Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Social Sciences

Publication Date

Spring 4-17-2019

Publication Title

International Studies Association Annual Convention 2019

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


How do major powers use militaries to cope with diverse threats in a complex environment of costly conventional war, emerging power competition, as well as the persistent challenge of violent non-state actors? I argue that multinational military exercises provide a tool for major powers to reduce the unpredictability of non-state threats as well as to weaken other powers through balancing and regime-promotion. The number of multinational exercises has increased substantially since the Cold War, which is puzzling given the end of superpower rivalry and incentives to enjoy the peace dividend. Textual analysis and regressions of over a thousand multinational military exercises from 1980-2016 reveal that major powers reacted to an increase in strategic uncertainty by implementing exercises as a means to combat ambiguous non-state threats. Yet as major power competition becomes more intense, I expect major powers to leverage these same types of exercises to undermine one another.