Led Astray: Leaders and the Duration of Civil War

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article examines the impact that rebel and state leaders have on civil war duration. It argues that leaders’ incentives to avoid punishment at the hands of internal audiences and opponents influence their strategic decision-making during war. Specifically, leaders who bear responsibility for involvement in the war have a higher expectation of punishment should they perform poorly, particularly for rebel and high-risk state leaders. As a result, these leaders have incentives to gamble for resurrection, extending ongoing wars in the hope of turning the tide and avoiding punishment. This suggests that civil wars are less likely to end when responsible leaders hold power, especially if the responsible leader is highly vulnerable to punishment. These propositions are tested using original data on all rebel and state leaders involved in civil conflicts between 1980 and 2011. Results support the hypothesized relationship between leader responsibility and war duration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1179-1204
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • civil wars
  • conflict
  • conflict resolution
  • political leadership
  • political survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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