Considering incidents that make headline news internationally, given the modern information and communication technology revolution, the facility of citizens to rapidly mobilize represents a considerable threat to autocratic survival. While the speed with which popular movements emerge has increased exponentially, and the news of their existence spreads faster and farther, civil unrest has threatened the stability and survival of dictators for centuries. The paranoia and machinations of dictators depicted in films, such as the portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while sensationalized, capture the astounding array of threats with which unelected leaders must concern themselves. On the one hand, they must worry about insider threats to their standing, such as conspiratorial plots from people within the dictator’s own circle or mutiny among government soldiers. On the other hand, dictators also must monitor threats originating from non-regime actors, such as new alliances forming among once-fragmented opposition groups or the possibility of sustained insurgency or a popular revolution. From force to finesse, autocratic leaders have developed a broad and evolving range of tactics and tools to diminish both internal and external domestic threats to their reign. The success of dictators’ endeavors to insulate their regimes from forces that might challenge them depends on accurate and reliable information, a resource that can be as valuable to the leader as would a large armory and loyal soldiers. Dictators invest significant resources (monetary as well as human capital) to try to gather useful information about their existing and potential opponents, while also trying to control and shape information emitted by the regime before it reaches the public. New information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have drawn a great deal of scholarly attention since the beginning of the 21st century—present both risks and rewards for dictators; inversely they also create new opportunities and hazards for citizens who might utilize them to mobilize people opposed to the regime. While civil unrest could encompass the full range of domestic, nonmilitary actors, there also needs to be a specific focus on various forms of mass mobilization. Historically, more dictators have been forced from office by elite-initiated overthrows via coups d’état than have fallen to revolution or fled amid street protests. Civil unrest, in its many forms, can affect autocratic survival or precipitate regime breakdown. While mass-based revolutions have been a relatively rare phenomenon to date, the actions of many 21st-century dictators indicate that they increasingly concern themselves with the threats posed by popular protests and fear its potential for triggering broader antigovernment campaigns. The ease of access to information (or the lack thereof) help explain interactions between authoritarian regimes and citizens emphasizes. The role of information in popular antigovernment mobilization has evolved and changed how dictators gather and utilize information to prevent or counter civil unrest that might jeopardize their own survival as well as that of the regime.
Elizabeth Ann Stein
William D. Stanley
El Salvador experienced five decades of direct military rule from 1931 through 1982, followed by a semi-authoritarian phase from 1982 to 1992 during which elected civilians ostensibly governed while the military retained veto power and impunity. Twelve years of civil war produced significant political change, and a 1992 peace settlement finally brought constitutional and institutional reforms that curbed the military’s political power. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the armed forces had a somewhat informal structure, and while coups d’état occurred periodically, the military was more the tool of powerful individuals than the source of their power. An uncompetitive electoral system in the early 20th century broke down in 1931 after a combination of political reforms and financial crisis undermined civilian authority, and a coup enabled the minister of defense to seize power. Shortly thereafter, the fledgling military government suppressed a peasant uprising with extreme violence, thereby consolidating its own position and discouraging challenges from oligarchic elites. Initially military rule was personalistic, with power vested in General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, but in the 1940s this transitioned to a more institutional system in which the officer corps collectively shaped the broad outlines of how the country would be governed and prevented any one leader from dominating. For over 30 years the institutional military government sought to achieve a degree of legitimacy through controlled elections, repressed opposition when it grew too strong, promoted economic growth, and implemented mild social reforms that always stopped short of challenging oligarchic interests. The military’s strategy failed to resolve severe social and political tensions that arose from the country’s highly unequal distribution of land and income. The military faced popular demands for access to land and adequate wages, while the agrarian elite resisted any reform. Factional strife broke out regularly within the military over whether to rely mainly on repression to contain social and political demands, or to break with the oligarchy and deliver deeper reforms. The result was an inconsistent policy that occasionally created political space for opposition and then violently closed it. By the late 1970s there were massive protests and the beginnings of armed insurgency. Outright civil war began in 1980, and the country began a partial transition to civilian rule in 1982. Despite ample help from the United States, the military failed to defeat the insurgents. In 1990, the conservative elected civilian government began negotiating with the insurgents, leading to accords that definitively excluded the military from political power. After 1992 the country struggled with a sluggish economy and pervasive crime, and questions remained about past human rights crimes. The political system was genuinely democratic, featuring unrestricted debate and a wide range of political ideologies. The military remained largely subordinate to civil authority under governments of both the right and the left. Yet legacies of authoritarianism persisted, and in 2020 a populist elected civilian president called on the military for political support and used it to detain people unlawfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philip G. Roeder
National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities. The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.