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Responsibility and the Diversionary Use of Force1


  • Jesse C. Johnson
  • Tiffany D. Barnes


Do state leaders use force abroad to divert supporters’ attention from domestic economic problems? Many studies in international relations attempt to provide an answer to this question but the empirical findings are inconsistent. In this article we argue that it is necessary to consider variations in supporters’ perceptions of leaders’ control of the economy to understand leaders’ incentives to engage in the diversionary use of force. Leaders that are perceived to have high levels of responsibility for the economy will be more likely to use force abroad in the presence of domestic economic problems than leaders that are perceived to have lower levels of responsibility. When leaders are not perceived to have high levels of responsibility they do not have an incentive to use force abroad in the presence of domestic economic problems because the economic problems will not affect the probability that they will retain power. A directed dyad analysis of conflict initiation from 1950 to 1998 supports this hypothesis. This study improves our understanding of patterns of international conflict and, more specifically, the diversionary use of force, by demonstrating the contexts in which diversionary incentives will be strongest.

Suggested Citation

  • Jesse C. Johnson & Tiffany D. Barnes, 2011. "Responsibility and the Diversionary Use of Force1," Conflict Management and Peace Science, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 28(5), pages 478-496, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:compsc:v:28:y:2011:i:5:p:478-496

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