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Why Do Leaders Matter?: Exploring Leaders' Risk Propensities and Nuclear Proliferation


The purpose of this dissertation is to identify what motivates leaders to seek to possess nuclear weapons. I argue that individual leaders’ risk propensities are associated with their behaviors in regard to nuclear proliferation. To test my theory, I aim to create a new dataset of leaders’ risk propensities on approximately 1,700 leaders from 1945 to 2000. My risk propensity index draws on insights from psychology and business management, which suggest that leaders’ age, socioeconomic backgrounds, college major, military experience, and international experience contribute to his or her risk tolerance. I build on data from the Leader Experience and Attribute Descriptions (LEAD) dataset. I supplement this data with my own in-depth coding of the demographic backgrounds of leaders, including childhood wealth, college major, and international experience. I find that certain demographic characteristics of leaders that are used as proxies for examining their risk propensity significantly influence their risk-taking behaviors with respect to nuclear weapons pursuit. I conclude that leaders possessing relatively higher levels of risk propensity are more likely to pursue nuclear weapons than leaders with lower levels of risk propensity. These statistical results are further confirmed by more in-depth case studies on South Korea and India.

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