Skip to main content

Revolution, Personalist Dictatorships, and International Conflict

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

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.

Hide All

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.

Hide All
Barnett, Michael, and Finnemore, Martha. 2004. Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Beck, Nathaniel, Katz, Jonathan N., and Tucker, Richard. 1998. Taking Time Seriously: Time-Series-Cross-Section Analysis with a Binary Dependent Variable. American Journal of Political Science 42 (4):1260–88.
Bennett, D. Scott. 1998. Integrating and Testing Models of Rivalry Duration. American Journal of Political Science 42 (4):1200–32.
Bennett, D. Scott, and Stam, Allan. 2003. The Behavioral Origins of War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Bratton, Michael, and Van de Walle, Nicolas. 1997. Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Byman, Daniel L., and Pollack, Kenneth M.. 2001. Let Us Now Praise Great Men: Bringing the Statesman Back In. International Security 25 (4):107–46.
Carpenter, R. Charli. 2007. Studying Issue (Non)-Adoption in Transnational Networks. International Organization 61 (3):643–67.
Carter, David B., and Signorino, Curtis S.. 2010. Back to the Future: Modeling Time Dependence in Binary Data. Political Analysis 18 (3):271–92.
Carter, Jeff, Bernhard, Michael, and Palmer, Glenn. 2012. Social Revolution, the State, and War: How Revolutions Affect War-Making Capacity and Interstate War Outcomes. Journal of Conflict Resolution 56 (3):439–66.
Checkel, Jeffrey T., ed. 2013. Transnational Dynamics of Civil War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Chiozza, Giacomo, and Goemans, H.E.. 2011. Leaders and International Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Colgan, Jeff D. 2011. Oil and Resource-Backed Aggression. Energy Policy 39:1669–76.
Colgan, Jeff D. 2012. Measuring Revolution. Conflict Management and Peace Science 29 (4):444–67.
Colgan, Jeff D. 2013a. Domestic Revolutionary Leaders and International Conflict. World Politics 65 (4):656–90.
Colgan, Jeff D. 2013b. Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Enterline, Andrew J. 1998. Regime Changes and Interstate Conflict, 1816–1992. Political Research Quarterly 51 (2):385409.
Fearon, James D. 1995. Rationalist Explanations for War. International Organization 49 (3):379414.
Frantz, Erica. 2008. Tying the Dictator's Hands: Elite Coalitions in Authoritarian Regimes. PhD diss., University of California Los Angeles.
Geddes, Barbara. 2003. Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Geddes, Barbara, Wright, Joseph, and Frantz, Erica. 2011. Global Political Regimes Data Set. Available at <>. Accessed 22 November 2011.
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2002. Expanded Trade and GDP Data. Journal of Conflict Resolution 46 (5):712–24.
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Ward, Michael D.. 2006. Diffusion and the International Context of Democratization. International Organization 60 (4):911–33.
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, Idean Salehyan, and Schultz, Kenneth. 2008. Fighting at Home, Fighting Abroad: How Civil Wars Lead to International Disputes. Journal of Conflict Resolution 52 (4):479506.
Gleditsch, Nils Petter, Peter Wallensteen, Mikael Eriksson, Margareta Sollenberg, and Strand, Håvard. 2002. Armed Conflict 1946–2001: A New Dataset. Journal of Peace Research 39 (5):615–37.
Goemans, Henk E., Skrede Gleditsch, Kristian, and Chiozza, Giacomo. 2009. Introducing Archigos: A Data Set of Political Leaders. Journal of Peace Research 46 (2):269–83.
Goldgeier, James M., and Tetlock, Philip E.. 2001. Psychology and International Relations Theory. Annual Review of Political Science 4:6792.
Goldstone, Jack A. 1997. Revolution, War, and Security. Security Studies 6 (2):127–51.
Goodwin, Jeff. 2001. No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945–1991. 1st ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gowa, Joanne S. 2000. Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gurr, Ted R. 1970. Why Men Rebel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gurr, Ted R. 1988. War, Revolution, and the Growth of the Coercive State. Comparative Political Studies 21 (1):4565.
Hafner-Burton, Emilie. 2013. Making Human Rights a Reality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hegre, Håvard. 2000. Development and the Liberal Peace: What Does It Take to Be a Trading State? Journal of Peace Research 37 (1):530.
Horowitz, Michael C., and Stam, Allan C.. 2014. How Prior Military Experience Influences The Future Militarized Behavior of Leaders. Working paper. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Huntington, Samuel P. 1968. Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Hyde, Susan D. 2011. The Pseudo-Democrat's Dilemma: Why Election Observation Became an International Norm. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Jenne, Erin, and Mylonas, Harris. 2012. Taking Sides in Revolutionary Times: Explaining Major Power Interventions in Regime Conflicts. Paper prepared for the 108th annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, August, New Orleans, LA.
