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Horowitz, Simpson and Stam on the politics of wartime casualties

The current long-term deployment of American troops has led many to reconsider the capabilities of an all-volunteer force as well as democratic states’ ability to sustain high levels of military casualties over long time-periods. These debates are not new: military leaders and statesmen have long debated the relative merits of professional versus conscript armies. Academics and policy makers have long been concerned about the erosion of democratic resolve during wartime. We attempt to arbiter these debates by coupling a theory of property takings and domestic institutions with battlefield casualty data drawn from the population of interstate wars over the last 200 years. We find conscription, like other non-market based property takings, to be a wasteful means of mobilizing military manpower. Volunteer armies suffer far fewer casualties than their conscripted counterparts. We also find that this effect compounds when it interacts with regime type. Volunteer democratic armies suffer especially few casualties. And while liberal democratic states typically do not use their conscripts as cannon fodder throwing men against fire in desperate efforts to win, we also find that democratic societies are willing to bear the costs of large scale commitments to maintaining state sovereignty and survival when targeted by authoritarian states, at times even in the face of certain defeat. These findings bring strong statistical evidence to bear on the debates surrounding regime type, military manpower, and state resolve.

Michael Horowitz, Erin Simpson and Allen Stam, “Domestic Institutions and Wartime Casualties,” unpublished paper. Available here.

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