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IR Honors Students

Isabel Sydney Blum

Cohort: 2024

In the pursuit of a carbon-neutral economy, governments worldwide are embracing diverse policies to promote sustainable energy solutions. The European Union stands at the forefront of this effort, with countries adopting different approaches to solar photovoltaic (PV) governance to influence the trajectory of the market. How do different policy frameworks drive variation in solar PV capacity and market development across the European Union? Focusing on three pivotal case studies—Germany, Spain, and France—this thesis explores the intricacies of solar PV governance against the backdrop of shifting energy market landscapes from the early 2000s to 2015. The thesis contends that feed-in tariffs (FITs) emerge as a powerful policy instrument, particularly when addressing information asymmetry, fostering investment, and stimulating the early stages of market competition. Effective FITs offer regulators the flexibility to provide financial support while avoiding excessive policy costs, thereby facilitating sustainable proliferation of solar PV. However, once this energy source approaches grid parity, tendering schemes are preferable as they enable more efficient cost and quality control. By analyzing the nuances of solar PV policy design and its implications for market dynamics, these findings offer insights for future research and policymaking endeavors, contributing to the imperative transition towards renewable energy in Europe.

Thesis Advisor: Professor William Barnett

Thesis:

Blum, I. (2024). Powering Europe: A Comparison of Policies Promoting the Solar Photovoltaic Industry in Germany, Spain, and France

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Kate Bradley

Cohort: 2024

Rare Earth Metals, or Rare Earth Elements (REEs), are the fuel of the future—they are scarce inputs crucial to the clean energy transition. For this reason, it is widely assumed that China’s monopoly over REE production is detrimental to the United States’ long-term energy security. However, this hypothesis has not been adequately tested in the literature. This thesis aims to fill that gap by assessing the reliance of key U.S. clean energy industries on China’s REE supply chain. In the thesis, I use two REE price shocks—one that occurred during a 2010-2012 export cut and the other during the COVID pandemic—as a natural experiment. I study financial indicators of nine wind energy and electric vehicle (EV) companies operating in the US to understand how they reacted to the supply shocks. To constrain the extent of REE supply chain dis/advantages, I compare these results to the performance of wind energy and EV companies operating in China, as well as to non-EV companies which don’t use REE in large quantities. I find that neither wind energy nor EV company financials are significantly impacted by REE supply shocks, with the slight exception of Tesla. Tesla’s cost of revenues appeared particular affected by the 2010-2012 price shock. Tesla, in particular, reacted to the sensitivity by spending more on resilience strategies, like raw materials inventory stockpiling and research & development efforts. Though the perceived impact of REE price shocks is large within the political sphere, because the price shocks didn’t impact bottom line profitability, the shocks were not perceived to be impactful by public markets: changes in these US wind and EV companies’ stock prices are uncorrelated to REE price shocks. This implies that REE supply chains receive outsized political attention relative to the economic role they play, though open questions remain about the extent of our future consumption of REEs.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Jean Oi

Thesis:

Bradley, K. (2024). Conflict over the “Commanding Heights:” Gauging Impacts of China's Rare Earths Monopoly on U.S. Energy Security

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Isa Calero Forero

Cohort: 2024

To what extent did the anti-gender Movement’s narrative of “gender ideology” impact the Colombian peace accord plebiscite in 2016?  The 2016 plebiscite asked Colombians to decide whether or not to accept the peace accord between the government and the guerilla group FARC-EP.  The peace accord vote was quite close, but ultimately failed, with 50.2% voting ‘No.’ Previous studies have cited the “gender ideology” narrative as a factor that created opposition to the accord, including how Pentecostal church leaders of the ‘No’ campaign argued that “the agreements put Colombia at risk of ‘homosexual colonization.’” (Beltran and Creely 2016) That said, more research is needed to understand why and how this narrative gained traction. Thus, this thesis seeks to answer the question: How did the narratives surrounding “gender ideology” and the Colombian peace accord shape the discussions about the intended purpose and impact of the accord, and ultimately impact their decision in the peace accord plebiscite? To answer this question, I conducted 29 in-depth interviews with members of different political parties in Colombia during the summer of 2023, and also conducted a survey experiment with 862 Colombian respondents during the spring of 2024. The interview data is analyzed in two passes, using both deductive and inductive codes, supported by analytic memos and prepositions. The survey used a set of vignette experiments to identify the impact of language related to gender identity, sexual orientation or the LGBT community on political approval decisions. These methods provide insight into which narratives were most prevalent with regard to “gender ideology,” why they garnered opposition, and how they shaped the perception of the accord. I argue that the “gender ideology” narratives became part of the vision of the future for a post-conflict Colombia that, when put in combination with the fear of the rise of the FARC as a political party, and grievances about impunity, mobilized ‘No’ voters against the accord. This study will contribute to a growing body of research on the strategies and impact of the anti-gender movement, as well as how and why their narratives have been able to gain traction in political decisions.

