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World Politics

Vol. 65, No. 4

October 2013

Domestic Revolutionary Leaders and International Conflict

By Jeff D. Colgan

There is a strong scholarly consensus that domestic revolutions create conditions ripe for international conflict. Traditionally scholars have treated revolutions as events, after which there is a period of time during which international conflict is more likely. Yet some states experience significant international conflict only during and in the immediate aftermath of a revolution, whereas other states continue to engage in conflict for many years and even decades afterward. This article seeks to explain the persistence of conflict for some but not all revolutionary states by differentiating the concept of revolutionary leaders from that of revolutions as events, both theoretically and empirically. The author shows that existing theories linking revolution to international conflict underemphasize an important mechanism through which revolution leads to conflict: by selecting conflict-prone leaders through the dynamics of revolutionary politics. He argues that revolutionary politics allow leaders with certain characteristics, including high risk tolerance and strong political ambition to alter the status quo, to obtain executive office because individuals without these characteristics generally do not succeed in leading revolutions. Having obtained power, revolutionary leaders have aggressive preferences that make their states more likely than nonrevolutionary states to instigate international conflict.

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