RESEARCH

International Politics of the Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons

Since World War II, the pursuit of nuclear weapons has been a potent source of international conflict and a fiendish challenge for foreign policy, with the United States facing a series of crises with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  My coauthors and I developed a theory of why and when these crises arise and why they sometimes end in war and other times in deals to stop a program.  We also built a theory of the nuclear nonproliferation regime—the complex of norms, laws, and institutions put in place to stop the spread of nuclear weapons—that explains why it was created and how it is enforced.  Assessed against the historical record, these theories generate highly accurate predictions that help to explain the many uses of force and diplomacy in response to nuclear programs.  This work has also generated valuable insights for foreign policy.  For instance, we can demonstrate that US policies aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons can, in some cases, actually have the opposite effect.  We also offer a new resolution to the long-standing debate over whether the nonproliferation regime is effective, finding that it has dramatically reduced the spread of nuclear weapons.

Rationalist Explanations for Costly Conflict

How do states select from among sanctions, an arms build-up, war, and other instruments of foreign policy in response to a foreign adversary?  These instruments of foreign policy have been studied almost entirely in isolation from one another.  I develop a novel approach that studies them together.  By taking account of the relationships among them, we can improve our understanding of both why a state resorts to these costly policies, and which particular instruments the state chooses.  This project demonstrates that the welfare losses to humanity from military spending are, surprisingly, much larger than those from war.  It explains why, despite this, international efforts at arms control are both rare and, when attempted, only partially succeed.  It generates a new account of the origins of the Iraq War, and also identifies a common cause among wars as seemingly unrelated as the American War of Independence, the Civil War, the Opium Wars, and the drug wars in Colombia and Mexico.  It gives rise to a new understanding of why bad economic recessions or climate change can lead to violent conflict.  Finally, it offers a reconceptualization of why economic sanctions and sponsorship of terrorism are employed by states and shows that scholars have been underestimating the effectiveness of both instruments.

  • Andrew J. Coe and Taylor R. Dalton.  "Arming Costs Humanity More Than War."

  • Andrew J. Coe.  "Rationalist Explanations for Costly Conflict."

  • Muhammet A. Bas and Andrew J. Coe.  "Trying Times and Conflict."

  • Andrew J. Coe and Stephanie N. Kang.  "Sanctions as Instruments of Regime Change."

  • Andrew J. Coe and Peter Schram.  "For Whom Does Terrorism Work?"

Economic Origins of Modern Politics

The character of politics underwent sweeping changes in the latter half of the Modern Era.  For most of history, political power almost everywhere was concentrated, capricious, and bloodily contested within and among countries.  And yet in some countries today political power is diffuse, rule- bound, and peacefully transferred.  We have no cogent, unified explanation for this change, perhaps because scholars have focused on individual elements of this change rather than understanding them as part of a larger transformation of politics.  I am developing a theory that links this political transformation to changes in the structure of certain countries’ economies that lowered incentives for conflict within and among them.  This theory has the potential to yield a new understanding of the decline and fall of imperialism; of the contemporary rarity of international conquest; of the warm relations between the United States and the European Union after the Cold War ended, counter to the predictions of some of the most prominent scholars of international politics; and of why democracy was so rare around the world until the 19th century.

  • Andrew J. Coe and Xinru Ma.  "Modern Economic Democracy."