Broken Escalator? | 2021 | Events

Broken Escalator? Forward Military Deployment, Casualties, and Public Support for Escalation
Paul Musgrave
Paul Musgrave
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
September 29, 2021


Many scholars and policymakers assume that the forward deployment of troops serves as a strong “hands-tying” signal because attacks on troops stationed overseas is likely to produce strong domestic political pressure for escalation. This idea informs arguments both in favor of and against the United States’ forward military posture but is also undertheorized and, surprisingly, lacks strong evidence. In this article, we identify and develop two theoretical mechanisms – rooted in concerns about reputation, and in demands for revenge – that are capable of explaining why attacks on forward deployed troops might prompt support for escalation, even though prior research has shown that casualties suffered during a conflict reduce support for intervention. We then use two novel survey experiments to examine how attacks on forward deployed influence support for intervention. Our findings suggest that attacks on contingents of troops deployed overseas can increase support for escalation, and that they do so in ways that better reflect demands for revenge, rather than concerns about reputation. However, the effect is surprisingly modest, and implies that confident assessments that tripwire deployments serve as strong hands-tying signals need to be revised.



Paul Musgrave is assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He studies U.S. foreign policy, international relations theory, and how oil and politics mix. His research has appeared in International Organization, International Studies QuarterlySecurity Studies, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Comparative Political Studies, and he has written for The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and other outlets. He holds a Ph.D. in Government with a focus on International Relations from Georgetown University. Before graduate school, he worked at the federal, nonpartisan Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.