Are Western-Educated Leaders Less Prone to Initiate Militarized Disputes?

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Recent theories on the causes of war focus on how institutional and structural factors shape leaders' decisions in foreign policy. However, citizens, policy-makers, and a growing number scholars argue that leaders' background experiences may matter for both domestic and foreign policy choices. This article contributes to an emerging body of scholarship on leaders in international relations by showing how personal attributes influence the initiation of militarized disputes. Based on the soft power theory of international experiences and the impressionable-years hypothesis of socialization, I theorize that leaders with the experience of attending a university in a Western democratic country should be less likely than non-Western-educated leaders to initiate militarized interstate disputes. I test this proposition by employing a new dataset, building on Archigos and LEAD, that includes background attributes of more than 900 leaders from 147 non-Western countries between 1947 and 2001. The results strongly support the hypothesis, even when accounting for leader selection, time-variant country and leader-level controls, other leaders' background characteristics, and country and year fixed effects. This finding lends credence to the soft power thesis of academic institutions on international sojourners, and highlights the value of considering leaders' experiences in analyses about international relations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)535-566
Number of pages32
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • education
  • militarized disputes
  • political leaders
  • socialization
  • war

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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