Dr. Rebecca Best
Department of Political Science
University of Missouri at Kansas City
I am an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where I am also an associate faculty member of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. My research focuses on women in conflict, negotiations between states and factionalized insurgencies, and the reintegration of veterans. I currently serve on the editorial board of International Interactions and as a faculty fellow of UMKC's CAFE program. I am a native of North Carolina, where I earned my doctorate from the University of North Carolina in 2012.
Hard Choices, Soft Targets: Terror Proscription and Strategic Targeting Decisions of Foreign Terrorist Organizations
Online first at International Interactions.
With Simanti Lahiri.
Proscription lists are common counter-terror tools, yet their impact on terrorist violence is unclear. We find that proscription can be effective at constraining the violence of some types of groups, especially those that are young, secular, and without institutional support. However, proscription also can backfire from a counter-terrorist prospective, especially when applied to groups that are well-established, religious, and/or sponsored by states. Our analysis evaluates 534 terrorist groups, including 66 that were ultimately proscribed under the United States’ Foreign Terror Organization list. Unsurprisingly, we find that terrorist groups that attract proscription are more violent and better equipped to tap into international terror networks. While younger groups and nationalist groups are more vulnerable to proscription, older religious groups and those with state sponsors seem to be more violent after proscription. Proscription can be an effective tool for reducing terrorist attacks and lethality, but it is most effective against younger terror groups and states should exercise caution in its use as it may not have the desired effects on all types of groups.
Fighting for a Seat at the Table:
Women’s Military Service and Political Representation
2021, Journal of Veteran Studies 7(2): 19-33.
With Kyleanne Hunter and Kate Hendricks Thomas.
Military service has long been seen as a path to political leadership and elevation of status in public life (Stevenson, 2006; Stadelmann et al., 2015). Public opinion polls steadily show that the American people trust military veterans to be principled leaders and model public citizens (Johnson, 2018). Combat veterans in particular are held in high regard as model and trustworthy citizens. For military women in the United States, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have ushered in a new era in combat arms participation. However, gendered perceptions about military participation and the identity of combat veterans have been slow to change, to the detriment of both women’s political and economic equality. Despite women’s participation in combat, they have been denied the elevated citizen status frequently enjoyed by their male peers with similar experience. This bodes poorly for lasting peace and security. Research increasingly indicates that the involvement of women in public life leads to more peaceful and stable outcomes, and enduring peace and stability (Hudson et al., 2012; Caprioli, 2003; Melander, 2005; Shair-Rosenfield &Wood, 2017; Best, Shair-Rosenfield, & Wood, 2019). While the U.S. has been a leader in the adoption of official UN Resolutions that call for women’s equality in all facets of governance, and the passage of the 2017 Women, Peace and Security Act, women are still heavily under-represented in all levels of government.
UNSC Resolution 1325 is the most comprehensive, and the watershed resolution, however Resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122 also apply to women’s inclusion in public life and government. Complete texts of these resolutions can be found at: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/issues/women/wps.shtml
Military Service and Legislative Agendas: a study of legislators in four states
2021, Armed Forces & Society 47(2): 367-385.
With Greg Vonnahme
Candidates often highlight military experience on the campaign trail. Do they also govern differently? This study examines whether and how military experience is associated with state lawmaking. We examine legislative productivity, success rates, and the substantive content of legislation with a large original dataset. The data include over 60,000 bills introduced in four state legislatures over a 10-year time span, coded for their substantive focus. It also includes information on characteristics of over 3,000 legislators. Our analysis of these data indicates that veterans do not differ in overall levels of productivity, but do have common legislative agendas. Veterans’ shared legislative agendas are not narrowly confined to defense or security issues, but vary depending on state context. This is, to our knowledge, the most extensive empirical analysis of the legislative behavior of veterans in a single study.
You Can't have Women in Peace without Women in Conflict and Security
2020, Georgetown Security Studies Review, 8(2).
With Kyleanne Hunter.
