a1 Cornell University
How do domestic institutions affect autocratic leaders’ decisions to initiate military conflicts? Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I argue that institutions in some kinds of dictatorships allow regime insiders to hold leaders accountable for their foreign policy decisions. However, the preferences and perceptions of these autocratic domestic audiences vary, with domestic audiences in civilian regimes being more skeptical of using military force than the military officers who form the core constituency in military juntas. In personalist regimes in which there is no effective domestic audience, no predictable mechanism exists for restraining or removing overly belligerent leaders, and leaders tend to be selected for personal characteristics that make them more likely to use military force. I combine these arguments to generate a series of hypotheses about the conflict behavior of autocracies and test the hypotheses using new measures of authoritarian regime type. The findings indicate that, despite the conventional focus on differences between democracies and nondemocracies, substantial variation in conflict initiation occurs among authoritarian regimes. Moreover, civilian regimes with powerful elite audiences are no more belligerent overall than democracies. The result is a deeper understanding of the conflict behavior of autocracies, with important implications for scholars as well as policy makers.
The author thanks Daniel Blake, Katrina Browne, Eduardo Bruera, Dave Clark, Dara Kay Cohen, Jeff Colgan, Allan Dafoe, Alexandre Debs, Kendra Dupuy, Matthew Evangelista, James Fearon, Hein Goemans, Michael Horowitz, Peter Katzenstein, Jonathan Kirshner, Sarah Kreps, Ashley Leeds, Margaret Levy, Andrew Moravscik, Cliff Morgan, David Patel, Thomas Pepinsky, Michael Reese, Scott Sagan, Jacob Shapiro, Kenneth Schultz, Michael Tomz, Christopher Way, Joseph Wright, Keren Yarhi-Milo, Pablo Yanguas, and participants in workshops and seminars at Cornell University, the Elliot School at George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, and the University of Washington for helpful feedback at various stages of this project. The author also thanks Barbara Geddes for sharing data.