Dictatorships have dominated global politics for hundreds of years, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the absolute monarchs of Europe. Though democracy has since spread to much of the world, about a third of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared to democracies, we know very little about how dictatorships work, who the key political actors are, and where decision-making powers lie. Political processes are opaque, and information is often intentionally distorted. Political survival depends not on maintaining the favor of voters, as in democracies, but on securing the backing of a considerably smaller coalition of supporters. The absence of a reliable third party to enforce compromises among key players means that power-sharing deals lack credibility and the threat of forced ouster is omnipresent. Uncertainty pervades authoritarian politics. Modern autocrats respond to this uncertain environment in a variety of ways. They use political parties, legislatures, elections, and other institutions typically associated with democracies to lessen their risk of overthrow. Despite the façade of democracy, these institutions are key components of most autocrats’ survival strategies; those that incorporate them last longer in power than those that do not. The specific ways in which autocratic institutions are used and the extent to which they can constrain leadership choices to prevent consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, however, vary enormously from one dictatorship to the next. Better understanding the conditions that push autocracies down a path of collegial versus strongman rule remains a critical task, particularly given that the latter is associated with more war, economic mismanagement, and resistance to democratization.
The foreign policy of autocratic regimes reflects the research interest in the international behavior and decision making of domestic actors in nondemocratic regimes. The regime type (its nature, structure, leadership constellation, legitimation strategies, relation between leadership and public) thus is presumed to have explanatory power for the foreign policy actions and decisions of autocratic actors.
Knowledge about mass political attitudes and behavior derives mainly from studies of established Western democracies. But do populations under autocracy engage in the political process and, if so, do they support or challenge the status quo? Much depends on the nature of political regimes. To the extent that spaces for political expression are closed under autocracy, citizens face an unpalatable choice between political acquiescence and violent protest, with all the risks that such options impose. A key question for researchers is whether participants in authoritarian politics are active citizens or mobilized subjects. Survey evidence suggests that some people may be willing to grant legitimacy to strong leaders and to trust the institutions of a dominant state. Others nevertheless find ways to engage in conventional political behaviors such as discussing public affairs, taking collective action, and turning out to vote in elections, especially under hybrid competitive authoritarian regimes. Under what conditions do citizens sometimes rebel against entrenched authority? Regime type again seems to matter, with popular protest more common under open than closed systems. With reference to prodemocracy social movements, like the Arab Spring of 2011, analysts debate whether people take to the streets principally for reasons of rational self-interest or propelled by emotions like anger. And scholars explore the effects of new information and communications technologies, finding mixed results for political mobilization. As emphasized in the literature on contentious politics, the displacement of autocratic regimes from below is likely only if social movements build strong and sustained political organizations.
Indonesia is a highly revealing case study for pinpointing both the conditions under which militaries in postcolonial societies intervened in political affairs and the patterns that led to their subsequent marginalization from politics. It also demonstrates how militaries could defend some of their political interests even after they were removed from the highest echelons of power. Emboldened by the war for independence (1945–1949), the Indonesian military used divisions, conflicts, and instabilities in the early postindependence polity to push for an institutionalized role in political institutions. While it was granted such a role in 1959, it used a further deterioration in civilian politics in the early 1960s to take power in 1965. Military intervention in politics in Indonesia, then, has been as much the result of civilian weaknesses as of military ambitions, confirming Finer’s theory on the civilian role in military power quests. Military rule in Indonesia weakened first as a consequence of the personalization of the polity built by the leader of the 1965 takeover, General Suharto. After a decade in power, Suharto turned the praetorian regime into a personal autocracy, transforming the military from a political actor into an agent. When Suharto’s regime collapsed in 1998 after being hit by the Asian financial crisis, the military was discredited—allowing civilian rulers to dismantle some of its privileges. But continued divisions among civilian forces mitigated the push for the military’s full depoliticization—once again proving Finer’s paradigm. As post-Suharto presidents settled into the new power arrangements, they concluded that the military was a crucial counterweight against the possible disloyalty of their coalition partners. Thus, under the paradigm of coalitional presidentialism, rulers integrated the military into their regimes and granted it concessions in return. In short, while the post-1998 military is much diminished from its role in predemocratic regimes, it retains sufficient power to protect its core ideological and material interests.
