Jennifer Erickson, Ph.D.

Boston College

Country: United States (Massachusetts)

About Me:

Jennifer L. Erickson is an associate professor of Political Science and International Studies at Boston College. Her research interests include international security and arms control, small and major conventional weapons, sanctions and arms embargoes, and the new weapons and the laws and norms of war. Her book, Dangerous Trade: Conventional Arms Exports, Human Rights, and International Reputation (Columbia, 2015), explains states' commitment to and compliance with new multilateral arms export initiatives and is the winner of the APSA Foreign Policy Section's 2017 Best Book Award. She has ongoing projects on the politics of arms embargo imposition and compliance and the creation of laws and norms related to new weapons technologies. Currently, Erickson is also a faculty affiliate at MIT’s Security Studies Program and an Associate Editor at the journal Security Studies. Previously, she has held fellowships or affiliations at Stanford University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). She holds a B.A. in Political Science from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University.

Research Interests

Arms Transfers

Foreign Policy

International Law & Organization

Nuclear Weapons

European Politics

International Security

Arms Control

Economic Sanctions

Global Governance

Conventional Arms Trade

Nuclear Non-Use


Journal Articles:

(2017) Leveling the Playing Field: Cost Diffusion and the Promotion of “Responsible” Arms Export Norms, International Studies Perspectives

Why do states take the lead in diffusing norms they once resisted? I address this question in the context of new humanitarian arms trade norms, culminating in the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Although most major arms exporting states have supported the ATT and similar initiatives, only some have chosen to invest resources in becoming leaders of these initiatives to spread new norms beyond their borders. I examine British and German arms export policies and practices to argue that states that choose leadership following costly norm adoption may do so as a means to share the costs of those norms with other international actors and reduce future adaptation costs. By delving deeper into the agency of norm diffusion, the article offers insights into powerful states’ motivations for norm leadership following costly norm adoption, the dynamics of norm diffusion, and the institutional form international norms eventually take.

(2015) Saint or Sinner? Human Rights and U.S. Support for the Arms Trade Treaty, Political Science Quarterly

THE UNITED STATES IS THE WORLD'S LARGEST conventional arms exporter and sets what many consider the “gold standard” for national arms export policy. The U.S. defense industry also benefits from the world's largest defense budget, making it much less dependent on exports than companies elsewhere. As a result, the costs of multilateral arms export controls should be lower for the United States than for other countries. Even so, observers were not surprised to see the United States cast the sole no vote in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2006 to initiate the process to create an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and again in 2008 to continue the process. What was more surprising was its October 2009 decision to change course and support the ATT. This article seeks to explain the change in the U.S. position on the ATT, a policy shift that is both puzzling and important. U.S. opposition to the ATT fits with a broader trend of resisting multilateral cooperation on conventional arms issues over time and across presidential administrations. What changed? I argue that U.S. support cannot be explained as a codification of existing practice, and domestic actors have not actively pushed for the United States to sign on to the ATT. What, then, explains U.S. support? I use a quantitative analysis to show that U.S. conventional arms exports in practice have been largely inattentive to recipients' human rights records over time. This calls into question explanations for ATT support that rely on a close match between policy and practice. I then use a qualitative study to show that the Barack Obama administration's ATT policy reversal reflects changes in its strategic attitude toward multilateralism. Rather than a nod to public pressures at home, I argue that U.S. support for the ATT was part of the Obama administration's early bid to improve the United States' image abroad through multilateral reengagement. With high export standards already on the books, no formal enforcement built into the ATT, and congressional opposition to ratification, the United States would not have to sacrifice its arms export flexibility in exchange for ATT support. Whether the ATT will manage to address problems linked to conventional arms proliferation will therefore depend on a deeper U.S. commitment to the initiative and changes in practice by all top conventional arms exporters.

