Sabrina Arias


Ph.D. Student in International Relations


I am a PhD Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania in Political Science, specializing in International Relations with a secondary concentration in American Politics.

My research focuses on international organizations, diplomacy, and climate politics. In particular, I examine the following questions: by what strategies do states advance their foreign policy goals through international organizations (IOs)? Who controls the agendas of IOs, and how? What are the pathways through which climate change policies can be adopted at the international, national, and local levels, and how does public opinion affect climate policymaking? To address these questions, I employ a diverse methodological toolkit, including text analysis, experiments, statistical methods, and elite interviews.

My dissertation examines who decides what issues are addressed on IOs' agendas? Why are some small states---like Liechtenstein, Ireland, and Costa Rica---effective at shaping the United Nations (UN) agenda, even in the face of powerful states' opposition? I argue that by focusing on later-stage policymaking activities, previous studies have overestimated the influence of powerful states. However, in the early stages of policymaking, it is harder to leverage economic and military resources. Instead, I argue that states can influence early policymaking with diplomatic capital, a form of social power that can be developed through skilled representation. By developing diplomatic capital, small states can ‘punch above their weight.' These insights about the role of diplomacy, power, and agenda control challenge our understanding of the relative importance of power and diplomacy in IOs, and the extent to which small states influence international politics, more generally.  Material power is important in explaining some of IO politics, but the role of individual diplomats matters as well.

My research is published in the Journal of Politics and International Studies Quarterly. I have received generous research support from the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, the Social and Behavioral Science Initiative, and the Social and Cultural Evolution Working Group, among others.  You can also find my commentary in the Washington Post.