The Dictator's Endgame: Theory and Empirical Analysis of Military Behavior in Authoritarian Regime Crises, 1946 - 2014

  • The military determines the outcomes of peaceful mass protests in dictatorships. The project explains the outcome of authoritarian regime crises as the result of the strategic behavior of the military leadership who will repress the protests, side with the protesters, or stage a coup depending on which option maximizes their benefits. The argument is tested empirically on an original quantitative dataset on all mass protests dictatorships worldwide between 1946 and 2014.
    DFG, 2015-2019


    Dr. Lars Pelke

    Ehemals GIGA-Teammitglied

    Tanja Eschenauer


    This project aims to analyze the role of the military during episodes of large-scale but peaceful mass mobilization in non-democratic regimes. It aims to answer two questions: * When does the military defend the dictator against the mobilizing masses and when does it defect from the regime coalition? * How can different forms of defection be explained, i.e., when and why do military leaders side with the opposition, and when do they stage a coup d’état, respectively?

    Beitrag zu internationaler Forschung

    As of now, there is no comparable study that combines deductive theoretical modeling and a multi-method empirical analysis of all instances of mass mobilization in autocratic regimes. The project, therefore, promises to deliver innovative theoretical and empirical contributions to four areas of political research: the study of non-democratic regimes, democratization research, research on civil-military relations, and the study of contentious politics.

    Forschungsdesign und Methoden

    To answer these questions, we advance the concept of “dictator’s endgame”, and develop a game-theoretic model that explains the outcome of authoritarian regime crises as the result of strategic bargaining between the dictator, the military leadership and the opposition over the distribution of material and political privileges. We test the model’s explanatory power through a mixed methods approach that systematically combines statistical analyses and process tracing case studies. At the core of the empirical analysis rests an original quantitative dataset on all instances of mass mobilizations in non-democratic regimes worldwide between 1946 and 2014.

    Vorläufige Ergebnisse

    First results have been presented in two papers published in 2018. In a contribution to _Democracy and Security_, we conduct three case studies of mass protests in Burma (1988), Sudan (1985) and the German Democratic Republic (1989) to identify the microfoundations of military behavior during these exceptional situations of regime crisis. In this, we find dictators brought down by their failure to maintain the armed forces’ loyalty during the endgame through credibly committing to delivering financial and political spoils to the military leadership and threatening sufficiently costly sanctions if the military defects from the dictator’s regime coalition. In an article in the _Journal of Democracy_, we delve deeper into the descriptive patterns of military reactions to dictator’s endgames from 1944 to 2014. We find that, even though dictators’ endgames occur in occurred in every world region that has a significant number of autocracies, they are very rare and rather recent phenomena – they occurred only 40 times since 1946, and three-quarter of all endgames occurred after 1980. In 19 cases the military stayed loyal to the dictator and repressed the protests, compared to 15 instances of militaries siding with the opposition and six cases in which officers staged a military coup against the dictator. In discussing potential factors that might explain the dictator’s ability to ensure the military’s loyalty, we find that military regimes as well as civilian dictators who stack their military leadership with loyalists along ethnic lines are more likely to see their militaries cracking down on the protests. In contrast, militaries who have not engaged in gross human rights abuses before the endgame have relatively less to fear from the dictator’s fall and a potential regime change, and are thus more willing to let the and support the goals of the protesters.

    GIGA Focus Global | 4/2019

    Das Militär entscheidet über den Ausgang von Massenprotesten

    Tanja Eschenauer-Engler

    Prof. Dr. Aurel Croissant

    Journal of Democracy | 2018

    Mass Protests and the Military

    Prof. Dr. Aurel Croissant

    Tanja Eschenauer


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