Leader Incentives and Civil War Outcomes

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This article examines the influence that rebel and state leaders have on civil war outcomes, arguing that incentives to avoid punishment influence their strategic decision making during war.  Leaders in civil war face punishment from two sources: internal audiences and opponents. I hypothesize that leaders who bear responsibility for involvement in the war have a higher expectation of punishment from both sources following unfavorable war performance, and thus, have incentives to continue the fight in the hope of turning the tide and avoiding the negative consequences of defeat. These incentives, in turn, make leaders who bear responsibility more likely to fight to an extreme outcome and less likely to make concessions to end the war.  These propositions are tested on an original data set identifying all rebel and state leaders in all civil conflict dyads ongoing between 1980 and 2011.  Results support the hypothesized relationships between leader responsibility and war outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-84
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Civil War
  • Leaders
  • War Outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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