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      Strongmen and Straw Men: Authoritarian Regimes and the Initiation of International Conflict

      American Political Science Review
      Cambridge University Press (CUP)

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          Abstract

          How do domestic institutions affect autocratic leaders’ decisions to initiate military conflicts? Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I argue that institutions in some kinds of dictatorships allow regime insiders to hold leaders accountable for their foreign policy decisions. However, the preferences and perceptions of these autocratic domestic audiences vary, with domestic audiences in civilian regimes being more skeptical of using military force than the military officers who form the core constituency in military juntas. In personalist regimes in which there is no effective domestic audience, no predictable mechanism exists for restraining or removing overly belligerent leaders, and leaders tend to be selected for personal characteristics that make them more likely to use military force. I combine these arguments to generate a series of hypotheses about the conflict behavior of autocracies and test the hypotheses using new measures of authoritarian regime type. The findings indicate that, despite the conventional focus on differences between democracies and nondemocracies, substantial variation in conflict initiation occurs among authoritarian regimes. Moreover, civilian regimes with powerful elite audiences are no more belligerent overall than democracies. The result is a deeper understanding of the conflict behavior of autocracies, with important implications for scholars as well as policy makers.

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          Most cited references80

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          Anarchy is what states make of it: the social construction of power politics

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            Democracy and dictatorship revisited

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              Normative and Structural Causes of Democratic Peace, 1946–1986.

              Democratic states are in general about as conflict- and war-prone as nondemocracies, but democracies have rarely clashed with one another in violent conflict. We first show that democracy, as well as other factors, accounts for the relative lack of conflict. Then we examine two explanatory models. The normative model suggests that democracies do not fight each other because norms of compromise and cooperation prevent their conflicts of interest from escalating into violent clashes. The structural model asserts that complex political mobilization processes impose institutional constraints on the leaders of two democracies confronting each other to make violent conflict unfeasible. Using different data sets of international conflict and a multiplicity of indicators, we find that (1) democracy, in and of itself, has a consistent and robust negative effect on the likelihood of conflict or escalation in a dyad; (2) both the normative and structural models are supported by the data; and (3) support for the normative model is more robust and consistent.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                applab
                American Political Science Review
                Am Polit Sci Rev
                Cambridge University Press (CUP)
                0003-0554
                1537-5943
                May 2012
                May 2012
                : 106
                : 02
                : 326-347
                Article
                10.1017/S0003055412000111
                60d20ab2-8ab2-4321-85cb-edf1831b181d
                © 2012
                History

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