Political science researchers receive $1.2 million grant to study effects of U.S. military's overseas presence
Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017
MANHATTAN — The United States has maintained a large overseas military presence since World War II. The strategic advantages of such installations may be clear, but how troop deployments affect host nations is not.
Two Kansas State University political science researchers have been awarded $1.2 million by the U.S. Department of Defense Minerva Research Initiative to study the political, economic and social effects of the United States' overseas military presence. Carla Martinez Machain, associate professor, and Michael Flynn, assistant professor, will work with a team to engage in a large data collection effort to explore public attitudes and beliefs about American activities and installations abroad at the national, regional and local levels.
Both Martinez Machain and Flynn have longstanding interest in international conflict and security, with a specific interest in military deployments.
"As a country, we've been maintaining some of these deployments for more than 70 years now," Flynn said. "After such a long time, we've formed deep relationships with some of these countries through our military presence, but there's still a lot we don't know about those relationships and what kinds of effects these deployments have on the host country."
Martinez Machain said current data are inadequate.
"We were asking questions about effects of U.S. troops on the host states' foreign policies, human rights, development and so on — but all at the national level," Martinez Machain said.
Collecting detailed data through public opinion surveys, interviews and other methods will help researchers address several questions. One is how the United States' troop presence and overseas military expenditures affect local economies. Another is how many crimes are committed by or against U.S. military personnel, civilian employees and contractors, and how tensions affect attitudes toward the U.S.
Documenting protests against American forces is another part of the project. Martinez Machain said protest motives or objectives are not always as they seem, so she and Flynn will try to uncover "fine-grained causes and effects."
"We will look at protests to deployments, and geocode them — document the location of the protests, how many people are involved and the grievance," Martinez Machain said. "We might assume it's about the troops, but sometimes it's not. For instance, Italians would protest at U.S. installations in Italy, but the protests were really about domestic issues. They knew the media would cover it if the protest was outside the military installation."
The U.S. Department of Defense is keen to understand these issues, too, which is why it supports basic social science research through the Minerva Research Initiative. Minerva funds relevant research that speaks to current or near-term challenges the military is confronting. Flynn said the data will be available for public consumption when the three-year study is complete.
"The funding comes from the Office of Basic Research at the Department of Defense," he said. "The investment goes beyond K-State and what our team produces. We are hoping this is something other people will be using after this program window closes."
In addition to providing vital data to researchers interested in international security and U.S. military policy, Flynn said the grant will help involve students in research by supporting a graduate student and offering opportunities for undergraduates to participate.
"K-State is doing important work, and we are able to give students a research experience here they may not get at other institutions," Flynn said.
Jeff Pickering, head of the political science department, added that Martinez Machain and Flynn benefited from a trip to Washington, D.C., earlier this year for early career faculty. The trip, which was led by the K-State Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, provided the researchers an opportunity to meet with the Minerva program director at the Pentagon.
"K-State's trip to visit funding agencies was very beneficial for Drs. Flynn and Martinez Machain," Pickering said. "It helped them to fine-tune their project, and the resulting Minerva grant will provide data and research that will be important for scholars and policymakers alike."
Co-investigators for the grant are Michael Allen, associate professor of political science at Boise State University, and Andrew Stravers, doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Texas, Austin.