When Leaders Matter: Rebel Experience and Nuclear Proliferation Academic Article uri icon


  • 2015 by the Southern Political Science Association. All rights reserved. This article contributes to a growing literature on leaders in international politics by explaining why and how the background experiences of leaders influence nuclear proliferation. Given nuclear weapons' crucial role in world politics, examining the importance of leaders for nuclear proliferation represents a key development in research on leaders. We argue that leaders with a particular experience - participation in a rebellion against the state - are more likely than their nonrebel counterparts to pursue nuclear weapons. Former rebels are aware of the contingency of their rule and more likely to value weapons that could bolster national independence. Drawing on a new dataset on leader participation in rebel activities, we analyze 1,342 leaders in office from 1945 to 2000. The results strongly support our theory, even when accounting for leader selection. Our findings underscore the value in using leaders - not just states - as a unit of analysis in international relations research.

published proceedings

  • The Journal of Politics

altmetric score

  • 25.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Fuhrmann, M., & Horowitz, M. C.

citation count

  • 68

complete list of authors

  • Fuhrmann, Matthew||Horowitz, Michael C

publication date

  • January 2015