Secrecy has long been central to international politics. For decades, however, serious scholarly work on secrecy-related topics was rare. Even as theoretical models drawing on “private information” and “incentives to misrepresent” changed the field, there has been less attention to how states misrepresent, what they keep private, and why image manipulation is an ever-present feature of international politics. My work seeks to change this. It begins with the basic insight that governments care about, and therefore strategically manage, wider impressions of themselves and their interactions. Optics often trump practical and operational considerations. In two book-length research projects, I develop secrecy’s role in controlling the size and scope of war and in helping international organizations better address transnational problems.

This research falls into two specific areas of interest:
Secrecy, war, and escalation
Secrecy, cooperation, and global governance

Feel free to also check out my CV.


Secrecy, war, and escalation

Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics. Princeton University Press, Princeton Studies in International History and Politics. 2018.

The book analyzes the covert side of five major 20th century conflicts, introducing a new theory of secrecy linking its use to states’ efforts to limit the scale and scope of conflict in an age of industrialized warfare and nuclear weaponry.  The theory is built, in part, on adapted insights from Erving Goffman about secrecy and the “back stage collusion” we use in everyday life to define our social encounters and avoid crises.  I analyze covert military intervention before, during, and after the Cold War. The book builds on the award winning article “Facing Off and Saving Face” (IO, 2016) and features case studies of the Spanish Civil War, Korean War, Vietnam War, the 1980s war in Afghanistan, and Iraq after 2003.

Associated articles and manuscripts

Facing Off and Saving Face: Covert Intervention and Escalation Management in the Korean WarInternational Organization, 70 (1), 2016, pp. 103-131. [PDF]  
–Winner, Best Security Article Award, International Security Studies Section, International Studies Association 2018.

Covert Communication: The Intelligibility and Credibility of Signaling in Secret (with Keren Yarhi-Milo), Security Studies, Vol 26, No 1, 2017, pp. 124-156. [PDF]

Hidden in Plain Sight: Escalation Control and the Covert Side of the Vietnam War (revise & resubmit, International Studies Quarterly)

Amity Lines and Escalation Ladders:  Schmitt, Schelling, and the Limited War Tradition (with Eric Grynaviski

Secrecy, cooperation, and global governance

Secrets in Global Governance: Disclosure Dilemmas and the Challenge of International Cooperation. Book manuscript. With Allison Carnegie. (Under contract, Cambridge University Press)

What barriers to cooperation do states face? How do international organizations (IOs) help them overcome them?  Scholars have long pointed to poor information about compliance and the promise of IOs can as agents of transparency. We analyze unique problems of sensitive information, such as national intelligence and internal firm documents, relevant to questions of (non-)compliance. Sensitive information is unique because wide dissemination can do commercial or national security damage to the states and firms which generate it. This creates a distinct class of information problems – what we call “disclosure dilemmas” – in which transparency leads to adaptation costs which endanger cooperation. The book argues that IOs must instead develop the capacity to securely protect and vet sensitive information disclosures. In short, IOs need to keep secrets to make use of insights contained in sensitive information. The book analyzes disclosure dilemmas and confidentiality in IOs in a set of empirical chapters that span security, economic, and human rights domains:  war crimes (ICTY/ICTR), international trade (WTO), nuclear proliferation (IAEA), and foreign direct investment (ICSID). 

Associated articles and manuscripts

The Disclosure Dilemma: Nuclear Intelligence and International Organization (with Allison Carnegie). American Journal of Political Science, 63 (2), 2019, pp. 269-285. [PDF]
–First article to undergo AJPS verification & transparency for qualitative research. Related: Jan Leighley, “Celebrating Verification, Replication, and Qualitative Research Methods at the AJPS,” March 20, 2019. Allison Carnegie and Austin Carson, “Our Experience with the AJPS Transparency and Verification Process for Qualitative Research,” May 9, 2019.

Reckless Rhetoric? Compliance Pessimism and International Order in the Age of Trump (with Allison Carnegie), Journal of Politics, 81 (2), 2019, pp. 739-746. [PDF]

The Power in Opacity: Rethinking Information in International Organizations (with Alexander Thompson). In International Institutions and Power Politics: Theory and Practice in the Twenty-First Century, eds. T.V. Paul and Anders Wivel, Georgetown University Press (forthcoming).

The Spotlight’s Harsh Glare:  Rethinking Publicity and International Order (with Allison Carnegie), International Organization, 72 (3), 2018, pp. 627-657. [PDF] [Appendix]
–Winner, Robert Keohane Award, Best Article by Untenured Scholar, 2018.
–Honorable Mention, Best Article Award, International Security Section, American Political Science Association, 2019.

Trading Secrets: Disclosure Dilemmas in International Trade (with Allison Carnegie) [SSRN]

Incriminating Intelligence: The Strategic Provision of Evidence in War Crimes Tribunals (with Allison Carnegie) [SSRN]