NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 12, 2008

Creating a powerful military is a double-edged sword for the elite who wish to maintain their political power in a non-democracy.  On one hand, a powerful military is more effective in preventing transitions to a democracy; but on the other hand, it necessitates either greater concessions on the part of the elite or an increased risk of a military takeover, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

To investigate the conditions under which the military will act as the agent of the elite in non-democratic regimes (oligarchies) versus those conditions under which oligarchies will turn into military dictatorships, the NBER constructed a model that assumes that the means of violence in society are in the monopoly of the military.

The model showed that:

  • A strong military may not simply work as their agent, but instead may turn against them, creating a regime more in line with its own objectives.
  • Once a transition to democracy takes place, a strong military poses a coup threat against the nascent democratic regime until the military is reformed.
  • Democratic regimes are most vulnerable when they are not strong enough to immediately reform the military, and societies where the elite form a strong military in order to prevent democratization are more likely to later lapse into military dictatorships.
  • Moreover, natural resource rents may also fuel military coups against emerging democracies.

Finally, and most interestingly, democratic consolidation may also be facilitated by the presence of a potential foreign threat, which makes the military necessary for national defense, say researchers.

This new link between international politics and domestic politics is related to the main economic force in this framework, says the NBER.  For example: When there is an international theater, concessions from democratic regimes to the military become more credible, because democracy also needs the military.

Source:  Daron Acemoglu, Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni, "A Theory of Military Dictatorships," National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, No. 13915, April 2008.

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