Lindsay Cohn, Ph.D.

Naval War College

City: Newport, Rhode Island

Country: United States

About Me:

Duke Political Science PhD (IR/Theory), currently Associate Prof at US Naval War College teaching US Foreign Policy, IR, Strategy, and Civil-Military Relations. Research focuses on theory and economics of civil-military relations, on the one hand, and public opinion and foreign policy, on the other. Significant focus on international law and on comparative law relating to military/security issues. Research focus on Europe/OECD.Policy experience in counterterrorism/building partner capacity programs, primarily in the MENA, Europe, and Africa. 

Research Interests

Public Opinion

International Law & Organization

Conflict Processes & War

Middle East & North African Politics

Political Economy

Foreign Policy

Specific Areas of Interest

Civil-military Relations

Asymmetric Conflict

Terrorism And Insurgency

Democratic Theory

Qualitative Research Design


Countries of Interest


United States

United Kingdom





My Research:

Dissertation and subsequent research has focused on the comparative labor economics of military manpower, including issues of recruiting (esp. draft v voluntary), retention, occupational specialty assignment, pay/benefits, etc. Most of this is cross-nationally comparative, focused on OECD countries. Some articles and book chapters have focused on civil-military relations theory, the use of private military/security contractors, the personnel implications of some unmanned systems, public opinion issues in foreign policy and civil-military relations, etc. Current projects involve research on how U.S. public cost perception works with respect to military issues, how U.S. public attitudes toward the Guard and Reserves have shifted over time, how civil-military relations can help extend our understanding of war as bargaining, the role of intelligence activities in U.S. civil-military relations, and the domestic use of the U.S. military, as well as ongoing work on comparative political economy of military manpower. Current book project is a study of the U.S.'s domestic use of military force for law enforcement or other peace-keeping aid to civil authorities, focusing on mechanisms of civilian control and the political and security conditions under which a president chooses to use military force domestically.


Journal Articles:

(2017) Markets and Manpower: the Political Economy of Compulsory Military Service, Armed Forces & Society

Tags: Comparative Political Institutions, Political Economy, Conflict Processes & War

Economic studies of military manpower systems emphasize the advantages of voluntarism under all but the most total threats, but this explains neither the persistence of institutionalized conscription in many states nor the timing of shifts from such conscription systems to volunteer militaries. Traditional explanations focus on external threat levels, but this has also proven unsatisfying. We theorize that threat variables establish the state’s baseline need for manpower, but structural economic variables determine whether the necessary manpower can be more efficiently obtained by conscription or voluntarism. Using a new data set of 99 countries over 40 years, we find that states with British origins are less likely and those experiencing greater external threat are more likely to employ conscripts. Most importantly, states with more highly regulated labor markets are more likely to employ conscripts, which suggests that, controlling for a number of relevant factors, labor markets matter in military manpower decisions.

(2015) How Much is Enough? Military Compensation and the Civil-Military Contract, Strategic Studies Quarterly

Tags: Bureaucracy, Political Economy

Recent debates in the United States have pitted the fiscal imperative of rationalizing the budget against the social narrative that society has an obligation to take care of its service members and veterans. This civil-military disconnect is a result of the structural necessity in so-called liberal market economies (LME) to focus significant portions of their military compensation on benefits, in addition to pay. These benefits— for example, health care, childcare, education, and retirement—are not broadly provided to all citizens in LMEs and constitute attractive recruiting incentives. However, it is difficult to control their costs and difficult to limit or remove them once implemented. Thus, the United States is caught in a benefits trap with challenging civil-military and policy implications.

(2015) "Drones and Targeted Killing: Costs, Accountability, and US Civil-Military Relations", Orbis

Tags: Conflict Processes & War, Public Policy

There is widespread interest in how armed drones are used, how targets are chosen, and what frameworks of legality and political accountability exist. What has received less attention is how use, targeting, justification, and accountability affect the people and the organizations being asked to operate the drones. This paper examines the costs to the operators and the military organization of increased reliance on drones. It argues that the government and the public need to come to terms with the human costs – both foreign and American – of increased use of unmanned systems. It concludes that the government needs to find a way to make its employment of drones transparent and accountable enough that it will not harm the overall well-being, morale, and loyalty of the force.

(2013) Who Will Serve? Labor Markets and Military Personnel Policy, Res Militaris

Tags: Political Economy, Comparative Political Institutions

I argue that military human resources management will be shaped by the interaction of the military’s functionally-derived personnel needs with the human resources system dominating in the surrounding economy. More specifically, a country’s labour market structure, particularly market flexibility (turnover) and the provision and significance of skills training and certification, will have a systematic effect on the ways the military assigns, trains, and separates its personnel. These patterns of personnel management influence recruiting and retention – both quality and quantity – because they define the cost-benefit balances an individual faces when choosing to join or leave the military. In short, they determine to a large extent who will serve. This argument does not deny the impact of cyclical economic factors such as unemployment, but states rather that structural factors will influence the context in which cyclical and other factors can take effect.

