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date: 13 June 2024

Territorial Threats and Military Dictatorshipslocked

Territorial Threats and Military Dictatorshipslocked

  • Nam Kyu KimNam Kyu KimDepartment of Political Science and International Relations, Korea University


Many scholars consider the military dictatorship a distinct authoritarian regime type, pointing to the singular patterns of domestic and international behaviors displayed by military regimes. Existing studies show that compared with civilian dictatorships, military dictatorships commit more human rights abuses, are more prone to civil war, and engage in more belligerent behaviors against other countries. Despite their coercive capacity, rulers of military dictatorships tend to have shorter tenures than rulers of non-military dictatorships. Additionally, military dictatorships more quickly and peacefully transition to democracy than their non-military counterparts and frequently negotiate their withdrawal from power.

Given the distinct natures of military dictatorships, research on military dictatorships and coups has resurged since 2000. A great body of new research utilizing new theories, data, and methods has added to the existing scholarship on military rule and coups, which saw considerable growth in the 1970s. Most studies tend to focus on domestic issues and pay relatively little attention to the relationship between international factors and military rule. However, a growing body of studies investigates how international factors, such as economic globalization, international military assistance, reactions from the international community, and external threat environments, affect military rule.

One particularly interesting research topics in this regard is the relationship between external territorial threats and military rule. Territorial issues are more salient to domestic societies than other issues, producing significant ramifications for domestic politics through militarization and state centralization. Militaries play a pivotal role in militarization and state centralization, both of which are by-products of external territorial threats. Thus, external territorial threats produce permissive structural conditions that not only prohibit democratization but also encourage military dictatorships to emerge and persist. Moreover, if territorial threats affect the presence of military dictatorships, they are more likely to affect collegial military rule, characterized by the rule of a military institution, rather than military strongman rule, characterized by the rule by a military personalist dictator. This is because territorial threats make the military more internally unified and cohesive, which helps the military rule as an institution.

Existing studies provide a fair amount of empirical evidence consistent with this claim. External territorial threats are found to increase the likelihood of military regimes, particularly collegial military regimes, as well as the likelihood of military coups. The same is not true of non-territorial threats. This indicates that the type of external threat, rather than the mere presence of an external threat, matters.


  • Contentious Politics and Political Violence
  • Governance/Political Change
  • World Politics

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