Since the passage of UN Resolution 1325 there has been a call for an increase of women in post-conflict negotiations. Indeed, research shows that the presence of women in these negotiations improves prospects for lasting peace. However, there has yet to be a meaningful increase in women's participation in such negotiations. Similarly, despite an international focus on increasing women’s participation at all levels of government, women remain underrepresented in both elected and appointed positions. One area where women are increasingly present is as combatants - both in formal militaries and in rebel groups. In this article, we argue that the social gender norms related to women participating in combat are a key driver/reason of the lack of women’s meaningful participation in peace processes and government bodies. We introduce a model of cognitive-institutional reinforcement that shows how institutions designed to give former combatants access to public life undermine women’s credibility and result in lost opportunities. We use evidence from Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs and veterans’ services to show how this model explains the continued lack of women’s participation.
Women and Conflict Studies
In Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science. 2020. Ed. Sandy Maisel. New York: Oxford University Press.
Traditionally, women have been viewed as having little agency in wars and conflicts. Women were thought neither to cause the wars nor to fight them. When women were considered at all by scholars of war, they were conceived of primarily as victims. As women gained the franchise and ultimately began to be elected into political office in advanced democracies, some scholars began to consider the foreign policy implications of this—that is, do women’s attitudes toward war and defense policy differ from those of men and do these views produce different outcomes at the ballot box? Furthermore, do women behave differently with regard to security issues once in national office? Does their presence change the way their male colleagues vote on these issues? In recent decades, scholarship emerging first from critical feminist theory and later from positivist political scientists has begun to look more explicitly for women’s roles, experiences, and influences on and in conflict. This work has led to the recognition that, even when victimized in war, women have agency, and to the parallel conclusion that men’s agency is not as complete as scholars, practitioners, and the public have often assumed. This bibliography provides an overview of the development of women and conflict literature as well as several prominent themes and questions within the literature.
Chapter in Invisible Veterans, ed. Kate Hendricks Thomas and Kyleanne Hunter
Legislative Gender Diversity and the Resolution of Civil Conflict
2019, Political Research Quarterly 72(1): 215-228.
With Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and Reed Wood
Policy makers and scholars have shown increased interest in gendered approaches to peacemaking, even as evidence of women’s impact on peace processes has remained unclear. In this paper, we explore the influence of gender diversity among decision-making elites on the outcome of ongoing civil conflicts. Specifically, we argue that increased female representation within the national legislature increases the likelihood that a conflict terminates in a negotiated settlement. However, the impact of legislative female representation on conflict termination is conditioned by the power of the legislature vis-à-vis the executive, suggesting that gender diversity exerts a greater impact in states with more authoritative legislatures. We evaluate our hypotheses using data on the manner of conflict termination and the proportion of women in national legislatures between 1945 and 2009. Our results show support for the central argument, suggesting that increasing female representation within legislative bodies increases the likelihood of war termination via negotiated settlement.
Bargaining with Insurgencies in the Shadow of Infighting
2018, Journal of Global Security Studies 3(1): 23-37.
With Navin Bapat
Despite the long standing “no concessions” argument, scientific studies now suggest that governments can benefit from negotiating with militant insurgencies. However, despite government efforts, the leaders of insurgent movements often appear fanatical and unwilling to negotiate. This behavior presents a puzzle: If the leaders of insurgencies mobilize to create political change, and a government offers concessions, why do insurgent leaders refuse to negotiate? Using a game-theoretic model, we argue that insurgent leaders may rationally reject negotiation due to an internal commitment problem. Specifically, when leaders cannot credibly share the benefits of peace with their rivals, insurgent leaders may reject offers over fear of an internal conflict, which could leave the entire group vulnerable to government exploitation. However, the model demonstrates that insurgent leaders should negotiate if power in the insurgency is shifting in favor of their rivals, as it could help them maintain control of the movement. We illustrate these hypotheses using evidence from the Nigerian state's conflict with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) organization and Boko Haram.
Ungated as a "most-read" article, courtesy of JOGSS
An Analysis of the TABARI Coding System
2013, Conflict Management and Peace Science 30(4): 335-348.
With Christine Carpino and Mark Crescenzi.