(2013) Relations Between Uniformed and Contractor Personnel in Operations, Small Wars & Insurgencies

Contemporary operations require the US military to work with enormous numbers of private contractors. The official reasoning for this is that private contractors are more cost-effective than military personnel, as contractors can be hired and paid for specific jobs, while military personnel must be maintained year-round at a high cost. On the other hand, many service-members bring back stories of contractor failure or misconduct. Is it in fact more efficient to use contractors on a battlefield? How can multi-agency operations be made most effective? This article attempts to contribute to these questions by determining the conditions under which contractors will ‘work’ for the military. Theory indicates that they will do so if the likelihood of being caught and punished for shirking is high. I examine the relations between military personnel deployed in Iraq and the contractors accompanying them through a questionnaire and targeted interviews.

(2011) It Wasn't in my Contract: Security Privatization and Civilian Control, Armed Forces & Society

Tags: Political Theory, Comparative Political Institutions

An increase in the use of private military and security contractors over the last two decades has sparked a debate over whether their employment enhances or detracts from government control of its security agents. Although there is a rich literature on civilian control of military agents, there is still disagreement on the operationalization of control, and there has been little attempt to apply these theories to private actors. This article contributes to both discussions by offering a synthesis of theories of control and comparing features specific to public versus private agents that may affect control. The author offers the hypothesis that the principles of democratic governance are likely to be more secure when policy is carried out by public agents.

Book Chapters:

(2018) "Political Realism and Civil-Military Relations", Edinburgh University Press

Tags: Political Theory, Conflict Processes & War

Fundamentally, Clausewitz believes that the political nature of war makes it an intersubjective rather than an objective phenomenon, and makes it imperative that military logic inform political logic, but give way to political logic when the two are in tension. In short, he challenges both standard political realism and the standard US (Huntingtonian) narrative of appropriate civil-military relations at the top of the policy-making pyramid. Most states that start wars do not end up with the peace they wanted, even if they 'win'. Clausewitz might argue that this is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between military victory and political success: if people believe that all they need to achieve is military victory, they will fail to produce a proper political strategy to guide the exploitation of the victory in peace negotiations. The realist in Clausewitz recognized that war was an inescapable part of human existence. The constructivist Clausewitz can perhaps teach us that applying military logic without understanding what the adversary values is essentially pointless.

(2018) "The US Approach to Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism", Fanele

Tags: Terrorism, African Politics

The other chapters in the book demonstrate that, despite the great diversity of contexts and actors, there is a common thread running through the problems of violent extremism on the African continent: poor governance plays a significant role in allowing violent extremist and criminal groups to gain a foothold in territory, in providing them with a pool of potential recruits, and in a general lack of success in conflict resolution. This, of course, is not surprising to anyone who pays attention to terrorism, insurgency, transnational criminality, or violent extremism. It bears expanding upon, however, because it has significance for how the international community – both at the regional and global levels – tries to help address the problems. This chapter reviews the various explanations for the problem of violent extremism and which responses appear to have success, and then discuss the approach the United States has taken towards counterterrorism (CT) and countering violent extremism (CVE), the pluses and minuses of that approach, and what the future of U.S. engagement in Africa may look like. I argue that the structure and culture of U.S. politics makes it likely that U.S. activity on the continent will remain weighted strongly towards military/security assistance and counterterrorism operations, rather than governance and support to civil society.

(2018) "Civil-Military Relations", Oxford University Press

Tags: Comparative Political Institutions

With Peter D. Feaver and Damon Coletta. We discuss the central questions motivating the field of civil-military relations, the status of the research in the US context and in the comparative/non-US context, and identify potential future directions for research in the field. We observe that much of what is commonly thought of as the problems of civil-military relations can be more accurately thought of as problems of democratic governance and institutions, and we note that a growing area of interest will involve emerging technologies and how those might change factors of information, risk, cost, and ethics.

(2016) Thanks for your Service: Civilian and Veteran Attitudes after Fifteen Years of War, Hoover Institution Press

Tags: Public Opinion, Political Psychology

Jim Golby, Peter Feaver, and I co-authored this chapter for Kori Schake and Jim Mattis's book, Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military. We were asked to discuss the original Triangle Institute for Security Studies survey published in 2001 (which Peter directed and in which I was involved) and to do a comparison of that survey with the YouGov survey commissioned by Schake and Mattis for this project. We found that very little had changed, but those things that had changed were reason for concern (though not panic). In particular, there appeared to be increased deference on the civilian side and an increased sense of entitlement on the military side, which we considered undesirable. Our analysis reinforced the findings of Golby and others who have argued recently that the civil-military differences we see are not so much civilian vs. military as the result of selection and demographic effects.


