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Cem Birol (2021) Introducing Missile Tests Dataset, Defence and Peace Economics, DOI: 10.1080/10242694.2021.1990516



(i) Missile Tests and Wars: A Decision-Theoretic Approach

This paper investigates whether and how conducting missile tests affects countries’ propensity to fight wars. To that end, I present a decision-theoretic model that shows how missile tests serve as a peacetime informational source that can bring countries closer to agreeing on their relative military capabilities and help them solve their future crises without war. This mechanism particularly holds among prospective adversaries with modest prior beliefs about defeating each other because of which they value the limited, but cautionary information from the peacetime missile tests. To statistically evaluate the model, I expand the country scope of the Missile Tests Dataset by Birol. Heckman Probit regressions reveal that if two adversaries frequently test-launched any or tactical missiles in public and if the greater shifts in each other’s material military capabilities occurred prior to their observed crisis, their risk of war declines. Additionally, recent increases in publicly conducted tactical missile tests among jointly nuclear adversaries decrease their risk of war if these adversaries find themselves in a crisis. Overall, this research not only presents the first statistical analysis on the consequences of test-launching missiles, but also proposes a formal theory about how countries’ prior expectations about fighting wars can be shaped through peacetime military activities.

(ii) How Do Missile Tests Affect Nuclear Ambitions: A Microeconomic Model of Nuclear Enrichment and Missile Development

Attaining nuclear deterrent capabilities typically requires a country not only to adopt technologies to detonate nuclear warheads, but also to possess effective delivery mechanisms. Developing delivery mechanisms involves frequent missile test-launches. However, as a nuclear-latent country test-launches missiles, it risks receiving sanctions by attracting unwanted global attention. Then, how do nuclear-latent countries simultaneously implement their nuclear bomb research and missile development programs? In this paper, I introduce a portfolio allocation model in which a nuclear-latent country allocates its finite resources for two periods on nuclear research and missile development programs. The more the country invests in its missile development program, the greater global visibility it gains, and the greater level of sanctions it expects on its future resources. The model indicates that the country can opt out temporally optimal portfolio allocations to minimize its expected sanction losses in the long run. It does so by excessively investing in the least tractable item in its nuclear agenda, which I assume is pre-detonation nuclear bomb research. This suboptimal move requires the country to sacrifice investment in missile development which however reduces unwanted visibility caused by missile tests. using Cox PH regressions, I empirically test the implications of the model by estimating the time it takes for a nuclear-latent country to detonate a nuclear bomb for the first time.

(iii) Two Good Theory and Missile Tests: What Sorts of Missiles Will Countries Launch?

What explains the types of missiles countries will test-launch? Why does the USA, China or Russia recently focus more on test-launching battlefield-relevant cruise missiles, whereas North Korea still worries the global security community with its tests of long-range ballistic missiles? In this paper, relying on the Two-Good Theory, I argue that a country’s foreign policy agenda in relation to the international status quo helps us predict whether it will increase tests of strategic or tactical missiles. Moreover, strategic missiles such as ICBMs or IRBMs are best suited for defense against revisionist countries. On the other hand, tactical and theater missiles such as short-range ballistic and cruise missiles serve better for revisionist aims overseas. Since countries’ foreign policy resources are finite, we can then predict what sorts of missiles they will test-launch by observing what alternative foreign policy tools they already use towards changing or maintaining the international status quo. Accordingly, I expect countries to test-launch strategic missiles less frequently if they already allied themselves with a nuclear-capable country, but more frequently if they increase foreign aid. Also, I expect having nuclear-capable allies to increase a country’s tests of tactical missiles. However, if a country already increases its foreign aid operations, this can decrease its tests of tactical missiles. I empirically investigate these hypotheses by expanding the scope of the Missile Tests Dataset to all nations with a missile development program since 1942.

(iv) Urban Poverty, Contract Enforcement and Anti-Americanism: PEW 2013 Results

This paper inquires into anti-Americanism through the lenses of Michael Mousseau’s Economic Norms Theory (ENT). The ENT presents a framework where weak rule of law enables political elites to vie for the exploitation of their government’s redistributive institutions. In this quest, to maximize their popular support, these elites promote anti-modernist discourses among the urban poor. Accordingly, I hypothesize that increased poverty suffered by urbanites in countries with weak rule of law increase anti-Americanism. To investigate the empirical applicability of this expectation, I conduct statistical analyses using PEW Global Attitudes Project’s 2013 survey. Using a hierarchical modelling specification, I find that a three-way interaction between respondents’ urbanity, troubles in affording basic means of subsistence, and the weak rule of law in their country accounts for their negative evaluations of both the USA and Americans. Then I present a short historical overview of the Sufi orders in modern Turkey to illustrate how competing elites spread anti-modernist ideas in a country with historically weak rule of law. Overall, while previous research shows how the rule of law can create a civic culture, or increase social trust, this study indicates that weak rule of law leaves urban poor populations vulnerable to conspiratorial ideas.

(v) “Coping with Sanctions: The Effect of Economic Sanctions on the Target’s Foreign Policy” (with Santiago Sosa)

In this paper, we investigate how economic sanctions can change the foreign policy portfolio of the sanction recipients. In doing so, we extend the T. C. Morgan and Glenn Palmer’s decision-theoretic Two Good model. We hypothesize that after receiving sanctions, countries are less likely to initiate militarized disputes but more likely to ally themselves with stronger powers. We employ multilevel models and find support for our hypotheses. Previous versions of this paper were presented in ISA and MIDWEST conferences.

(vi) “Force “Cordon Bleu:” Military Force and Economic Sanctions” (with T. C. Morgan)

In this paper, we present a simple decision-theoretic model that investigates a potential relationship between a country’s imposition of economic sanctions and use of force. The model specifies the conditions under which sanctions can be a substitute or a complementary foreign policy move to the use of force. An important conclusion of the model is that sanctions sometimes help countries weaken their adversaries, and increase the feasibility of using force subsequently. However, countries can also learn more about their adversaries’ military capabilities by sanctions which decrease their need to use force. Empirical support for the model is limited, which is in line with previous work that fails to establish a link between sanctions and military use of force. This paper was presented by Cliff Morgan at various international conferences.


My dissertation investigates the role of publicly-conducted missile tests in international politics. The first paper introduces a new dataset including 11 countries’ missile tests between 1949 and 2015. It also overviews these countries’ indigenous missile development programs. The second paper empirically investigates what factors may affect changes in how frequently countries test-fire their missiles publicly. The results suggest that a country’s public missile tests are intrinsic to missile development programs and transpire more frequently with greater economic wealth. On the other hand, being under a military threat, major or severe economic sanctions have either weak or no consistent impact on countries’ public missile tests. The third paper investigates whether conducting public missile tests is associated with countries’ subsequent militarized interstate dispute, or war involvement. Statistical analyses show that there is little or no evidence that suggests that public missile tests have a discernible impact on countries’ militarized dispute or war involvement. Ultimately, this dissertation stands as the first large-N statistical work on publicly-conducted missile tests. In addition, it is the first one to empirically downplay the potential relationship between militarized conflicts and public missile tests.

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