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Regime Type, the Fate of Leaders, and War

  • ALEXANDRE DEBS (a1) and H.E. GOEMANS (a2)

We propose and test a formal model of war and domestic politics, building on recent evidence on the relationship between regime type, the effect of war on the probability of losing office, and the consequences of losing office. The less the outcome of international interaction affects a leader's tenure and the less punitive are the consequences of losing office, the more a leader is willing to make concessions to strike a peaceful bargain. We demonstrate that our theory successfully predicts war involvement among nondemocratic regime types. Moreover, our theory offers an intuitive explanation for the democratic peace. Compared to nondemocratic leaders, the tenure of democratic leaders depends relatively little on the war outcome, and democratic leaders fare relatively well after losing office. Thus, democratic leaders should be more willing and able to avoid war, especially with other democrats.

Corresponding author
Alexandre Debs is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Yale University, Rosenkranz Hall, Room 311, PO Box 208301, New Haven, CT 06520-8301 (
H.E. Goemans is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester, 320 Harkness Hall, Rochester, NY 14627 (
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American Political Science Review
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