Emergency Powers in Democratic States and the Outbreak of Conflict
Rooney, Bryan Andrew
Scholars argue that institutions in democracies constrain leaders and prevent violent conflict. However, many democracies specify rules of governance in times of emergency that divert substantial power to the head of state. The existence of emergency powers creates incentives for political leaders to invite crises where they can declare emergencies to gain access to these powers. Further, such unconstrained leaders may inspire future violence in response to their actions. I collect original data on emergency provisions, examining 147 state constitutions, over 500 amendments, and numerous legislative acts in all democratic states from 1816 to the present and explore the origins of these provisions. Using this novel dataset of emergency provisions within democracies, I examine the relationship between emergency power strength and international conflict. I perform several tests to avoid endogeneity. I exploit the specificity of the state’s constitution as a plausibly exogenous determinant of emergency power strength in an instrumental variable analysis. Under this more stringent test for causality, I find that clear evidence that emergency powers create incentives for political leaders to foment conflict. I then examine the impact of executive discretion through the use of these powers on the likelihood of terror attacks. I find that enhanced executive discretion helps states battle domestic terror but encourages overreaction that increases transnational terror attacks, owing to disparate responses from the public. An unforeseen consequence of allowing democratic leaders enhanced power to navigate external conflicts is an increased propensity for conflict, and institutional rules designed to preserve the democratic order may in fact undermine it.