if it helps justify their own decision to fight. I discuss the implications of this argument for the causes of the First World War.

An Economic Theory of War
With Nuno P. Monteiro
Journal of Politics 82(1): 255-268, 2020.


When does war occur for economic reasons? In an anarchic environment, stronger states may fear that their security will be undermined by the economic growth of weaker states, and may attempt to constrain it. Weaker states, even if they are rising, may prefer to declare war. The weaker are institutional constraints on stronger states, and the smaller are the spheres of influence of weaker states, then the greater are the risks of war. We illustrate our theory by analyzing the economic roots of the Second World War, and reflect on the general lessons of our argument.

General Compellence in World Politics: The State, Allies, and Adversaries
With Nicholas D. Anderson and Nuno P. Monteiro
Strategic Studies Quarterly 13(3): 93-121, 2019.


The study of compellence has focused on crisis situations. However, compellence may work without crises. If a state possesses the capability to compel a target, the target may choose to make concessions to avoid a crisis and dampen the risk of conflict. This constitutes a form of “general compellence.” As with general deterrence, failures in general compellence will result in crises. We discuss this notion of general compellence in the context of nuclear proliferation. Nuclearization may give a state greater ability to compel others by threatening nuclear escalation. This ability yields general compellence leverage vis-à-vis its allies and adversaries. Facing the risk of nuclear escalation, the state’s adversaries may offer political concessions, leading to improved relations and détente. The state’s allies may offer additional security commitments to diminish the risk that the new nuclear state will use its weapons, leading to tighter alliance relationships. We illustrate our arguments with case studies of France, China, Israel, and South Africa in the aftermath of their nuclear acquisition.

Conflict and Cooperation on Nuclear Non-Proliferation
With Nuno P. Monteiro
Annual Review of Political Science. 20: 331-349, 2017.


This article critically reviews scholarship on the role of conflict and cooperation in conditioning nuclear proliferation. We start by laying out the trajectory of scholarship on the causes of proliferation, organizing it in three waves: (a) security and (b) nonsecurity drivers of proliferation, and (c) supply constraints on nuclear acquisition. We then examine the recent turn in the proliferation literature toward a strategic interaction approach, focusing on how conflict and cooperation between proliferators, their adversaries, and their allies shape the spread of nuclear weapons. We argue for an integrated framework for analyzing the tools states can deploy to foster or stymie proliferation. Finally, we sketch an agenda for research on nuclear proliferation. Here, we argue that scholarship should (a) incorporate nonsecurity dynamics into the strategic interaction approach to the study of proliferation and (b) combine rigorous theory with careful historical research to further our understanding of the causes of proliferation.

Circumstances, Domestic Audiences, and Reputational Incentives in International Crisis Bargaining
With Jessica Weiss
Journal of Conflict Resolution. 60(3): 403-433, 2016.


We present a new theory of interstate crisis bargaining. A country’s resolve is a function of intrinsic qualities of the government and external circumstances, both of which are unknown by the domestic electorate and the foreign country. When domestic political debate reveals that circumstances favor the use of force, the government can extract better terms than if circumstances are revealed to be unfavorable. The revelation of circumstances, however, exacerbates reputational incentives. Because governments can no longer hide behind unknown circumstances, voters can better discern the government’s type from its actions, strengthening the incentives to appear resolved. The model bridges the gap between audience costs and its critiques, showing how domestic audiences punish leaders for inappropriate policies rather than empty threats. At the same time, it highlights how the prospects for peace are worse if uncertainty about the circumstances is removed, suggesting that greater transparency does not always promote peaceful outcomes.

Living by the Sword and Dying by the Sword? Leadership Transitions in and out of Dictatorships
International Studies Quarterly. 60(1): 73-84, 2016.


What makes certain dictatorships more likely than others to democratize? I argue that military dictators, as specialists in violence, often remain threats to their successors. However, when democratic systems replace military dictatorships, that expertise presents less danger to new incumbents. Because democracies select leaders through elections, they reduce the importance of military expertise—and the role of associated violence—in contests for office. Thus, military dictatorships should prove more likely to transition quickly to democracy; military dictators will expect a lower likelihood of punishment—including death—at the hands of their successors than if they are replaced by other dictators. Therefore, incumbent military dictators see democratic systems as less dangerous to them; they face specific incentives to ensure a quick and effective transition to democracy. I provide support for my theory with evidence from the post-World War II period.