(2018) "Civil-Military Relations One Year In", The Texas National Security Review

Tags: American Presidency And Executive Politics, Public Opinion

While there are several legitimate civil-military concerns raised by the current administration, the most pernicious issue is the longer-term development of an almost unthinking veneration of service members by the public as well as many elites and politicians. This is a two-tiered problem: At the highest levels of national decision making, there is a pervasive narrative that the current and former military officers serving this administration are the “adults in the room”, and that they will “save” us from the erratic and potentially dangerous behavior of the president through their wisdom, prudence, and, if necessary, disobedience. More broadly, the reverence for the military has come to distort and manipulate public discourse. The military enjoys an outsized level of public trust, confidence, and approval — significantly higher than all other public institutions. It is the one institution that most Americans feel united in supporting (unlike, say, the police, the church, schools, or the courts system). But the elevation of “the troops” to a level of sacrosanctity in public discourse is unhealthy for service-members, the general public, and the practice of governance in this country.

Media Appearances:

TV Appearances:

(2012) KWWL News Channel 7

I discuss the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi

(2012) KWWL News Channel 7

I discuss (14 June 2012) the situation in Syria.

Radio Appearances:

(2018) WOTR Bombshell Podcast

The ladies of Bombshell interviewed me (20 November 2018) about the deployment of NG and federal troops to the southern US border. I explain what's happening and how this is part of a long-standing pattern of executive behavior.

(2018) WOTR WarCast

Interviewed for the WOTR members-only podcast, WarCast (13 April 2018) about the deployment of National Guard troops to the southern US border. I discuss legal, political, and historical issues.

(2014) Iowa Public Radio: River to River

I discuss potential foreign policy hotspots for 2014: North Korea, Syria, China. Aired 8 January 2014.

(2014) Iowa Public Radio: River to River

I discuss (26 Feb 2014) unrest in Ukraine, dynamics of the Syria conflict, and Iran-Iraq relations.

(2013) Iowa Public Radio: River to River

I discuss (5 June 2013) the appointments of Susan Rice as NSA and Samantha Power as Ambassador to the UN, developments in Syria, and protests in Turkey

(2013) Iowa Public Radio: River to River

I discuss (13 March 2013) drones and cyberwarfare as well as updates on international security threats.

(2012) Iowa Public Radio: River to River

I discuss (1 August 2012) the foreign policy stances of Obama and Romney.

(2012) Iowa Public Radio: River to River

I discuss (23 October 2012) the foreign policy debate.

(2012) Iowa Public Radio: River to River

I discuss (26 September 2012) Obama’s address to the UN, Obama’s and Romney’s speeches at the Clinton Global Initiative, and general issues relating to the international dimensions of the election.

(2011) Iowa Public Radio: The Exchange

I discuss (24 August 2011) the situations in Libya and Syria, implications for the US elections, and the future of the region.

(2011) Iowa Public Radio: The Exchange

I discuss (23 March 2011) the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya and the President’s authority to make such a decision.

(2005) Chicago Public Radio 91.5 WBEZ: "Worldview"

Interviewed on the use of the military in domestic law enforcement (6 Oct 2005)

Newspaper Quotes:

(2019) The Atlantic

My article "How Much is Enough?" was extensively quoted and paraphrased in Reihan Salam's article, "Democrats are Wrong about Defense Spending".

(2019) Federal News Network

Quoted in a piece on the Navy's recently-announced restrictions on the tuition assistance program, on the topic of why tuition assistance is important and good for the Navy.

(2012) Des Moines Register

Quoted on the foreign policy debate, “Iowa Debate Reaction: Obama on the Attack; Romney more Subdued”, Jennifer Jacobs 23 Oct 2012

(2009) Santa Cruz Sentinel

quoted on military recruiting issues, "Even in Santa Cruz, Growing Number of People Seek Financial Refuge in the Military", Shanna McCord 13 Dec 2009

(2009) Christian Science Monitor

quoted on military recruiting issues, "High Unemployment Means High Military Recruitment", byline Tom A. Peter 12 Nov 2009

Blog Posts:

(2014) Tom Ricks's The Best Defense

Jessica Blankshain and I wrote “Some Thoughts on the Problem of Politicians in the National Guard” to discuss the emerging legal, ethical, and normative issues raised by the fact that, while the nature of Guard and Reserve military activity has changed a great deal over the past few decades, regulations and norms have not changed to deal with that.

(2014) Tom Ricks's The Best Defense

I wrote that “Desch and Ricks are too Optimistic about the Effects of Budget Cuts on the Military”, essentially rebutting Mike Desch's argument that sequestration cuts might actually be good for the military because they would force it to innovate and become more efficient. I make the point that, given how personnel policy and costs work, HOW you cut is more important than how much you cut.


(2019) The National Interest

One of several experts asked to contribute a short analysis of US-DPRK relations in the wake of the Hanoi summit.

(2019) The National Interest

One of several experts asked to contribute a short analysis of US-DPRK relations in the run-up to the Hanoi summit

(2019) National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service

I was asked to provide written and oral testimony to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service on the topics of military recruiting and retention and the civil-military gap. Both my written testimony and the video of the testimony can be found at the link.

(2017) Center for a New American Security

Quoted in CNAS's report, "Generations of War: the Rise of the Warrior Caste and the All-Volunteer Force".