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Faculty Spotlight: Joshua Schwartz

December 11, 2023

Faculty Spotlight: Joshua Schwartz

By Stacy Kish

Joshua Schwartz, assistant professor in the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Strategy and Technology (CMIST), focuses his research on military force and technology.

Tell me about your scholarly work.

I would say my work falls into one of three buckets. I analyze what factors determine the spread of military technology around the world, what factors determine public opinion on the use of force and when the use of military force is effective.

For example, with respect to the first bucket, I have analyzed the global proliferation of armed drones around the world. For the second bucket, I have studied public opinion on use of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and nuclear weapons. Finally, I have examined the effectiveness of using armed drones to combat terrorism.

How is your scholarly work adding to the greater field?

The benefits of using military force have been overstated, and the benefits of backing down from using force have been understated. I am working on a book that examines the impact of using military force compared to backing down from a conflict. I am particularly interested in how this decision affects a state’s reputation for resolve (that is, their willingness to stand firm in conflict) in the eyes of other countries.

The traditional assumption is that backing down from a conflict is always bad for a country’s reputation for resolve. This logic has been consequential. For example, it motivated the United States to stay in the Vietnam War, even as thousands of American soldiers were dying. I argue that this assumption is flawed because backing down is actually better for a country’s reputation for resolve in certain cases. By backing down or not getting involved in a conflict in the first place, countries can prevent war weariness from developing among their population and leadership. War weariness is harmful to a country’s reputation for resolve because it indicates that it is less likely to stand firm in a future conflict.

Besides explaining the impact of backing down in conflict, my work also addresses why certain types of leaders are more or less likely to back down than others. For instance, one of my published papers demonstrates that female leaders have political incentives to avoid backing down. There are incorrect stereotypes that exist globally that women are weaker and less competent than men in the realm of national security. As a result, women leaders who make a threat and then back down confirm these stereotypes and are punished more severely by the American public than male leaders who make an identical move. Female leaders therefore have political incentives to adopt more hawkish or aggressive foreign policies to counteract this stereotype and avoid punishment.

How did you become interested in this topic?

I grew up in the 9/11 era. The most defining foreign policy events in my early life were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These conflicts got me interested in international relations. I saw the Iraq War in particular as a mistake, and it made me curious about why states sometimes use force and get involved in wars for the wrong reasons.

What are you most excited to accomplish as a faculty member at CMU?

I am excited to work with students to motivate them to learn about international relations. I want to help them realize how important and relevant these issues are because passion about a subject creates a desire to learn. I also want to help students develop their more general skill sets, like critical analysis, speaking skills and writing skills. These skills will be useful to students in their professional lives no matter what career path they decide to pursue.

What are your goals for the next generation of scholars?

I want future scholars to address a diverse set of research questions. The discipline is stronger when we focus on an array of topics. There is a movement in political science to focus on relatively narrow questions to gain causal leverage, but as a discipline, we also need to address big questions that are relevant to policy makers. I also want future scholars to focus on topics, such as those related to gender and race, that have traditionally been neglected by the discipline.

The Faculty Spotlight series features new and junior faculty at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. Reprinted with permission.