Research Portfolio Post #7: Qualitative Data Sources

My research question as expressed for small-n study is:

“What explains the difference in success and failure in the US’ intervention in West Berlin in the Berlin airlift (1948-1949), in Korea in the Korean War (1950-1953), and in Vietnam in the Vietnam War (1955-1975)?

The dependent variable as articulated here would be the outcome of these interventions and will be assigned values of “success”, “mixed success”, and “failure”. Taking inspiration from Howard, I operationalize “success” as both the achievement of the objective of intervention (in my cases  deposing/preventing a communist government) as well as whether the intervention resulted in positive peace/improvement in the state of the country that experienced intervention.[1]For example, I would look at whether, say, the Berlin airlift was successful according to whether it a) did or did not prevent a communist government and b) whether the state of West Berlin experienced positive peace/improvement as a result of the airlift or not. For a case to be a failure, it must not meet either requirement. Meeting one requirement but not the other would be a mixed success (ie: preventing a communist government but not improving the conditions of the state). Additionally, partial fulfilment of both requirements would also constitute a mixed success. To inform the assignment of success/mixed success/failure values, I must consult primary document sources including US Presidential Papers, local and international media coverage, and UN reports/documents.

For my first case of West Berlin, I consulted declassified records from the National Security Council. Specifically, the source is called “Remarks by Mr. Lovett at 12/16/48 NSC meeting on the significance of the Berlin airlift”.[2]This source argued that the US’ intervention was successful in that it attained its objective, seeing as the airlift “had now become a vital part of our foreign policy…. [as it] had the effect of wielding the western Germans into a unity that we had been unable to get otherwise…” and because it began deterring communism as evident by the fact that “one old-time Communist in the Ruhr area had recently been beaten by an 82.6% of the vote”.[3]According to this source, one can label this intervention as a success insofar as it prevented a communist government. The second source, the declassified document “A New Start for the Alliance”, recognized that the condition of West Berlin has improved because of the airlift, resulting in “the comparative calm of Europe in recent years [which] has been one of the fruits of the policy expressed in the Berlin airlift”.[4]Seeing as both sources demonstrate the intervention a) deterred communism and prevented a communist government, and b) resulted in the improvement in the country’s condition, the outcome of the US intervention in West Berlin can be understood to be “successful”.[5]It should be recognized that I must interrogate my primary sources by “triangulating them” or corroborating them with other kinds of documents such as media, UN reports, etc. Triangulation is, of course, important to ensure the validity of my research. I would have to do the same for my other cases.

For the sake for concision, I will expand upon the other two cases very briefly. In a research design, they will follow the same operationalization and primary source process as that of my first case. I have defined Vietnam as a failure for failing to prevent a communist government and for failing to produce positive peace as a result of the intervention, and have defined Korea as a mixed success because it resulted in a partitioning of North and South (allowing the rise of  communist government in one of two partitioned states) and because the conflict between North and South was never resolved.


[1]Howard Lise Morjé. UN Peacekeeping in Civil Wars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Page 7.

[2]United States National Security Council. Remarks by Mr. Lovett at 12/16/48 NSC meeting on the significance of the Berlin airlift. United States: 1948. U.S. Declassified Documents.Page 2(Accessed October 27, 2019).


[4]United States Department Of State.A New Start for the Alliance. United States: 1996. U.S. Declassified Documents. Page 1(Accessed October 27, 2019).

[5]United States National Security Council. Remarks by Mr. Lovett at 12/16/48 NSC meeting on the significance of the Berlin airlift. United States: 1948. U.S. Declassified Documents.Page 2(Accessed October 27, 2019).

United States Department Of State.A New Start for the Alliance. United States: 1996. U.S. Declassified Documents. Page 1(Accessed October 27, 2019).

Research Post #6

I am proposing to research the causes of humanitarian intervention because I would like to find out why some states/IGOs intervene militarily in humanitarian crises, in order to help my reader better understand why some humanitarian crises result in military intervention while others do not.[1]My research question would be more precisely articulated for large-n analysis as:

What explains the variation in states/IGOs responses to humanitarian crises?

In this instance, my dependent variable would be states/IGOs’ responses to humanitarian crises. In a preliminary sense, I have considered quantifying and operationalizing “response to humanitarian crisis” as ordinal numbers of 1-5 ranked as: (1) no response, (2) humanitarian aid delivery, (3) naming/shaming in UN resolutions, (4) sanctions, and (5) military intervention/peacekeeping. Had my research question focused on only one of these response types, it would have observed the variance in the scale of, say military intervention or humanitarian aid delivery, rather than the overall variance in the extent of response. I am attempting to study the latter. Binder does something similar to what I seek to accomplish when he defined his dependent variable as “strength of UN response”, though it lacked an interval number/unit of measurement.[2]As I am consulting various datasets, I am also searching for ways to operationalize my dependent variable into interval numbers. These contemplations are still early at this stage and will naturally require the use of datasets.

Moreover, it appears I will have to compile data from various datasets to assemble my own. This is because these datasets rarely include data exclusive to my cases (humanitarian crises). Some, like the Correlates of War Project’s “Militarized Interstate Disputes” dataset observe instances of military disputes (including those in response to humanitarian crises as well as those that are not) as cases.[3]The coverage of this dataset is first a limitation not in terms of breadth -as it stretches from 1816-2010-, but in the difficulty of “cleaning” the set to include only military disputes responding to humanitarian crises. Additionally, another concern about this sources’ limitation is its isolation of militarized responses and neglect of other types of responses which I must examine in my research. Though this dataset is very expansive within the realm of militarized responses (including anything from “threat to use force” to “declaration of war” as such responses), it still ignores the dimensions I listed above: the delivery of aid, naming/shaming, and sanctions.[4]Nevertheless, this source still provides helpful data including both the type/degree of militarized response, hostility levels, and number of fatalities. This dataset will also be supplemented by several others including The Correlates of War Projects’ “National Material Capabilities” dataset which includes figures for one of my independent variables – countervailing power –measured in part via military expenditure, military personnel, population size, etc.[5]The coverage and limitations of both mentioned datasets are identical.

Specifically, I would clean the first dataset by essentially “adding” a new column with a nominal indicator describing whether the instance of military intervention was in response to a humanitarian crisis or not (a definition which is of course a methodological decision of case selection which must in turn be justified). I would then exclusively use data from the remaining cases indicated as relating to humanitarian crises. As these instances would still only be cases of humanitarian crises that have provoked military intervention, my compilation of a dataset would be far from finished as I would have to do the same to other datasets I find that will have to consult, including those dealing broadly with the delivery of humanitarian aid, sanctions, etc.



[1]Booth, Wayne; Colomb, Gregory; Williams, Joseph and Fitzgerald, Willam. The Craft of Research, 4thEdition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 54.

[2]Binder, Martin. 2015. “Paths to Intervention.” Journal of Peace Research 52 (6): 716.

[3]Correlates of War Project; Palmer, Glenn; D’Orazio, Vito; Kenwick, Michael R.; and McManus, Roseanne W. McManus; “Militarized Interstate Disputes (v4.3).” 2019. Accessed October 9, 2019.


[5]Correlates of War Project; Sing, David J.; Bremer, Stuart. “National Material Capabilities (v5.0).” 2019. Accessed October 9, 2019.