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How Prior Military Experience Influences the Future Militarized Behavior of Leaders


Policy-makers and the electorate assume political executives' life experiences affect their policy choices once in office. Recent international relations work on leaders focuses almost entirely on how political institutions shape leaders' choices rather than on leaders' personal attributes and how they influence policy choices. This article focuses the analytic lens on leaders and their personal backgrounds. We theorize that the prior military background of a leader is an important life experience with direct relevance for how leaders evaluate the utility of using military force. We test several propositions employing a new data set, building on Archigos, that encompasses the life background characteristics of more than 2,500 heads of state from 1875 to 2004. The results show that the leaders most likely to initiate militarized disputes and wars are those with prior military service but no combat experience, as well as former rebels.

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