Virtual WIP on May 21

Spring 2020 WIP Presents:


Aid, Arms, and Advisors: Limited Intervention in Conflict


Alexandra C. Chinchilla

University of Chicago

Abstract: Great powers expend significant blood and treasure intervening in conflict abroad. Sometimes they intervene directly with ground combat troops, but more often rely on a local proxy to fight in exchange for support with aid, arms, and military advisors. Existing literature characterizes proxy war as either a cost-saving form of intervention or a delegation problem to be solved by conditioning aid on proxy performance. However, interveners often incur significant costs by relying on proxies unwilling or unable to support their interests, put the lives of their troops on the line by sending military advisors, and fail to use aid conditionality. Why then do great powers choose proxy war, and specifically military advisors, as a form of intervention in conflict? My argument makes two main claims. First, intervening states will delegate to unable or unwilling proxies if staying out or intervening with ground combat troops are too costly to be options. Aid conditionality will therefore be a weak tool to increase the proxy’s compliance since the intervener has no better option than proxy support. Second, even when they lack outside options, interveners seek to influence the political aims and war conduct of proxies. Military advisors, though costly, are a key tool to influence proxies through monitoring and building military capacity. In the larger project, I develop a formal model which relates kinds of support such as aid, arms, and military advisors to the proxy’s military capability and degree of alignment with the intervener’s preferences. I use this model to guide empirical analysis of novel quantitative data and case studies on US intervention in El Salvador under the Carter and Reagan administrations; Soviet intervention in Afghanistan from 1978-79 before invading; and contemporary Russian intervention in Ukraine and US intervention in Syria, from 2014 to present.

*No paper presented


Forcing Their Dirty Fingers into National Wounds: Strategies of Russia Today on YouTube and their Consequences for Political Polarization


Evgenia Olimpieva, Ipek Cinar, Geneva Cole

University of Chicago

Abstract: States invest money in media designed to reach an international audience to shape public opinion abroad. How does the messaging of state-funded media outlets differ from independent media sources in their coverage of topics, and what are their effects on domestic politics? This paper explores the choice of topics covered by Russia Today (RT) on YouTube and how framing and coverage of topics affect the viewership of the channel and the consequences these strategies have for political polarization in the United States. Using a unique dataset of all the videos published by RT on YouTube between 2015 and 2018, we employ both unsupervised learning techniques and qualitative content analysis of key videos. We find that RT focuses on the issues that are anti-institutional and polarizing in nature and invest their limited resources into coverage of countries’ major sources of polarization (or “national wounds”). The paper focuses on American audiences and on a topic directly addressing one such national wound: police brutality. RT covers police disproportionately more than other broadcasters with international audiences, and coverage of police is among the most popular content put forth by RT. This is important for polarization in American politics along both racial and partisan lines. We demonstrate that investing in covering painful and divisive subjects pays off as it drives the viewership of RT on YouTube. However, increased viewership implies increased exposure to polarizing content. This has negative consequences for polarization as previous research has demonstrated that exposure of an already polarized society to a biased media can result in even deeper polarization.

*No paper presented

Thursday, May 21st: 3:30pm-5:00pm

via Zoom (password: 581041)

To access the paper, please contact Elsy Gonzalez at


Persons who believe they may need assistance to attend the session should contact Elsy Gonzalez in advance to make arrangements.

The WIP Speakers Series is supported by grants from Council on Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences and The University of Chicago Division of the Social Sciences.

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