The Strategic Logic of Nuclear Proliferation
With Nuno P. Monteiro
International Security. 39 (2): 7-51, 2014. Published article here and appendix here. Earlier (ungated) version at SSRN here.


When do states acquire nuclear weapons? To address this question, a strategic theory of nuclear proliferation must take into account the security goals of all of the key actors: the potential proliferator, its adversaries, and, when present, its allies. To acquire nuclear weapons, a state must possess both the willingness and the opportunity to proliferate. Willingness requires the presence of a grave security threat against which no ally offers reliable protection. Opportunity requires that the state pursuing nuclear weapons possess high relative power vis-à-vis its adversaries or enjoy the protection of a powerful ally. Whereas a relatively weak state without a powerful ally lacks the opportunity to develop a nuclear capability, one with such an ally lacks the willingness to do so. Therefore, only powerful states or relatively weak states with allies that do not guarantee fulallment of at least some of their key security goals will acquire the bomb. These claims are supported by the overall pattern of nuclear proliferation as well as detailed analyses of the Soviet, Iraqi, Pakistani, South Korean, and West German nuclear development cases.

Known Unknowns: Power Shifts, Uncertainty, and War
With Nuno P. Monteiro
International Organization. 68(1): 1-31, 2014.


Large and rapid power shifts resulting from exogenous economic growth are considered sufficient to cause preventive wars. Such power shifts are rare, however. Most large and rapid shifts result from endogenous military investments. In this case, preventive war requires uncertainty about a state’s investment decision. When this decision is perfectly transparent, peace always prevails. A state’s investment that would produce a large and rapid power shift would prompt its adversaries to launch a preventive war. Internalizing this, the state is deterred from investing. When investments may remain undetected, however, states may be tempted to introduce large and rapid shifts in military power as a fait accompli. Knowing this, their adversaries may strike preventively even without unambiguous evidence about militarization. In fact, the more effective preventive wars are, the more likely they will be launched against states that are not militarizing. Our argument restricts the role of commitment problems and emphasizes the role of imperfect information as causes of war. It also provides an account of why powerful states may attack weaker targets suspected of military investments even in the absence of conclusive information. We illustrate our theory through an account of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Regime Type, the Fate of Leaders and War
With H.E. Goemans
American Political Science Review. 104(3): 430-445, 2010. copyright Cambridge University Press.


We propose and test a formal model of war and domestic politics, building on recent evidence on the relationship between regime type, the effect of war on the probability of losing office, and the consequences of losing office. The less the outcome of international interaction affects a leader’s tenure and the less punitive are the consequences of losing office, the more is a leader willing to make concessions to strike a peaceful bargain. We demonstrate that our theory successfully predicts war involvement among non-democratic regime types. Moreover, our theory offers an intuitive explanation for the democratic peace. Compared to non-democratic leaders, the tenure of democratic leaders depends relatively little on the war outcome and democratic leaders fare relatively well after losing office. Thus, democratic leaders should be more willing and able to avoid war, especially with other democrats.

Inequality under Democracy: Explaining the Left Decade in Latin America
With Gretchen Helmke
Quarterly Journal of Political Science. 5(3): 209-241, 2010. journal webpage here.


Inequality is generally thought to affect the electoral fortunes of the left, yet the theory and evidence on the question are unclear. This is the case even in Latin America, a region marked by enormous inequalities and by the stunning return of the left over the last decade. We address this shortcoming. Our game-theoretic model reveals that the probability that the left candidate is elected follows an inverted U-shaped relationship. At low levels of inequality, the rich do not bribe any voters and poor voters are increasingly likely to vote for the left candidate based on redistributive concerns. At high levels of inequality, the rich want to avoid redistribution and bribe poor voters, causing the left candidate to be elected with decreasing probability. We find support for our hypothesis, using 110 elections in 18 Latin American countries from 1978 to 2008.

Economic Theories of Dictatorship
The Economics of Peace and Security Journal. 5(1): 11-17, 2010.


This paper reviews recent advances in economic theories of dictatorships and their lessons for the political stability and economic performances of dictatorships. It reflects on the general usefulness of economic theories of dictatorship, with an application to foreign relations.

