To Kill or to Protect: Military Strength, Domestic Institutions, and Genocide

Michael Colaresi & Sabine C. Carey. 2008. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 52(1): 39-67.


In this paper we investigate the relationship between military capabilities, executive constraints, and genocide. We suggest that military capabilities can serve two opposing purposes.First, military capabilities are necessary for a state to remain viable and provide both internal and external security to the public. Yet, simultaneously, military personnel can be deployed to repress, menace, and destroy segments of the public. In a country under threat, what conditions are likely to lead an executive to use the military for public protection rather than private-interest killing? Building on previous work relating domestic institutions to public goods provision we hypothesize that politically constrained executives are more likely to utilize the military for public benefits and stability while unconstrained and unaccountable leaders are more likely to use the military to stay in power. An analysis of state failures that lead to genocide robustly supports the idea that the effect of military personnel is conditional on institutional executive constraints. Our findings have both theoretical and practical implications for international and comparative politics.