Jones, Daniel M., Bremer, Stuart A., and Singer, J. David. 1996. Militarized Interstate Disputes, 1816–1992: Rationale, Coding Rules, and Empirical Patterns. Conflict Management and Peace Science 15 (2):163213.
Klein, James P., Goertz, Gary, and Diehl, Paul F.. 2006. The New Rivalry Dataset: Procedures and Patterns. Journal of Peace Research 43 (3):331–48.
Lai, Brian, and Slater, Dan. 2006. Institutions of the Offensive: Domestic Sources of Dispute Initiation in Authoritarian Regimes, 1950–1992. American Journal of Political Science 50 (1):113–26.
Lebovic, James H., and Voeten, Erik. 2009. The Cost of Shame: International Organizations and Foreign Aid in the Punishing of Human Rights Violators. Journal of Peace Research, 46 (1):7997.
Long, J. Scott. 1997. Regression Models for Categorical and Limited Dependent Variables. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule. Comparative Political Studies 41 (4/5):715–41.
Mansfield, Edward D., and Snyder, Jack L.. 2005. Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Maoz, Zeev. 1996. Domestic Sources of Global Change. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Maoz, Zeev. 2005. Dyadic Militarized Interstate Disputes Dataset Version 2.0. Available at <>. Accessed 16 November 2012.
Masterson, Daniel M. 1991. Militarism and Politics in Latin America: Peru from Sánchez Cerro to Sendero Luminoso. New York: Greenwood Press.
Morgan, T. Clifton, and Campbell, Sally Howard. 1991. Domestic Structure, Decisional Constraints, and War: So Why Kant Democracies Fight? Journal of Conflict Resolution 35(2):187211.
McDermott, Rose. 2004. Political Psychology in International Relations. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press.
Most, Benjamin A., and Starr, Harvey. 1989. Inquiry, Logic, and International Politics. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
Oneal, John R., Russett, Bruce M., and Berbaum, Michael L.. 2003. Causes of Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations, 1885–1992. International Studies Quarterly 47 (3):371–93.
Oneal, John R., and Tir, Jaroslav. 2006. Does the Diversionary Use of Force Threaten the Democratic Peace? Assessing the Effect of Economic Growth on Interstate Conflict, 1921–2001. International Studies Quarterly 50 (4):755–79.
Reiter, Dan, and Stam, Allan C.. 2002. Democracies at War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Russett, Bruce M., and Oneal, John R.. 2001. Triangulating Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations. New York: Norton.
Salehyan, Idean. 2009. Rebels Without Borders: Transnational Insurgencies in World Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Saunders, Elizabeth N. 2011. Leaders at War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Schultz, Kenneth A. 2001. Democracy and Coercive Diplomacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Sikkink, Kathryn. 2011. The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics. New York: Norton.
Simmons, Beth A. 2009. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Skocpol, Theda. 1979. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Skocpol, Theda. 1988. Social Revolutions and Mass Military Mobilization. World Politics 40(2):147–68.
Slantchev, Branislav L. 2003. The Principle of Convergence in Wartime Negotiations. American Political Science Review 97 (4):621–32.
Steinberg, David, and Malhotra, Krishan. 2014. The Effect of Authoritarian Regime Type on Exchange Rate Policy. World Politics. 66(3): 491529.
Stinnett, Douglas M., and Diehl, Paul F.. 2001. The Path(s) to Rivalry: Behavioral and Structural Explanations of Rivalry Development. Journal of Politics 63 (3):717–40.
Stinnett, Douglas M., Tir, Jaroslav, Schafer, Philip, Diehl, Paul F., Schafer, Philip, and Gochman, Charles. 2002. The Correlates of War (COW) Project Direct Contiguity Data, Version 3.0. Conflict Management and Peace Science 19 (2):5967.
Svolik, Milan W. 2009. Power Sharing and Leadership Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes. American Journal of Political Science 53 (2):477–94.
Tomz, Michael, Wittenberg, Jason, and King, Gary. 2003. CLARIFY: Software for Interpreting and Presenting Statistical Results. Journal of Statistical Software 8 (1):130.
Walt, Stephen M. 1996. Revolution and War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Walter, Barbara F. 2009. Reputation and Civil War: Why Separatist Conflicts Are So Violent. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Weeks, Jessica L. 2008. Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve. International Organization 62 (1):3564.
Weeks, Jessica L. 2012. Strongmen and Straw Men: Authoritarian Regimes and the Initiation of International Conflict. American Political Science Review 106 (2):326–47.
Weeks, Jessica L. 2014. Dictators at War and Peace. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary data

Colgan and Weeks replication data
Colgan/Weeks replication

Supplementary data

Colgan and Weeks supplementary material
Supplementary Appendix and data

 Unknown (167.4 MB)
167.4 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed