Bringing War Back in: Victory and State Formation in Latin America

Author: Schenoni, Luis


Scholars have often dismissed the effect of war on state formation in regions like Latin America, where mobilization for war is deemed insufficiently intense and international conflict fails to out‐select weaker states.

Against this conventional wisdom, I contend that wars can affect state‐building trajectories in a postwar period through the different state institutions that result from victory and defeat. After reconsidering the role of war outcomes in classical bellicist theory, I use difference‐in‐differences analysis to identify the effect of losing vis‐à‐vis winning a war on levels of state capacity in a panel of Latin America (1865–1913). I then illustrate my causal mechanisms in case studies of the Paraguayan War (1864–1870) and the War of the Pacific (1879–1883) and apply the synthetic control method to these cases. Although out‐selection of losers obscures the effect of war outcomes in European history, Latin America illuminates their long‐term consequences.

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This article summarizes the arguments of the author's Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Notre Dame (2020). It benefited from two generous grants by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and presentations at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association and the Latin American Studies Association. In the latter it received the Best Paper Award by the Political Institutions (LAPIS) Section.

Earlier drafts were also presented at the Buffet Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern University, the Latin American Centre at Oxford University, the Instituto de Iberoamérica at University of Salamanca, and political science departments at the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil), Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil), the Monterrey Institute of Technology (Mexico), the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (Mexico), and Torcuato Di Tella University (Argentina).

The author thanks Miguel Centeno, Micheal Desch, David Doyle, Agustin Ferraro, Carlos Gervasoni, Gary Goertz, Ezequiel Gonzalez Ocantos, Jeffrey Harden, Victoria Hui, Raúl Madrid, James Mahoney, Scott Mainwaring, Victoria Paniagua, Aníbal Pérez Liñán, Luis Schiumerini, Jasmin Sierra, Matias Spektor, and Francisco Urdinez for key insights, as well as workshop and panel participants, four anonymous reviewers, and the editors, for their helpful feedback.