Justin Conrad and Mark Souva
Why do some governments spend more on their military than others? Leaders make spending decisions based in part on their desire to stay in office, and they may lose office through internal or external processes. Research traditionally focused on external threats as the main determinant of military spending, but internal dynamics are the primary cause of leadership turnover. Coups are the most common reason for autocrats losing power and elections are the most common way democratic leaders, or their parties, lose power. The two processes are often linked. For example, external threat, even absent an attack, can lead to a change in domestic political power. As such, domestic interests, channeled through domestic institutions, are central to understanding military spending. Political science research often emphasizes domestic public opinion and the narrow interests of specific groups as explanations for military spending patterns. Such research finds that changes in public opinion lead to changes in defense spending and that more left-oriented interests favor lower defense spending. Research comparing spending across countries instead focuses on institutions and external threats. Much of this research focuses on the defense burden, which is the ratio of defense spending to gross domestic product. Among the few consistent findings is the fact that democracies maintain a lower defense burden than non-democracies. Higher levels of external threat are also associated with higher defense burdens and smaller countries tend to free-ride in alliances. Additional research examines variations in military spending among autocracies. As with democracies, specific institutions appear to be more important than regime type. Institutions such as legislatures that incentivize leaders to provide public goods are associated with less military spending.
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.
Austin P. Johnson and Quan Li
A debate exists in international political economy on the relationship between regime type and foreign direct investment (FDI). The central point of contention focuses on whether multinational firms generally prefer to pursue business ventures in more democratic or autocratic countries. A considerable amount of theory has been developed on this topic; however, the arguments in previous studies lack consistency, and researchers have produced mixed empirical findings. A fundamental weakness in this literature is that while FDI has largely been treated conceptually as a homogeneous aggregate, in reality, it features divergent characteristics on multiple dimensions. Three possible dimensions that FDI can be decomposed on are: greenfield vs. brownfield, ownership type (wholly owned vs. joint venture), and horizontal vs. vertical. The most relevant dimensions to the problem at hand are: greenfield vs. brownfield, and horizontal vs. vertical. Five propositions, based on the notion of asset specificity, other investment attributes, and host nation domestic factors, are derived to predict how regime type might affect four types of FDI: vertical-greenfield; vertical-brownfield; horizontal-greenfield; and horizontal-brownfield. Depending on the type of FDI, multinational corporations may have no regime preference, an autocratic preference, or a democratic preference. This research contributes to empirical international relations theory by providing a useful example on how to resolve a scholarly debate, theoretically, and by laying out testable propositions for future empirical research.
Lawrence C. Reardon
Unlike democracies, the stability and longevity of autocracies are solely dependent on the ability of the paramount leader to maintain and wield power effectively. Whether the autocracy is composed of an absolute monarch or a supreme authoritarian, religious, military, fascist, or communist leader, the autocrat strengthens legitimacy by controlling competing power centers within the state. Autocrats are both envious and fearful of organized religion’s ability to mobilize the citizenry. Whether dealing with large religious organizations or organized religious believers, autocrats can choose to implement negative religious regulations to control or eliminate foreign and domestic religious threats, positive religious regulations to co-opt religious powers, or transformative religious regulations to create new organizations that consolidate and maintain autocratic rule. Adopting an interest-based theoretical approach, the autocratic religious regulations of four countries (China, England, Italy, and Japan) are divided into three categories (negative, positive, and transformative religious regulations). Autocrats within the four countries adopted formal regulations to consolidate their hegemonic control over societal forces within and outside the state.