Alexander B. Downes

Alexander B. Downes
Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs
1957 E St. 605B
[email protected]
Alexander B. Downes

Areas of Expertise

International security, civilian victimization and civilian casualties in war, foreign-imposed regime change.

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: Assessing the Effects of Foreign-Imposed Regime Change will be 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 ScienceCivil WarsInternational OrganizationInternational SecurityJournal of Conflict ResolutionJournal 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.



Current Research

Current research projects include:

1. Consequences of foreign-imposed regime change for intervener-target relations and outcomes in target countries, such as civil war, democratization, mass killing, and leader survival (book project and multiple article manuscripts)

2. Alliance choices of minor powers allied with a major power in decline

3. Effectiveness of population relocation strategies in counterinsurgency

4. Success and failure of compellent threats that demand leadership change

5. Success and failure of compellent threats by dictators 6. Effectiveness of international humanitarian law at reducing civilian casualties in war


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



“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)

Office Hours

Wednesday, 3:30 - 5:30

Classes Taught

PSC 1003, Introduction to International Politics

IAFF 1005, Introduction to International Affairs

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

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

AFF 6186, Military Power and Effectiveness

PSC 8489, Civil War

PSC 8489, Military Effectiveness

PSC 8452, Theories of International Security