Emergency Powers in Democracies and International Conflict

Scholars argue that institutions in democracies constrain leaders and prevent international conflict. However, many democracies specify rules of governance in times of emergency that divert substantial power to the head of state. The manipulation of these “emergency powers” provides a rational motivation for conflict. Using a novel dataset of emergency provisions within democracies, I test the relationship between emergency power strength and conflict propensity using several steps to achieve causal inference, including an instrumental variable analysis that exploits the specificity of the state’s constitution as a plausibly exogenous determinant of emergency power strength. I find that emergency power strength is a strong predictor of conflict onset in democracies in each test, and find that states with strong emergency powers are substantially more likely to enact a state of emergency due to an international conflict. I conclude with a discussion of my findings and avenues of future research using these data.

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The Content, Causes, and Measurement of Emergency Powers in Democratic States

This article discusses the content and causes of emergency powers in democratic states. It makes two main contributions. First, it introduces the Democratic Emergency Powers (DEP) Dataset, which codifies formal rules of institutional change during periods of emergency for all democracies from 1800 to 2012. These data are important because often state institutions in times of emergency differ dramatically from those in times of relative calm, and this influences government decision-making during times of crisis. I discuss the collection process and develop a measure of the latent strength in each of these emergency provisions. I compare the results with Polity scores, and find virtually no relationship. Second, this article examines the determinants of emergency power strength in democratic nations cross nationally. I find that previous and current conflict experience influence emergency power provision and strength, but also that domestic determinants have an impact on the types of instruments states institutionalize for times of emergency.

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Terror Attacks, States of Emergency, and Executive Discretion in Democratic States

Scholars frequently suggest that institutional constraints on the executive are necessary to prevent overly repressive executive actions that spur on further terrorist violence. However, few studies consider why an unconstrained executive might prefer to take such counterproductive action. Following recent work by Dragu & Polborn (2014), I suggest electoral incentives shape the leader’s choices for how best to conduct counter-terror activity. I draw on experimental work regarding on individual response to terror to provide additional nuance to this theory, arguing that the public demands counterproductively harsh reprisals for terror attacks that arise from an out-group but that terror events that arise from the in-group do not inspire such a response. I then test this argument empirically, using the nation of origin of the attacker to proxy for their social identity, and exploiting a new data set on emergency power strength and declared states of emergency to capture within-country variation — in addition to between country variation — in executive constraints in democracies. I find that when circumstances remove standard institutional constraints on the leader, the leader takes overly harsh counter terror measures that inspire further violence in the case of transnational terror but not domestic terror. This paper greatly advances our understanding of the role of both democratic constraints and public preferences in driving or preventing terrorist violence.

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The Haves and the Have Nots: Sources of Leader Support and Interstate Rivalry

In this paper I argue that segments of the selectorate differentially experience costs and benefits from rivalry and that the foreign policy choices of leaders reflect these domestic preferences. As a result, shifts in the composition of the domestic coalition of support backing the leader provide a fundamental determinant of rivalry termination. While previous scholars sought to explore the relationship between domestic political turnover and rivalry termination using regime transitions as a proxy for turnover of the state’s domestic ruling group, in practice this measure exhibits significant disconnect with the quantity of interest. Further, there are alternative pathways through which regime transitions may lead to rivalry termination. I test the relationship using new data from the CHISOLS project (Mattes, Leeds & Matsumura Forthcoming), finding that when rivals undergo a change in the source of support that maintains the leader in office, the probability of rivalry termination rises dramatically.

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Domestic Uncertainty, Third-Party Resolve, and International Conflict (with Matthew DiLorenzo) Forthcoming, Journal of Peace Research

Uncertainty about resolve is a well-established rationalist explanation for war. In addition to estimating the resolve of immediate rivals, leaders choose their actions in a crisis based on expectations about how third parties will respond. We argue that leaders will become more likely to develop inconsistent estimates of rivals’ relative capabilities and resolve — and thus will become more likely to fight — when domestic political changes occur in states that are allied with an opponent. We also consider how the relationship between conflict in rivalries and third party domestic change depends on domestic political institutions in the third party. We argue that this effect should only hold when a challenger does not also share an alliance with the third party, and that the effect should be strongest when the third party is a non-democratic state. We test our theory using a dataset of changes in leaders’ domestic supporting coalitions and data on militarized interstate disputes from 1920 to 2001. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that the likelihood of conflict increases in rivalries only when domestic coalition changes occur in states that share an alliance with only one member of a rivalry occur, and that this effect is strongest and most consistent for non-democratic third parties.

Arms Transfers, Alliances, and International Conflict (with Matthew DiLorenzo)

A number of studies consider how arms transfers affect the likelihood of international conflict. In this paper we build on existing research by further elaborating the conditions under which arms transfers may be associated with conflict. We argue that uncertainty associated with arms transfers may increase the risk of bargaining failure, but that the nature of the relationship between a set of rivals and a third-party arms supplier conditions the relationship between arms transfers and international conflict. Arms transfers send an unclear signal about the ally’s intentions when seen a substitute for intervention. However, when arms are transferred from a third-party that shares an alliance commitment with both states engaged in crisis bargaining, this uncertainty is mitigated because information is shared between all three parties, helping to clarify the likelihood of intervention. We test this theory using data on alliances, arms transfers, and rivalries. We find that while arms transfers from allies of only one of the rivals increases the probability of a military dispute, when an ally of both rivals sends arms to one side it does not increase the likelihood of conflict.

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Vote Buying by the United States in the United Nations (with Dan Alexander)

A compelling body of scholarship has established a consistent link between a state’s election to a rotating membership on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and increases in the foreign aid that the state receives, especially from the United States (Kuziemko & Werker 2006, Vreeland & Dreher 2014). Unable to directly link payments to votes, this literature leaves open the question of whether increases in foreign aid truly result from US attempts to buy support from rotating members on resolutions coming before the UNSC. This project takes a step towards demonstrating the US’s strategy in deploying foreign aid to temporary UNSC members. It does so by generating testable hypotheses based on theories of vote buying about the relationship of relative ideological proximity to the US and foreign aid received from the US. We leverage natural variation in relative ideological proximity to the US resulting from the rotating structure of non-permanent members on the UNSC. The robust, causal relationship we uncover is consistent with the predictions from vote buying theories, lending strong support to the notion that the US deploys aid to UNSC members strategically to buy votes.

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