This is a pre-print of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in The Economics of Peace and Security Journal (2010, 5(1): 11-17); The Economics of Peace and Security Journal is available online at:

‘To be’ or ‘Ought to be,’ the Questions of Empirical Content and Normative Bias in Leon Walras’s Methodology
Journal of the History of Economic Thought. 26(4): 479-492, 2004. Copyright Cambridge University Press.


Chapters in Edited Volumes

The Empirical Promise of Game Theory
in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Empirical International Relations Theory, William Thompson, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), Vol. 1, pp. 737-755.


Game theory is a set of mathematical tools used to analyze the strategic interaction between decision makers. Proponents of game theory have offered different perspectives about its potential benefits in the study of politics: It is a rigorous apparatus that can offer a solid foundation for the scientific enterprise; it offers predictions that could be tested with statistical analysis; it can account for the essence of unique cases and could be tested with qualitative evidence. Critics of game theory, in political science and international security specifically, argued in the 1990s that it had generated few empirical insights. Two decades later, game-theoretic approaches to international security remain a robust research program, but their prevalence remains limited. It is important to evaluate the potential benefits of game theory and the contributions that it has made to international security, so as to devise appropriate strategies to maximize its empirical purchase. The controlled comparison approach, using qualitative evidence on a medium number of cases, appears especially promising.

NATO and Nuclear Proliferation, 1949-1968
With Nuno P. Monteiro
in Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; Together with Scholarly Commentaries and Essential Historical Documents, Ian Shapiro and Adam Tooze, eds. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), pp. 193-211.


Other Articles

Political Economy and the Causes of War
With Nuno P. Monteiro
The Political Economist, Newsletter of the Section on Political Economy, American Political Science Association, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2016), pp. 3-4.

The Effect of Alliances on Nuclear Proliferation
With Nuno P. Monteiro
Program on Strategic Stability Evaluation (POSSE) white paper (December 2013).
Earlier (ungated) version at SSRN here.

Legislative Bargaining under Weighted Voting: Corrigendum
With James M. Snyder Jr. and Michael M. Ting
Internet Corrigendum, September 2009


This note corrects a mistake in the proofs of Propositions 3 and 4 of Snyder, Ting and Ansolabehere (2005). It also corrects a mistake in the statement of Proposition 4, and characterizes the payoffs more fully than done in Proposition 4.

Testing for a Structural Break in the Volatility of Real GDP Growth in Canada
Bank of Canada Working Paper. 2001-9. (2001).


Book Reviews


Review of Alexander Lanoszka’s Atomic Assurance: The Alliance Politics of Nuclear Proliferation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2018)
Perspectives on Politics. Vol. 17, No. 3 (2019), pp. 928-930.

Review of Terence Roehrig’s Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017)
Political Science Quarterly. Vol. 133, No. 3 (2018), pp. 576-577.

Review of Vipin Narang’s Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014)
H-Diplo Roundtable Vol. VII, No. 17 (2015).


Academic and Public Affairs Commentary


International Relations Scholar Nuno Monteiro Asked and Answered the Big Questions about Real-World Politics
With David M. Edelstein and Sebastian Rosato
Monkey Cage online. (May 21, 2021).

Strategies, Set, and Match: Scoring Preferences for Nuclear Weapons in Analyzing the Effect of the NPT on Proliferation
The Constraining Effect of Arms Control Treaties, an International Studies Quarterly Online Symposium (April 19, 2019), pp. 5-6.

Cascading Chaos in Nuclear Northeast Asia
With Nuno P. Monteiro
The Washington Quarterly. Vol. 41, No. 1 (Spring 2018), pp. 97-113.

Response to Nicholas Miller’s Review of Gene Gerzhoy’s article, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint,” (International Security, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 91-129).”
With Nuno P. Monteiro
H-Diplo. (April 21, 2016).

The Curious Case of Nuclear Studies
Monkey Cage online. (July 10, 2014).

What Caused the Iraq War? A Debate
Exchange with David Lake
With Nuno P. Monteiro
Duck of Minerva blog (July 30-August 6, 2013).

The Flawed Logic of Striking Iran
With Nuno P. Monteiro
Foreign Affairs online. (Jan. 17, 2012).


Work in Progress


How Could States Use Nuclear Weapons? Four Models After the Bomb  (latest version: July 23, 2021)


Income, the Middle Class, and Democracy (latest version: May 27, 2015)
With Kevin M. Morrison