Are Soldiers Less War-Prone Than Statesmen?

The dominant (though contested) wisdom among international relations scholars is that military officers tend to be more cautious than their civilian counterparts about initiating the use of force. Sobered by the experience of combat, the theory holds, soldiers are hesitant to recommend military action except under the most favorable of circumstances. It might be the case, however, that military conservatism is simply a product of strong civilian oversight. Indeed, scholars have suggested that military officers actually have powerful incentives to promote the use of force, but these predilections may be muted when civilian leaders can punish officers for botched military adventures. In this article, the author details a quantitative, competitive test of these propositions, showing that states with strong civilian control are on average less prone to initiate military action than states without it. The results suggest that civilian control should play a central role in future models of conflict initiation.