Arming Agents or Assailants? A Principal-Agent Approach to Examining US Military Aid and Repression

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The United States provides billions of dollars each year in military assistance to foreign nations, yet we know very little about how aid affects recipients. This dissertation considers the impact of military aid on repression. I use a principal-agent framework to examine the strategic interaction between the United States and recipient country and evaluate the conditions under which an agent "works" or "shirks" on human rights policy. The principal-agent theory of military assistance reveals that the extent of U.S. oversight of aid, preference similarities between the principal and agent, the expected costs of being caught and punished for shirking, and the potential payoff to shirking affect the likelihood of repression. I argue that critical explanatory power comes from disaggregating U.S. military aid programs: material aid increases the power of the recipient armed forces and is subject to less U.S. oversight compared to education and targeted funding programs. I test my theory using a quantitative analysis of U.S. military aid to 180 foreign countries from 1991-2011 and two outcome variables, government one-sided violence and scaled physical integrity rights. The results indicate that education and targeted funding reduce the likelihood of one-sided violence. On average, I find that material aid is associated with an increased likelihood of physical integrity abuse in recipient countries. In addition, material aid to full democracies is associated with a lower likelihood of repression, while countries with oil exports are more likely to repress. This study improves upon previous research by theoretically and empirically disaggregating military aid from foreign aid writ large as well as augmenting our understanding of state repression. The project reveals that material aid may undermine other U.S. efforts to promote stability and democratization and that there are opportunities for policy changes to improve U.S. oversight of material assistance.