International Organization

Research Article

Oil and Revolutionary Governments: Fuel for International Conflict

Jeff D. Colgana1

a1 School of International Service of American University. E-mail:


Oil-exporting states, or petrostates, engage in militarized interstate disputes (MIDs) at a much higher rate on average than nonpetrostates. Why is this so? Further, what explains the variation among the petrostates in adopting aggressive foreign policies and engaging in MIDs on that basis? This article develops a theory that proposes that revolutionary petrostates have a higher propensity to launch MIDs than comparable nonpetrostates. This theory is tested with statistical analysis using a new quantitative data set that identifies revolutionary governments in the period 1945–2001. The results show that petro-revolutionary governments constitute a special threat to international peace and security. This evidence of resource-backed aggression challenges the conventional view of petrostates as the targets of international competition for resources.

Jeff D. Colgan wrote this article as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University and is now Assistant Professor at the School of International Service of American University. E-mail:


Thanks are owed to Robert Keohane, Thomas Christensen, Christina Davis, and Jennifer Widner, as well as to Marc Busch, Sarah Bush, Sarah Bermeo, Joanne Gowa, Jessica Green, Michael McKoy, Michael Miller, Ed Rhodes, Jordan Tama, and participants of the 2008 IPES, 2009 ISA, 2009 MPSA, and 2009 APSA conferences, as well as the Princeton graduate IR seminar and the Georgetown faculty trade group for comments on earlier drafts of this article. Financial support from the Bradley Foundation, the Niehaus Center for Global Governance, the Woodrow Wilson School, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is gratefully acknowledged.