Thesis Advisors: Professor Beatriz Magaloni and Professor Anna Gryzmala-Busse

Thesis:

Calero Forero, I. (2024). “No a la destrucción de la familia”: “Gender Ideology” Narratives and the Colombian Peace Accord Plebiscite

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Irmak Ersoz

Cohort: 2024

In 2022, $210.6 billion was donated as official development assistance through bilateral or multilateral channels. Yet this development aid has been notoriously ineffective. While many development scholars have investigated this problem through data analysis and case studies, there has been little to no consensus on what makes development projects fail. This thesis probes whether governance data about aid recipient countries could help make that aid more effective.    

The rise of machine learning has provided new tools to find patterns between successes and failures within development projects. In this thesis, using machine learning and an experimental survey against human judgment, I built a model to predict the performance of development projects. I used project information spanning over 60 years combined with governance indices spanning from public sector performance to the rule of law to understand whether project characteristics, governance levels, or both influence the performance of development projects. I found that a model that incorporates governance indicators can predict project performance significantly more accurately compared to a model that does not incorporate governance measures, demonstrating the difference a holistic understanding of governance can make for projecting development outcomes. 

This rudimentary predictive modeling exercise shows that machine learning can point out patterns of success and failure among a vast corpus of development projects, pointing out policy and project design levers that can prove useful to development professionals as aid is modernized. Ultimately, this thesis shows how these new data science tools can be translated into meaningful contributions to development policy.

Thesis Advisors: Professor Adam Bonica and Professor Jeremy Weinstein

Thesis:

Ersoz, I. (2024). Development Through the Looking Glass: Predictive Modeling Development Project Performance

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Hannah Marie Freeman

Cohort: 2024

China has increasingly invested in developing a larger nuclear arsenal, yet insists that the state’s nuclear weapons are solely for use in response to a first nuclear attack. China has maintained this policy since the inception of the state’s nuclear program in January 1955. This policy poses an interesting puzzle: on one hand, the state invests significantly in nuclear weapons for their own security, yet pledges to never use these weapons unless faced by a first attack, thus providing limited military utility. Other issue areas are characterized by markedly less continuity of policy.  Despite a declared opposition to parity and engaging in arms races, the state has pursued military modernization, including the significant expansion of nuclear forces. Once publicly opposed to nuclear nonproliferation, the state has since become a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), and actively contributed to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations beginning in 2013.  Nevertheless in 2020, China declined to participate in trilateral nuclear arms reduction talks with the United States and Russia and has since begun significant new construction at Lop Nur, the state’s only nuclear testing site. Which aspects of China’s external strategic environment shape its nuclear weapons policies? 

In this thesis, I analyze primary source documents from 1949 to 2024 to understand the factors shaping China’s nuclear weapons policies in three core areas: the initial decision to pursue nuclear weapons, the policy of no-first-use (NFU), and policies on non-proliferation. Through qualitative analysis of these documents, I demonstrate that events and trends in China’s external strategic environment alter the perceptions by Chinese leaders about which policies are necessary to maintain China’s security and territorial integrity and, secondarily, advance China’s geopolitical and strategic interests abroad.

