Leaders, Uncertainty, and War


With Brad Smith

Abstract: How do new leaders impact crisis negotiations? We argue that opposing states know less about such a leader’s resolve over the issues at stake. To fully appreciate the consequences, we develop a multi-period bargaining model of negotiations. In equilibrium, as a proposer becomes close to certain of its opponent’s type, the duration and intensity of war goes to 0. We then test whether increases to leader tenure decrease the duration of Militarized Interstate Disputes. Our estimates indicate that crises involving new leaders are 25.3% more likely to last one month than crises involving leaders with four years of tenure. Moreover, such conflicts are more likely to result in greater fatalities. These results further indicate that leader tenure is a useful proxy for uncertainty.

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