(2013) Stopping the legal flow of weapons: Compliance with arms embargoes, 1981–2004, Journal of Peace Research

This article examines sending state compliance with arms embargoes. Arms embargoes are one of the most frequently used types of economic sanctions but they are perceived as one of the least effective. One major problem with arms embargoes, many argue, is sending states’ failure to implement them. Yet studies tend to focus on cases of arms embargo violations, not compliance in the context of arms export practice more broadly. Using a series of new arms embargo variables, I conduct a statistical analysis of the relationship between arms embargoes and small and major conventional arms transfers from 1981 to 2004. Contrary to popular expectations, I find that arms embargoes on average restrain sending states’ arms exports. If arms embargoes do indeed have difficulty changing targets’ behavior, or achieving other measures of ‘success’, additional explanations must also be considered. I suggest that arms embargo target selection and the intractable challenge of cutting off illicit arms flows are two important plausible alternatives. This finding also provides optimism for compliance with international commitments in the absence of institutionalized enforcement mechanisms. Major exporters overall appear to implement sanctions, despite strong economic incentives to ignore them and a lack of formal accountability mechanisms to punish violators.

(2013) Market imperative meets normative power: Human rights and European arms transfer policy, European Journal of International Relations

Arms transfers are both an economic necessity for the European arms industry and a potential obstacle for the EU’s emerging normative power role. Nevertheless, research on how well EU members’ arms trade mirrors EU normative power rhetoric is scarce. To help fill this void, I use regression analysis to examine the relationship between EU arms exports and human rights, conflict, and democracy in recipient states from 1990 to 2004. A case study of the China embargo debate provides a more in-depth assessment of the politics behind EU arms transfers. Both analyses reveal a questionable relationship between EU norms and arms transfer practices. The findings suggest, first, that domestic-level material and normative concerns remain important to the formation and execution of EU foreign policy and, second, that low levels of EU socialization may hinder the creation of a single European external identity.

Books Written:

(2015) Dangerous Trade: Arms Exports, Human Rights, and International Reputation, Columbia University Press

The United Nations's groundbreaking Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which went into effect in 2014, sets legally binding standards to regulate global arms exports and reflects the growing concerns toward the significant role that small and major conventional arms play in perpetuating human rights violations, conflict, and societal instability worldwide. Many countries that once staunchly opposed shared export controls and their perceived threat to political and economic autonomy are now beginning to embrace numerous agreements, such as the ATT and the EU Code of Conduct. Jennifer L. Erickson explores the reasons top arms-exporting democracies have put aside past sovereignty, security, and economic worries in favor of humanitarian arms transfer controls, and she follows the early effects of this about-face on export practice. She begins with a brief history of failed arms export control initiatives and then tracks arms transfer trends over time. Pinpointing the normative shifts in the 1990s that put humanitarian arms control on the table, she reveals that these states committed to these policies out of concern for their international reputations. She also highlights how arms trade scandals threaten domestic reputations and thus help improve compliance. Using statistical data and interviews conducted in France, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Erickson challenges existing IR theories of state behavior while providing insight into the role of reputation as a social mechanism and the importance of government transparency and accountability in generating compliance with new norms and rules. Winner of the 2017 APSA Foreign Policy Section Best Book Award

Book Chapters:

(2018) Arms Control, in The Oxford Handbook of International Security, Oxford University Press

Arms control attempts to manage the acquisition and use of weapons in international politics, with the goal of preventing the outbreak of war and limiting war’s brutality. Yet experts debate whether arms control can meet these goals in practice. This chapter traces the modern development of arms control, covering its nineteenth-century foundations, the League of Nations, nuclear weapons in the Cold War, and recent “humanitarian” arms control initiatives. Yet the chapter also observes that new weapons and new actors challenge the foundations of existing regimes and raise questions about the form and functioning of future agreements. Even as arms control evolves, understanding it continues to depend on understanding the complex interplay between material and normative pressures states face in domestic and international politics. As concerns about weapons proliferation persist and the domains of conflict expand, arms control will remain a central issue on the international agenda.