In this set of projects, I use advanced quanitative methods to tackle the problem of more accurately measuring concepts of interest in international relations. One, forthcoming at Political Science Research and Methods, uses a Bayesian latent variable model to directly assess the strength of peace agreements in civil conflict rather than having to use agreement duration as a proxy for strength. The second harnesses advances in big data and develops a measure of trade substitutability from a product-level trade dataset with over a billion observations.


Rob Williams, Daniel Gustafson, Stephen Gent, and Mark Crescenzi. “A Latent Variable Approach to Measuring and Explaining Peace Agreement Strength.” Forthcoming at Political Science Research and Methods. [Article], [Preprint], [Supplemental Information], [Replication Archive], [GitHub Repo]

Much of the peace agreement durability literature assumes that stronger peace agreements are more likely to survive the trials of the post-conflict environment. This work does an excellent job identifying which provisions indicate that agreements are more likely to endure. However, there is no widely accepted way to directly measure the strength of agreements, and existing measures suffer from a lack of nuance or reliance on subjective weighting. We use a Bayesian item response theory model to develop a principled measure of the latent strength of peace agreements in civil conflicts from 1975-2005. We illustrate the measure’s utility by exploring how various international factors such as sanctions and mediation contribute to the strength or weakness of agreements.

Working Paper

Bailee Donahue, Rob Williams, and Mark Crescenzi. “Unsettled Borders in a Market Context.” To be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Peace Science Society (International), Manhattan, KS, November 2019.

Border disputes between states can be very costly and disruptive, including major disruptions in trade. From an aggregate perspective, scholars traditionally expect these costs and disruptions to place pressure on states to avoid or resolve these disputes quickly. This view, however, risks oversimplification of the quality of trade and the economic actors driving that trade. We investigate the consequences of complex trade relations on border disputes. Variation in the composition of trade, whether characterized by comparative advantage trade, inter-industry trade, or intra-industry trade, generates variation in the presence and intensity of domestic pressure to avoid or resolve border disputes. We examine the effects of this variation on dispute behavior using an original dataset that combines product-level trade data (spanning from 1962-2001) with ICOW territorial claims data. The use of product-level trade data allows for the analysis of substitutability options which may reduce exit costs and make it easier to escalate border disputes. This analysis helps us better understand the choice to forego trade due to border disputes, and furthers our understanding of the economic impact of unsettled borders.