My research focuses on state building and democratization in post-conflict and war-torn societies. I am especially fascinated by how apparently benevolent ideas go awry when confronted with the realities of the domestic politics within these societies. I focus on occupations and international administrations in the Balkans, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, where ambitious policies were most fully put into practice and expected to succeed.

Work in Progress:

Book Manuscript: “The Limits of State Building”

My book manuscript, based on my dissertation, offers new insight into when and how state building is effective. Despite great investment by the international community, many recent efforts have been disappointing, leaving weak state institutions. One existing perspective in the literature blames failure on problems within the international community, and emphasizes the need for qualified personnel, money, a strong mandate, and bureaucratic capacity. An alternative perspective, by contrast, emphasizes the importance of domestic conditions such as the prewar level of economic development or democracy. This perspective suggests that successful reform is only possible when domestic actors develop and lead reform efforts. My own theory emphasizes that improving state institutions does depend on having capable and well-organized international missions, but that domestic actors will engage in effective opposition when the international community’s demands threaten nationalist goals or elites’ wartime patron-client networks. I predict that reform threatening nationalist goals – namely autonomy or independence – will fail. A threat to nationalist goals can trigger popular unrest that forces international officials, who are committed to liberal norms, to abandon their goals for reform. I predict that reform efforts threatening elites’ networks will only be partially successful. Elites can privately obstruct these reforms by using their networks to stall reform or undermine the functionality of the target state institution. While international officials may attempt to monitor elite private obstruction, their limited local knowledge of the society means that elite private obstruction generally limits reform to some degree. By designing reform to take account of nationalist goals and elites’ networks, Western officials can make better use of their limited resources and do more to build peace and democracy in post-conflict societies.

The book focuses on international administrations, in which extensive international leverage meant that ambitious policies were most fully put into practice and expected to succeed. While most works examine outcomes at the country level, my book evaluates theories of state building based on unexplored intra-country variation: the reforms of key state institutions, including the police, military, revenue, and representative institutions. I focus on twenty reform efforts in four international administrations since 1990: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, and Iraq. I systematically trace the record of each reform to determine which of three perspectives on state building has the greatest explanatory power.

I find that only my own theory can consistently explain the record of institution building. Contrary to the argument that domestic conditions prevent external reform from succeeding, I found that it was possible to build strong, democratic, and sustainable state institutions so long as these institutions did not threaten nationalist goals or elites’ patron-client networks.  Contrary to the argument that large amounts of resources and personnel can counter domestic objections, I found that even the strongest interventions had to compromise in the face of domestic opposition. External state building is not impossible, but neither is it straightforward. Western states and international organizations can do the most to help post-conflict societies by pursuing carefully designed reform efforts that avoid threatening core political interests.

Working Paper: Out of Sequence? Domestic Opposition and Election Timing after War

An extensive “sequencing” literature claims that delaying elections is beneficial in post-war societies. This literature has failed to acknowledge that international organizations have attempted to delay elections but have been unable to do so in societies such as Iraq and Kosovo. I offer a new theory that explains how domestic opposition can undermine the international community’s plan for creating democracy and thereby force earlier elections. I show that the theory explains why the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo held elections and transferred sovereignty ahead of schedule. The paper concludes that international interveners should only attempt to delay elections when domestic opposition is unlikely to succeed: when delaying elections does not threaten an ethnic group’s nationalist goals of independence, and when intra-ethnic disunity makes an elite boycott unlikely.

Working Paper: Police Restructuring in Bosnia: Public Opposition to International State Building

This working paper examines the limits of international state building in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Paddy Ashdown, as High Representative, achieved major improvements in building multiethnic state organizations such as a unified military and an indirect tax system. Ashdown succeeded through coercing officials, persuading the public, and making reform conditional for EU and NATO accession. However, even Ashdown’s strong leadership and could not achieve reform that would undermine Bosnian Serb autonomy – his effort to create a multiethnic police based at the central state provoked public opposition that forced OHR to back down and accept continued ethnic control over policing. I explain how the record of police restructuring demonstrates that even the most powerful international interventions are constrained from pursuing reform that threatens nationalist goals because of the possibility of public opposition.


“Towards the Rule of Law in Kosovo: Why EULEX Should Go,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 42, No. 2, 181-194.


(With Ilan Greenberg) “The Problem with Grand Bargains,” The National Interest (online), August 24, 2012

(With Austin Long) “Enlisting Islam for an Effective Afghan Police,” Survival, Vol. 54, No. 2 (April-May 2012), 113-128.

“Bosnia on the Brink?: To the Editor” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2010.

(with James Dobbins, et al.) Europe’s Role in Nation-Building: From the Balkans to the Congo, Santa Monica: RAND, 2008.

“Justice for the West: The Path to Reconciliation in Bosnia Does Not Go Through The Hague.” Précis 18 (Fall), 2008.