Leader Incentives and the Termination of Civil War

Thumbnail Image
Publication or External Link
Prorok, Alyssa
Huth, Paul
This dissertation examines the influence of leaders' incentives on civil conflict termination and outcome. Building upon principal-agent framework and insights from credible commitment theories of civil war, I argue that culpable leaders - those viewed as responsible for the war by their constituencies and opponents - are more likely to be punished following poor war performance than non-culpable leaders, who can more easily avoid responsibility for the war. As a result, culpable leaders will have incentives to `gamble for resurrection', extending a losing war in the hope of turning the tide, achieving victory, and avoiding punishment. The culpable leader's incentive to gamble for resurrection thus influences the dynamics of war termination, making wars less likely to end when culpable leaders are in power. Culpability is also hypothesized to increase the likelihood of extreme war outcomes - total defeat or major victory - and to decrease the likelihood that the leader makes concessions to end the war. These propositions are tested using both quantitative and qualitative evidence. First, using an original dataset of rebel and state leaders of a global random sample of civil wars between 1980 and 2010, I test the influence of leader culpability on civil war termination and outcome. The results provide strong support for my theoretical expectations; culpability decreases the likelihood of conflict termination and concessions, while increasing the likelihood of extreme war outcomes. Additionally, I test the mechanism underlying the theoretical argument using quantitative and qualitative evidence. Original data on each leader's culpability, war performance, and post-tenure fate demonstrate that culpable leaders are, in fact, more likely to be punished following poor war performance than their non-culpable counterparts. Within-case comparative analysis of settlement attempts during the civil war in Angola provides additional support for the theoretical argument, demonstrating that leader vulnerability to punishment played a critical role in undermining settlement attempts in Angola during the 1980s and 1990s.