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Revolution, Personalist Dictatorships, and International Conflict

  • Jeff D. Colgan and Jessica L.P. Weeks
Abstract

A consensus exists that countries that have recently undergone domestic political revolutions are particularly likely to become involved in military conflicts with other states. However, scholars seek to understand when and why revolutions increase the likelihood of international violence. In contrast to existing work focusing on international systemic factors, we argue that revolution fosters conflict in part by affecting states’ domestic political structures. Previous research has shown that revolution tends to bring particularly aggressive leaders to power. We demonstrate that revolutions also frequently result in personalist dictatorships, or regimes that lack powerful institutions to constrain and punish leaders. By empowering and ensconcing leaders with revisionist preferences and high risk tolerance, revolutions that result in personalist dictatorships are significantly more likely to lead to international conflict than revolutions that culminate in other forms of government. Our arguments and evidence help explain not only why revolution so commonly leads to conflict, but also why some revolutions lead to conflict whereas others do not.

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The authors are grateful for feedback on earlier drafts from panel participants at the 2010 APSA annual meeting, the 2011 Peace Science Society meeting, and the 2012 ISA meeting. We also thank Michael Horowitz, Michael McKoy, Cliff Morgan, Dustin Tingley, Silvana Toska, Nicole Weygandt, and our anonymous reviewers for invaluable feedback. Finally, we appreciate the excellent research assistance of Joud Fariz and Kira Mochal. All errors remain our own.

Editor's note: This manuscript was evaluated by the previous editorial team based at the University of Toronto.

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