In the context of an increasingly hostile external environment characterized by great power competition and both regional and global tensions, understanding what shapes the continuities and discontinuities of China’s nuclear policy is paramount to the formulation of good policy by state and civil society actors that seek to make the world safer and more secure.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Thomas Fingar

Thesis:

Freeman, H. (2024). Real or Paper Tigers: External Shapers of China’s Nuclear Weapons Policies

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Nina Iskandarsjach

Cohort: 2024

The Wagner Group is a private military company funded by the Russian state and active in at least 12 countries across four continents. With the group’s activities and aims often shrouded in secrecy, this thesis attempts to uncover more about the group’s operations, as well as its broader role within Russian foreign policy, through a case study of the Wagner Group’s intervention in the African Sahel. To what extent has the Wagner Group, and by extension the Russian state, achieved its strategic goals in the African Sahel?

To answer this question, this thesis utilizes mixed methods, including a geospatial analysis of all violent events initiated by the Wagner Group, al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents, and Islamic State-affiliated insurgents between December 2021 and October 2023 in Burkina Faso and Mali and a qualitative analysis of primary and secondary sources addressing the conflict, including reports from international and non-governmental organizations, Wagner-funded Hollywood-style movies, and jihadist propaganda statements. I examine the Wagner Group’s three strategic goals in the Sahel: 1) the group’s counterinsurgency campaign against Islamist insurgents, 2) the group’s pro-Russia soft power campaign against the West, and 3) the group’s resource extraction campaign targeting Mali’s vast supply of gold deposits. I argue that despite the shortcomings of Wagner Group’s counterinsurgency intervention in Mali, Russia can still benefit immensely from the mineral wealth and reputational uplift that its activities in the Sahel might provide. Such benefits, however, are dependent on Russia’s ability to circumvent international sanctions, as well as avoid any unintended consequences from making an enemy out of two of the most influential transnational extremist groups, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. 

Analysis of the Sahel conflict is essential to understanding Russia’s geopolitical standing within the context of the Russo-Ukraine war. The Sahel offers an opportunity for Russia to replace funds lost to international sanctions and revive its global image, particularly with African nations skeptical of Western narratives. In writing this thesis, I hope to create a clearer picture of the current conflict in the Sahel, along with both its geopolitical and humanitarian consequences.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Bertrand Patenaude 

Thesis:

Iskandarsjach, N. (2024). The Wagner Scramble for Africa: Assessing the Effectiveness of Russian intervention in the African Sahel

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Charlie Kogen

Cohort: 2024

Both at home and abroad, people have often characterized the United States as a “nation of immigrants,” but this rosy sentiment belies a more complex picture. Many factors have affected the flow of immigration to the US, including international affairs, domestic political developments, and the nature of the political actors at play. My thesis examines the US government’s response to two waves of migration that share several commonalities: emigration from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and emigration from the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both groups of emigrants experienced institutional difficulty departing their countries of origin, countries with whom the US had strained relations at the time, and most significantly, both groups were predominantly Jewish. In each era, however, the US government implemented vastly different policies. The Évian Conference of 1938, organized by President Roosevelt and attended by diplomats from over 30 other countries, attempted to multilaterally loosen restrictive immigration policy that the US government itself refused to change, while the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 Trade Act sought to unilaterally loosen Soviet emigration policy through favorable trade relations. By analyzing primary source documents from both periods (as well as between the two periods) concerning the decision-making of government officials, popular domestic sentiments, the advocacy of Jewish non-governmental organizations, and the attitudes of the personalities involved, I hope to put these two eras of policy in conversation with one another, helping to identify and evaluate the factors that led to such different responses from the US government across time. 

Thesis Advisor: Professor Amir Weiner 

Thesis:

Kogen, C. (2024). From Évian to Jackson-Vanik: US Policy toward Jewish Immigration in the Mid-20th Century

