Get access

Domestic Institutions and Wartime Casualties


  •  The authors thank the participants in Government 3005b at Harvard University and the anonymous referees for their advice and suggestions. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2006 International Studies Association Annual Meeting. All errors are the authors alone. Replication data are available at

  •  This could also theoretically be true of mercenaries.


Military leaders, policymakers, and academics have long debated the relative merits of volunteer versus conscript armies. They also have studied the possible effects of eroding resolve among mass publics in democratic states during wartime. In this paper, we use battlefield casualty data from the population of interstate wars to compare theories of property takings and domestic institutions. 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 interacted with regime type. Volunteer democratic armies suffer especially few casualties. Finally, we 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 in the face of certain defeat.

Get access to the full text of this article