Research In-Progress

My core research focuses on two main topics:

  1. The politics of counterinsurgency, examining how political preferences of civilian policymakers shape the strategies adopted by counterinsurgents
  2. Dynamics of civil war violence and the ways in which the interactions between armed groups and non-combatants, including the provision of goods and the exercise of coercive threats, shapes non-combatant behavior during wartime.

My work straddles the line between international relations and comparative politics, as well as the disciplines of Political Science, History, and Sociology.

My background is in the colonial and post-colonial history of the Middle East, and I am especially interested in the history of British colonial counterinsurgency and the politics of the British Mandate for Palestine. The bulk of my research examines the Arab and Jewish Rebellions against the Mandate in the 1930s and 1940s.

Recent research draws on archival research in multiple locations in the UK including the British National Archives, the Middle East Centre Archive at Oxford University, the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King’s College, the Imperial War Museum and National Army Museum Archives, and British Army regimental archives including the Royal West Kents, the Hampshire Regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles, the Border Regiment, and more…

 

Negotiating Counterinsurgency: The Politics of Strategic Adaptation

My current research examines the politics of counterinsurgent adaptation, asking why counterinsurgents tend to retain ineffective strategies rather than selecting new ones.

I focus on the role of political preferences and policymaking on the selection and adaptation of counterinsurgency strategy, shifting attention away from the culture and preferences of military organizations. While many recent works have correctly stated that the core problems facing counterinsurgency are political rather than military, we lack a theory of how politics shapes counterinsurgent behavior.

I identify two obstacles to strategic adaptation. First, the strategies favored by policymakers to suppress an insurgency are constrained by the ways these means impact factors external to the conflict. For example, certain strategies may entail high domestic political costs, create tensions with key allies, or undermine a different aspect of national security. Policymakers will avoid counterinsurgency strategies that carry high costs, even if they believe these approaches will be effective in suppressing an insurgency. Changes in these external factors shift the preferences of civilian policymakers, enabling strategic adaptation. Second, policymakers must ensure that their agents, including the military as well as diplomats and civilian administrators, comply with decisions to adopt new strategies. Structures of command and control which place a single agent in command of the entire effort can ensure coordinated action. When this commander’s preferences align with those of policymakers, the campaign will reflect the strategy selected by policymakers. However, major changes to structures of command and control are highly disruptive to existing institutions, and these measures are often opposed by policymakers.

These challenges are explored in three case studies drawn from the British Mandate for Palestine, two from the Palestinian Rebellion (1936 and 1938) and one from the Jewish Rebellion (1946). Each case study falls into a different cell of my typology of adaptation:

typology of adaptation

Palestine 1936 demonstrates the consequence of leaving in command agents who oppose new strategies

Palestine 1938 demonstrates how both challenges are overcome and how this leads to strategic adaptation

Palestine 1946 demonstrates how the persistence of external constraints inhibits strategic adaptation and leads to campaign failure.

I then match each case to another, “most different” case for further theory testing. I draw on two cases from the Malayan Emergency to compare to the Palestinian Rebellion, the adoption of the Briggs plan in 1950 and the appointment of General Templer in early 1952, while using the Irish War of Independence to compare to the Jewish Rebellion.

 

Compelling Collaboration: Coercion and Non-Combatant Behavior – Evidence from the Palestinian Rebellion, 1937-1939

This project examines the use of collective punishments as a strategy to compel collective mobilization in support of an armed group. I compare strategies of coercion before and after the military gained control of security policy in October 1938 to explain why collective punishments before October failed to produce Palestinian-British collaboration while those exercised after October succeeded. In the early period, when strategy was under civilian control, the collective punishment of villages was purely retributive, used to punish villages for insurgent attacks. Because villages were punished due to insurgent behavior rather than their own, it provided few incentives for collaboration. Once the military took over the Mandate, however, collective punishments became much more frequent. The violence exercised against villages, during continuous disarmament sweeps, became dependent on their collaboration with British forces. The increase in the frequency of violence, as well as its conditioning on the behavior of villages, created incentives for collaboration.

However, I find that this manifested as a form of divide and rule, where Palestinian villagers were encouraged to inform on and mobilize against one another. This carries potential long-term consequences for social solidarity and the capacity for collective action. Scholars of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict may not appreciate enough the ways in which British violence against Palestinians in the 1930s set the stage for their collapse in the 1940s.

 

Saudi Arabia and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process

Saudi Arabia has been a leading Arab player in the Arab-Israeli peace process since the 1980s and the creation of the Fahd Plan. More recently, following 9/11, Crown Prince (and later King) Abdullah created the Arab Peace Initiative. Saudi leaders see the Arab-Israeli conflict as a source of three of distinct threats to the state’s security and the regime’s hold on power.  First is the emergence of domestic (especially Islamist) challenges to Saudi Policy, which is seen to be strongly pro-US and pro-Israel, undermining its Arab and Islamic legitimacy. Second is the ways in which support for the Palestinians and aggression towards Israel encourages a process of outbidding by regional rivals, at various times Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, which encourages conflict and undermines regional stability. Third is the ways in which Saudi Arabia’s negative image in the West, especially following 9/11, might undermine US support for Saudi security. Saudi rulers saw active leadership in the Arab-Israeli peace process as a way to simultaneously address all three challenges, rendering it an instance of “omnibalancing,” or the use of foreign policy to simultaneously address internal and external security threats.

 

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Previous  (and future) research has examined tribe-state relations and the impact of state policies on tribal structure, culture, and identity.
contesting identities cover

My first book, Contesting Identities in South Sinai, examines the impact of Egyptian development policies in South Sinai on the culture and identity of the Bedouin tribes that inhabit the area, arguing that increasing state penetration has led to the emergence of a Bedouin “ethnic” identity mobilized to resist state policies that favor migrants and multinationals over local inhabitants, and that increasing stateness is failing to encourage national integration and the internationalization of national identities and ideologies.

 

Future work on tribes and states will follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Prof. Joseph Kostiner, author of the edited volume, Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East. tribes and state formation kostiner cover

This project, envisioned as a multidisciplinary collaboration between Historians, Political Scientists, Anthropologists, Sociologists, and political practitioners, will invert Kostiner and Khoury’s approach and study “States and Tribe Formation,” examining the ways in which the politics of states transforms tribal institutions, cultures, and identities in the past and present.