Textual Analysis by Augmented Replacement Instructions (TABARI) provides an automated method for coding large amounts of text. Using TABARI to code lead sentences of news stories, the KEDS/Penn State Event Data project has produced event data for several regions. The wide range of events and actors, TABARI's ability to filter duplicate events and the number of events coded allow users to analyze patterns in conflict and cooperation between state and nonstate actors over time. We evaluate whether coding full stories provides more detailed information on the actors referenced in the lead sentences. Additional actor information would allow researchers interested in the interactions between violent nonstate actors to test hypotheses regarding group cohesiveness and splintering, spoiling behavior, commitment problems between factions and many other issues critical to management of an insurgency. We downloaded Reuters news stories relevant to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and used TABARI to code the lead sentences. We then analyzed the full text of the coded stories to determine the level of actor detail available. Our findings highlight the dynamic relationship among nonstate and state actors during the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and we find that, contrary to expectations, hand coding full news stories does not lead to significant improvements in the accuracy or depth of actor information compared with machine coding by TABARI using lead sentences. These findings should bolster the confidence of researchers using TABARI coded data, with the caveat that TABARI's ability to distinguish between actors is dependent upon the detail available in the actor dictionaries.
Reciprocity in International Politics
2010, The International Studies Encyclopedia, 1st Edition, ed. Robert Denemark
With Mark Crescenzi and Bo Ram Kwon
In this essay, we seek to present the key findings about reciprocity within the body of research that is representative of the Scientific Study of International Processes the study of reciprocity has generally occurred within two veins: formal/experimental and empirical research. the two veins have intertwined productively over the last half-century, and a significant proportion of this research draws from both approaches. For the purposes of exposition our essay mirrors the specialization often found in this research.
Panopticism and the use of "the Other" in To Kill a Mockingbird
2009, The Mississippi Quarterly 62(3/4)
The search for identity and the obstacles to it in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird are examined through the framework of the Panopticon and the Other that Michel Foucault sets forth in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Through Boo, Scout and Jem are able to see flaws in society that run deeper than the simple problems they face as children, social ills that allow a community to witness passively and thus allow the abuse that Boo faced and that Mayella still faces, that allow a society to, in effect, kill Tom Robinson or any other innocent man to protect their own prejudices.
Other Selected Publications
Why the “Terrorist” Label Helps Some Groups and Hurts Others
at Political Violence at a Glance
This is blog version of my article "Hard Choices, Soft Targets" with Simanti Lahiri. This post looks at the effects of FTO designation on violence production and how these effects are conditioned by characteristics of the designated terror group.
The Revolt of Islamic State-Khorasan
at Political Violence at a Glance
Navin Bapat and I address the infighting between the Afghan Taliban and Islamic State- Khorasan and why it came to a head during the US withdrawal.
Can the Taliban Trust Trump?
at Political Violence at a Glance
Navin Bapat and I evaluate one reason negotiations between the Trump administration and the Taliban are so difficult right now. Published Jan. 30, 2020.
The Democrats are running more female veterans for office than ever before – but can they win?
at The Conversation
Theresa Schroeder, Jeremy Teigen, and I preview some of our findings in a study of how veteran women perform at the polls. Published Nov. 15, 2019
"Here’s why the Taliban might still want to negotiate with the U.S."
at the Washington Post's Monkey Cage
Navin Bapat and I apply our research, published in the Journal of Global Security Studies, to understanding what brought the Taliban to the negotiating table in the first place, why negotiations collapsed, and what comes next. Published Sept 12, 2019
"Military service was once a fast track to U.S. citizenship. The Trump administration keeps narrowing that possibility."
at the Washington Post's Monkey Cage
Kyleanne Hunter, Theresa Schroder, Jeremy Teigen and I analyze how the Trump administration is restricting both the presence of immigrants in the military and the benefits of military service to immigrants at the expense of military readiness and morale. Published Sept. 6, 2019
"An unprecedented number of female military veterans ran as Democrats this year. Here’s why they were unusually successful."