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Anuka Mohanpuhr

Cohort: 2024

The rise of fake news and disinformation campaigns that spread rapidly online is cause for worldwide concern. Fake news has the potential to polarize public opinion, promote hate speech, and undermine democracy and the social fabric that holds together our communities. The United States, where a constitutional commitment to free speech makes regulation of online platforms difficult, relies almost exclusively on self-governance and community standards adopted by social media platforms. The European Union, on the other hand, has taken a more proactive approach by enacting transparency standards and passing legislation that imposes high fines on those social media companies that do not promptly remove content that has been flagged as fake. This thesis assesses which of these approaches to regulating fake news is more effective, with special focus on the labeling of fake content that is thought to be a critical policy tool aimed at reducing the spread of misinformation online. My research seeks to evaluate the effect government-mandated labels have vis a vis labels added by social media companies themselves, taking into account party affiliation, educational levels and other factors thought to influence the likelihood a fake news item is reposted. To answer this question, I designed an experimental survey to evaluate the response of individuals in the U.S. to different regulatory approaches. The survey was released to a representative sample of about 4,000 users in March 2024. I find that labels, regardless of whether they are from the social media company or the government, do not make a significant difference in whether or not individuals repost fake news. I do find some small heterogeneous effects when subsetting data by political affiliation; Republicans were more likely to repost content with a government-mandated EU style label compared to Democrats and Independents, while Independents were least likely to repost content with a social media label. Respondents without a college degree were also more likely to repost content despite a government label. While significant, these effects are quite small. My research suggests that in the United States additional government regulations implemented in close cooperation with social media companies will be necessary in order to successfully combat the spread of fake news on social media.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Michael Tomz

Thesis:

Mohanpuhr, A. (2024). Regulating and Preventing the Spread of Fake News Online: Comparing Strategies in the United States and the European Union

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Bailey Nicolson

Cohort: 2024

Academic literature and scholarship surrounding the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the effects of oil nationalization evaluate the two separately. Econometric analyses debate OPEC’s ability to control prices according to dominant cartel theory and question OPEC’s relevance economically (Rose 2004). Studies of the effects of natural resource nationalization emphasize the regional effects, without considering the socio-political effects of OPEC membership. My research bridges this gap by asking: for countries with nationalized oil programs, how has membership in OPEC affected political accountability? OPEC membership for countries with nationalized oil programs may provide the collateral for resource-rich countries to bargain for their own oil interests and profit. In my thesis, I evaluate two pairs of countries which nationalized their oil industries; in each pair, one country joined OPEC, whereas the other did not. One pair, Nigeria and Bolivia, represent countries with conflict that preceded nationalization; the other pair, Argentina and Iran, represent two countries that nationalized in the 1950s. I compare both sets of cases’ political accountability before and after oil nationalization and also relative to dates the country joined OPEC. I utilize primary and secondary materials, including historical accounts, interviews, and various archives to understand the trajectory of a country before nationalizing their oil program and the implications of the nationalization event on political accountability. My thesis draws on sources from the UK National Archives in Kew, England, the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, and the Hoover Library in Stanford, California. This archival research contextualizes the relevance of sovereignty over natural resources and contemporary debates surrounding the impact of OPEC for global petroleum markets. I find that countries that joined OPEC have fewer institutions of political accountability than countries that never joined OPEC. I also present possible explanations for this finding, including that countries that nationalized and never joined OPEC did so due to domestic political pressure, which solidified channels of political accountability. Countries that did join OPEC nationalized their oil reserves due pressure from international interests, and did not create or support methods of political accountability in the process.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Amanda Kennard 

Thesis:

Nicolson, B. (2024). "A Different Kettle of Fish": OPEC's Impact on Oil Nationalization, Political Accountability, and Governance

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.

Ria Reddy

Cohort: 2024

Preventive strikes on nuclear targets are considered violations of international law, but the perpetrators often face few consequences. What explains the variation in international responses to these events?  This thesis examines historical cases of preventive actions against nuclear programs to describe and explain the repercussions for the attacker. In particular, I analyze two distinct sets of cases: Israel's strikes against Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007) and a series of strikes between Iran and Iraq during the 1980s. Through a detailed analysis of primary and secondary sources, I aim to understand the consequences faced by the attackers, the factors shaping these consequences, and any variation in outcomes. I argue that actors engaging in preventive attacks targeting nuclear programs have largely evaded significant repercussions, even when their actions skirted legality according to established international norms. My thesis argues that having a powerful ally can serve as a shield against tangible consequences, and attacks conducted amidst the chaos of wartime often get lost in the broader landscape of conflict. This thesis offers a nuanced exploration of the legitimacy of preventive attacks within the non-proliferation regime, shedding light on the complex interplay of factors influencing international reactions.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Kenneth Schultz

Thesis:

Reddy, R. (2024). Striking the Atom: Do Perpetrators Face Consequences for Preventive Attacks on Nuclear Sites?

Stanford Digital Repository. Available HERE.