The Origins of Military Supremacy in Dictatorships

Issue Date July 2023
Volume 34
Issue 3
Page Numbers 5–20
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Militaries play dramatically different roles in different autocracies. At one extreme, the military remains the supreme political actor for generations. At the other extreme, militaries long remain subordinate to authoritarian leaders. We argue that the roots of this variation—from military supremacy to subordination—lie in military origins. Where authoritarian mass parties created militaries from scratch, the armed forces have generally remained subservient. Where militaries emerged separately from authoritarian parties, they enjoyed the autonomy necessary to achieve and maintain military supremacy. The core lesson is simple: Unless an autocratic regime created the military, it will struggle to control the military.

About the Authors

Dan Slater

Dan Slater is the James Orin Murfin Professor of Political Science and the director of the Center for Emerging Democracies at the International Institute at the University of Michigan.

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Lucan A. Way

Lucan Ahmad Way is professor of political science at the University of Toronto and co-chair of the Journal of Democracy Editorial Board.

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Jean Lachapelle

Jean Lachapelle is assistant professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.

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Adam E. Casey

Adam E. Casey is research fellow in the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan.

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