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date: 03 March 2021

The Consequences of Military Rule: Juntas Versus Strongmenlocked

  • Barbara GeddesBarbara GeddesDepartment of Political Science, University of California Los Angeles

Summary

During the 20th century, seizures of power led by military officers became the most common means of imposing new dictatorships. The consequences of military rule have varied, however, depending on how widely power has been shared within the military-led government. Most military-led dictatorships begin as relatively collegial, but the dictator’s position in collegial military regimes is inherently unstable. His closest collaborators command troops and weapons with which they could, if they are dissatisfied with his policy choices, oust him without ending the regime. This vulnerability to ouster by close allies both constrains the dictator to consult with other officers in order to keep them satisfied and gives him reasons to try to protect himself from coup plots. Common means of protection include taking personal control of the internal security police, in order to spy on officers as well as civilian opponents, and creating paramilitary forces recruited from personal loyalists. Dictators build new paramilitary forces to defend themselves from attempted coups staged by the regular army. A military dictator who can withstand coup attempts need not consult with other officers and can concentrate great power in his hands.

Military dictators who have to share power with other high-ranking officers (juntas) behave differently than military rulers who have concentrated power in their own hands (strongmen). These differences affect the well-being of citizens, the belligerence of international policy, the likelihood of regime collapse, how military rule ends when it finally does, and whether it is followed by democracy or a new dictatorship. In comparison to junta rule, strongman rule tends to result in erratic economic decision-making and high rates of corruption. Strongmen also behave more aggressively toward their neighbors than do juntas. Nevertheless, regimes led by strongmen last longer, on average, than do juntas. When faced with widespread opposition, juntas tend to negotiate a return to the barracks, while strongmen often must be overthrown by force. Negotiated transitions tend to end in democratization, but forced regime ousters often result in new dictatorships.

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