Misery as a Stepping Stone: How and why Armed Conflicts and Natural Disasters Accelerate Diplomats' Careers

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This paper formally derives and tests hypotheses on how exogenous events impact the career advancement of British diplomats. On the basis of a novel panel dataset spanning 40 years (1966-2005) of 342 British diplomats' career progression, it tests the prediction that incidents of unanticipated armed conflict outbreak and the occurrence of major natural disasters in diplomats' host countries should causally enhance their subsequent promotion chances. The results are affirmative, in particular for promotions to higher rank levels.

The paper goes on to differentiate between two mechanisms that could drive the positive link:

1) crises may 'reveal' the so far unknown ability of affected diplomats and, if diplomats are on average sufficiently able, the positive empirical relationship between crises and promotion obtains (the talent revelation mechanism).

2) crises may provide 'training' so that when dealing with conflicts or disasters diplomats gain experience that makes them promotable in the future (the experience mechanism).

When testing competing predictions derived from modeling these two mechanisms, the evidence from natural disasters clearly suggests that the experience effect drives the positive link. The results from analyzing armed conflict outbreak point in the same direction but they are not quite as unambiguous.


  • Dr. Klaus J. Brösamle

    Dr. Klaus J. Brösamle // Hertie School of Governance, Berlin


Junior Research Associate, Jun.-Prof. Dr. Susanne Steffes
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