Alexander B. Downes

Alexander B. Downes

Alexander B. Downes

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs



Office Phone: (202) 734-0026
Fax: (202) 994-7761

Alexander B. Downes (Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2004) is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and co-Director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at The George Washington University. Downes's book Targeting Civilians in War was published by Cornell University Press in 2008 and won the Joseph Lepgold Prize awarded by Georgetown University for the best book in international relations published in that year. Targeting Civilians in War previously won the Helen Dwight Reid Award for best dissertation in international relations, law, and politics in 2006 from the American Political Science Association. His second book, Catastrophic Success: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Goes Wrong was published, also by Cornell, in 2021. Downes has written on a variety of subjects in international security, including civilian victimization, foreign-imposed regime change, military effectiveness, democracy, coercion, alliances, and solutions to civil wars. His work can be found in journals like the British Journal of Political Science, Civil Wars, International Organization, International Security, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Strategic Studies, and Security Studies, as well as multiple edited volumes. 

In 2016, Downes was named the winner of the inaugural Emerging Scholar Award, given by the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association to recognize scholars under the age of 45, or within fifteen years of receiving the Ph.D., who are judged to have made (through the body of their publications) the most significant contribution to the field of security studies. Downes has held fellowships at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (2007/08) and Olin Institute for Strategic Studies (2002/03), and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (2003/04) at Stanford University. His work has been funded by the Department of Defense Minerva Initiative, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Eisenhower Institute, Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, and Office of Naval Research.

Downes teaches a variety of courses on IR and international security for undergraduates, M.A. students at the Elliott School, and Ph.D. students in Political Science. In recognition of his efforts in the classroom, Downes received the 2020 Harry Harding Teaching Prize from the Elliott School. 

Before joining the GW faculty, Downes was Assistant Professor of Political Science at Duke University from 2004-2011. He holds a B.A. in Music (magna cum laude) from Brown University and an M.A. in International Relations (with honors) from the University of Chicago.

International security, foreign-imposed regime change, civilian victimization in war, military effectiveness, coercion

Current research projects include:

1. Foreign-imposed regime change;

2. Nuclear compellence;

3. Population concentration in counterinsurgency

PSC 1003 - Introduction to International Politics

IAFF 1005 - Introduction to International Affairs

IAFF 2190/PSC 2994 - War

IAFF 3180/PSC 2990 - Civil War, Insurgency, and Terrorism

IAFF 3180/PSC 2990 - Civilians in the Path of War

IAFF 6101 - International Affairs Cornerstone

IAFF 6186 - Military Power and Effectiveness

PSC 8489 - Civil War

PSC 8489 - Military Effectiveness

PSC 8489 - Coercion in International Politics

PSC 8452 - Theories of International Security

Catastrophic Success: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Goes Wrong (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2021).

"Loyalty, Hedging, or Exit: How Weaker Alliance Partners Respond to the Rise of New Threats," Journal of Strategic Studies (forthcoming; with Jasen J. Castillo).

"Creating a Cordon Sanitaire: U.S. Strategic Bombing and Civilians in Korea," in The Civilianization of War and the Unpredictable Civil-Military Divide, 1914-2014, ed. Andrew Barros and Martin Thomas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 196-220.

"Step Aside or Face the Consequences: Explaining the Success and Failure of Compellent Threats to Remove Leaders." In Coercion: The Power to Hurt in International Politics, ed. Kelly M. Greenhill and Peter Krause (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 93-114.

"Does Spreading Democracy by Force Have a Place in U.S. Grand Strategy? A Skeptical View." In The Case for Restraint: U.S. Grand Strategy for the 21st Century, ed. A. Trevor Thrall and Benjamin H. Friedman (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), 80-107 (with Jonathan Monten).

"It's a Crime, but Is It a Blunder? Investigating the Military Effectiveness of Civilian Victimization." In Civilians and Warfare in World History, ed. Nicola Foote and Nadya Williams (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), 288-312 (with Kathryn McNabb Cochran).

"No Business Like FIRC Business: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Bilateral Trade." British Journal of Political Science 47, no. 4 (October 2017): 749-782 (with Paul Zachary and Kathleen Deloughery).

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Interstate Conflict,” International Security (forthcoming; with Lindsey A. O’Rourke)

“No Business Like FIRC Business: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Bilateral Trade,” British Journal of Political Science (forthcoming; published online, August 3, 2015; with Paul Zachary and Kathleen Deloughery)

“Forced to Be Free: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization,” International Security 37, no. 4 (Spring 2013): 90-131 (with Jonathan Monten)

“The Illusion of Democratic Credibility,” International Organization 66, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 457-489 (with Todd S. Sechser)

Targeting Civilians in War (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008)

Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2004

M.A. in International Relations (with honors), University of Chicago, 1998

B.A. in Music (magna cum laude), Brown University, 1991