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"Leadership Experience and American Foreign Policy Crises"

Discussion Paper 2007-01, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

January 2007

Author: Philip Potter, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2006-2008

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security



This paper demonstrates that the probability of an international crisis involving the United States declines significantly as a presidential administration gains experience in office. This finding invalidates three widely held theories about the relationship between the American democratic cycle and foreign policy: first, that there might be a “honeymoon period” immediately following election in which new presidents are unlikely to become involved in foreign crises; second, that presidents might systematically use the “rally round the flag” effect to bolster their electoral prospects; and third, more generally, that fluctuations in the propensity to become involved in foreign policy crises might be primarily tied to the democratic constraints of the electoral cycle. This finding also contrasts recent work that suggests that, at a global level of analysis, leadership experience does not significantly influence the likelihood of a militarized interstate dispute, though leader age does. The differing conclusions are the result of competing operationalizations of conflict, suggesting that there are important practical distinctions between the concepts of “international crisis” and “militarized interstate dispute” that have been previously underappreciated.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Potter, Philip. "Leadership Experience and American Foreign Policy Crises." Discussion Paper 2007-01, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, January 2007.

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