Midwives or gravediggers? The military’s impact on democracy


Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has cracked down on dissidents by force and run roughshod over the country’s democratic institutions. Maduro has handpicked cronies to head a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution, disabled the opposition-controlled parliament, and made it prohibitively difficult to unseat him, analyst Ozan Varol writes for the Washington Post:

In such circumstances, as I argue in my new book, “The Democratic Coup d’État”, the domestic military plays a key role in determining whether a country will move to real democracy. Where the military sides with the regime, as large factions of the military did in Syria in 2011, the dictatorship often reigns supreme. But where the military sides with the people, democracy becomes a real possibility.

The military and democratic government operate within a constant tension, according to a recent analysis in Democratization: liberal democracy is based upon the fundamental norms of individual sovereignty, liberty and equality; all notes militaries are inherently undemocratic and hierarchical organizations that stress discipline and the subordination of the individual under a strict bureaucratic order. Moreover, the military possess the necessary superior organization and means of coercion that potentially allows them to enforce their will upon democratically elected governments, adds analyst David Kuehn.

Dictators live dangerously. Historically, the most frequent threat to a dictator’s political survival comes from regime insiders, notes the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies. In recent decades, however, threats from nonviolent mass mobilizations have increased sharply. In a dictator’s endgame, when peaceful mass protests overwhelm a regime’s security forces, the ability to maintain the loyalty of the military is key to a dictator’s survival.

When dictators lean on military support, however, they may find that the generals refuse to obey their orders. Even prior to the Arab Uprisings, the success or failure of dozens of popular uprisings were contingent upon the loyalty of the troops. If military allegiance plays such a critical role, what factors explain a military’s decision to support or abandon a dictatorship?

In a forthcoming presentation, scholar and civil-military relations expert Aurel Croissant will explore explanations for the varying outcomes of dictators’ endgames in the period from 1946 to 2014 and examine how military decisions impact post-revolt regime dynamics. He will conclude with lessons learned and thoughts on the implications of his research for democratic governments and democracy advocates.

The “Dictator’s Endgame”: Explaining Military Behavior in Nonviolent Revolutions


Aurel Croissant, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

moderated by

Shanthi Kalathil, Director, International Forum for Democratic Studies

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 3:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m.

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675


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