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Authoritarian Turnover and Change in Comparative Perspective  

Jeremy Wallace

Most people in human history have lived under some kind of nondemocratic rule. Political scientists, on the other hand, have focused most efforts on democracies. The borders demarcating ideal types of democracies from nondemocracies are fuzzy, but beyond finding those borders is another, arguably greater, inferential challenge: understanding politics under authoritarianism. For instance, many prior studies ignored transitions between different authoritarian regimes and saw democratization as the prime threat to dictators. However, recent scholarship has shown this to be an error, as more dictators are replaced by other dictators than by democracy. A burgeoning field of authoritarianism scholarship has made considerable headway in the endeavor to comprehend dictatorial politics over the past two decades. Rather than attempting to summarize this literature in its entirety, three areas of research are worth reviewing, related to change inside of the realm of authoritarian politics. The two more mature sets of research have made critical contributions, the first in isolating different kinds of authoritarian turnover and the second in separating the plethora of authoritarian regimes into more coherent categories using various typologies. How do we understand authoritarian turnover? Authoritarian regimes undergo distinct, dramatic, and observable changes at three separate levels—in leaders, regimes, and authoritarianism itself. Drawing distinctions between these changes improves our understanding of the ultimate fates of dictators and authoritarian regimes. How do we understand the diversity of authoritarian regimes? Scholarship has focused on providing competing accounts of authoritarian types, along with analyses of institutional setup of regimes as well as their organization of military forces. Authoritarian typologies, generally coding regimes by the identities of their leaders and elite allies, show common tendencies, and survival patterns tend to vary across types. The third research area, still developing, goes further into assessing changes inside authoritarian regimes by estimating the degree of personalized power across regimes, the causes and consequences of major policy changes—or reforms—and rhetorical or ideological shifts.


The Impact of Meso-Level Assumptions on Grand Theorizing: Using Unit, State, and Regime Type for Constructing IR’s Historical Narratives (and Theory-Building)  

Daniel M. Green

Narratives of history profoundly shape international relations (IR) scholarship. Periodizations and grand historical narratives are vitally consequential, establishing the very parameters in which IR scholars labor, speculate, and theorize. Therefore, we should be highly attentive to how we produce these narratives. Yet there is a surprising lack of reflection on general practices in such matters. One common method that international relations uses to set these parameters—identify the basic properties of international systems, chart their comparative dynamics, and construct periodizations and grand narratives of history—is to begin with an initial focus on the predominating units, unit types, and/or regime types present in the global system at any given point in time. Dynastic families, states, city-states, empires, democracies, and autocracies—all have had ideal-typical worlds of relations constructed around them. This “unit approach” is important in making behavioral arguments about actors in international relations and is especially interested in how it has been and can be used to construct improved narratives of IR history that liberate us from the “Waltzian hangover” of a dysfunctionally simple account of history. The three main versions of the unit approach are based on unit type, state type, and regime type. This paper makes arguments about the appropriateness of a unit approach to historical narrative construction and its advantages over other approaches, such as structure-oriented developments.


Territorial Threats and Military Dictatorships  

Nam Kyu Kim

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.


Autocratic Regimes and Foreign Policy  

Marianne Kneuer

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.


War Making and the Building of State Capacity: Expanding the Bivariate Relationship  

Karen A. Rasler and William R. Thompson

A central cleavage in the war making-state making literature is between advocates of the notion that warfare has been the principal path to developing stronger states and critics who argue that the relationship no longer holds, especially in non-European contexts. It is suggested that the problem is simply one of theoretical specification. Increasingly intensive warfare, as manifested in European combat, made states stronger. Less intensive warfare, particularly common after 1945, is less likely to do so. Empirical analysis of a more representative data set on state capacity (revenues as a proportion of gross domestic product [GDP]), focusing on cases since 1870, strongly supports this point of view. The intensiveness of war is not the only factor at work—regime type and win/loss outcomes matter as well—but the relationship does not appear to be constrained by the level of development.