at the Washington Post's Monkey Cage
Jeremy Teigen and I explain why female veterans, who mostly ran as Democrats, outperformed their party in the 2018 midterm. Published Nov. 14, 2018
From GI Jane to Speaker of the House? Combat service and women’s representation in US Electoral Politics in a Comparative Context
In progress, presented at Peace Science Society International, 2017
Supported by a grant from the Dirksen Congressional Center
Here for the Right Reasons: The Selection of Women as Peace Delegates
Revise & Resubmit; presented at ISA 2019
with Elizabeth Brannon
See G.I. Jane Run: The rise of female military veterans candidates for Congress
With Theresa Schroeder & Jeremy Teigen
Presented at IUSAFS 2019
Living to Tell the Tale: Surviving victims of regime violence and perceptions of violent non-state actors
I primarily teach courses in international relations and political violence. I am the recipient of the 2016-2017 College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award and the 2019 Chancellor’s Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching. A list of the courses I offer is below.
An analysis of relations among nations, with emphasis on structures of international power, causes of war, and approaches to peace. This course is designed to introduce students to the major theories and concepts of international relations and both to prepare students for life in an increasingly globalized world and to expose students to an array of topics for further study. Active students will gain analytical tools to understand and evaluate theories of conflict, cooperation, and economics, as well as areas outside the realm of international relations. Students will read and discuss a sampling of current international relations research on such topics as terrorism, civil war, and international trade.
Format: Lecture; Instructional Mode: P. Objectives: (1) Identify the structure and foundations of the international system. (2) Explain the causes of war and factors that influence the occurrence of war as well as conflict resolution and prevention. (3) Evaluate theories international political economy, including international trade, foreign direct investment, and monetary policy. (4) Apply strategic choice theory on a basic level to understand events in the international system.
Terrorism and Political Violence
Pol-Sci 316 and Pol-Sci 5580
This course explores terrorism and armed struggle from theoretical and historical perspectives, and analyzes a number of violent movements with nationalist, ideological, and religious motivations. Format: Lecture; Instructional Mode: P Objectives: (1) Assess the theoretical explanations of terrorism and political violence. (2) Assess how state and violent non-state actors respond strategically to situations. (3) Apply and evaluate theories of terrorism and political violence.
Graduate Seminar in International Relations
Pol-Sci 5530 and Pol-Sci 452
This course examines major schools of thought and contemporary research in international relations. Topics discussed include international systems, the causes of war and peace, collective security, and international political economy. Students enrolled in Pol-Sci 452 must have previously taken a course in international relations, politics, economics, or history.
Conflict Resolution and Cooperation
Pol-Sci 404 and Pol-Sci 5580
This course examines theories of conflict resolution and cooperation in the international system and within states. Students will assess the challenges to international cooperation and the means through which states and non-state actors overcome those challenges. Students will critically evaluate theories of conflict resolution and cooperation, while learning to apply those theories to current events. Format: Lecture; Instructional Mode: P Objectives: (1) Assess the challenges to international cooperation and the means through which states overcome those challenges. (2) Critique theories of conflict resolution and cooperation. (3) Apply theories of conflict resolution and cooperation.
Conflict and Cooperation
The course examines competing theories and concepts of conflict and security in the international system. Student learning outcomes include demonstrating an understanding of the evolution of the study of international conflict and security and the responses of states to varying security environments. Students will also acquire analytical tools for evaluating international security phenomena.
Women and Conflict
This course explores the roles of women in armed political conflict; specifically the ways that women influence and participate in conflict and peace processes as well as the ways women are affected by conflict and peace processes. Format: Lecture; Instructional Mode: P Objectives: (1) Discuss gendered understandings of conflict and war. (2) Evaluate how and why women participate in political violence and peace processes.
Politics of the Middle East
This course is designed to provide students with a working knowledge and understanding of political systems and major political issues in the Middle East and North Africa and prepare students to understand and interpret developing issues within the region. Major topics covered in the course are the question of Middle East exceptionalism, democratization, the effect of religion and identity on social and political systems, political economy of the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, political violence, and the Arab Spring.
Introduction to American Politics Pol-Sci 210
American government and politics, with special reference to the U.S. Constitution. This course meets the state requirement for study of the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions.