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Before joining Group Project, Bella devoted her graduate studies to understanding how states maneuver and formulate policy in border and maritime disputes. Abstracts of her dissertation, her data, and her other research on the relationship between sovereign debt and war are below. The full dissertation is available upon request.


Testing the Territorial Waters: Experimentation, Learning, and Substitution in Policy Choices

How do states construct long-term foreign policies in strategic environments? The existing literature focuses primarily on the effect of international law on dispute resolution, yet the Philippines chose an untested legal strategy to advance its interests in the South China Sea dispute without seeking resolution. This decision, made partially as a result of frustration over poor diplomatic communications with China, allowed the Philippines to gather information about its legal and international standing. This paper uses a formal model to show how such states experiment strategically with foreign policy in order to gather information. Because states lack complete information about how to best advance their territorial claims, they accept extra risk to implement informative policies that off er clear feedback about their strategic environment. To illustrate this policy preference, I compare the Philippines' policies with regard to the South China Sea disputes in the mid-2000s to its policies in the early 2010s.

Legal Ambiguity in Territorial Disputes

When do states engage in faits accomplis and other unilateral border activities in their territorial disputes? When international law fails to provide a basis for shared perceptions between disputing states and among third-party actors, either due to the complexity of a dispute or due to competing, equally legally valid claims, dissatisfied states are more likely to attempt to encroach on disputed regions. Unilaterally capturing territory creates more bargaining leverage when the dispute's legal status unclear, while the international community is more unlikely to push back in response to such actions. Challenger states also will tend to overestimate the solidity of their claims, given asymmetric information and psychological overconfidence when the legal situation is ambiguous. This relationship between legal ambiguity and unilateral border activity is demonstrated with a data set on territorial encroachments in Asia between 1945 and 2000.

The Size and Strategy of Faits Accomplis in Territorial Disputes

How do countries that wish to capture new territory along their disputed borders decide the speed and scope with which they act? States may try to gradually chip away at a dispute and gain concessions from the other state without ever provoking a counter-attack, but this tactic does not always work and precludes quick gains in territory. When do states prefer small-scale encroachments to blatant land grabs? I argue that the ability of states to monitor movement on their borders determines whether their dissatisfied opponents prefer large- or small-scale faits accomplis. States can deter dissatisfied opponents from large-scale border activity through better border monitoring, although small-scale border activity may continue. Uncertainty resulting from an inability to interpret border activity increases the likelihood of war, but strategic boundaries may decrease the scope of faits accomplis. Data on territorial events in Asia between 1945 and 2015 illustrate the plausibility of these hypotheses.



Data Set on Territorial Events in Asia, 1945-2015

The dissertation makes use of a flawed, but still useful and informative, data set on attempted border transgressions in disputed territories in East and Southeast Asia between 1945 and 2015. The data set contains information on the size of the attempted border transgressions as well as the intensity of the reaction of the targeted country. Data are available upon request.


Other Working Papers

Financing Peace: Commitment Problems with Sovereign Debt (with Colin Krainin and Kristopher Ramsay)

It has been hypothesized that the commitment problems that lead to conflict in the bargaining model of war are partly or entirely due to a liquidity problem. War occurs because the coming power shift, if allowed to happen, creates such a large redistribution of future resources there are not enough resources today to make a peaceful settlement for the declining power better than gambling on a preventive war. Here we explore a model where states can borrow against future wealth in order to try and solve this liquidity problem. We find that war may occur even with borrowing. Moreover, we are able to identify that in comparing stochastic shifts of the same average size, unlikely, but extreme shifts are more likely to induce conflict than highly likely, but less extreme shifts. States that borrow under such circumstances will face elevated interest rates relative to states that are otherwise identical. Finally, we find that the potential for conflict is increasing in the global risk-free interest rate.