This article investigates how shocks to state capabilities are related to the probability of civil war. Drawing on Powell (2004, 2006), shocks are conceptualized as shifts in the domestic distribution of power that can lead to bargaining breakdown and, consequently, violent conflict. Following a shock to the state’s capabilities, the leadership has incentives to grant concessions to other groups within the state, yet such promises are not credible given that the leadership may regain its strength. Similarly, opposition groups cannot make credible commitments as they expect to be more powerful in the future. Unable to commit, both actors may use force to achieve their preferred outcome. The study then analyzes how the institutional structure of the state’s leadership and opposition groups influences actors’ credibility during this bargaining process. Statistical analysis of all leaders for the 1960–2004 time period shows that shocks such as economic recession, war defeat, and changes in the international balance of power increase the risk of civil war as expected. Moreover, results confirm that the relationship between shocks and civil war is mediated by leadership type and the cohesiveness of opposition groups.
This article addresses the effect of political instability and domestic conflict on the probability of militarized interstate disputes. Existing research on the subject has produced inconsistent findings. I hypothesize that the effect of political instability on international disputes is conditional on states’ involvement in civil conflict. More specifically, I argue that while political instability provides leaders with the willingness to use force, civil war creates the necessary opportunities for initiating conflict abroad. A directed-dyad analysis of international rivals for the 1816–2000 time period shows that instability coupled with civil war increases the probability of militarized interstate dispute initiation among rival states. Results are consistent for alternative indicators of political instability and civil war.