How the Military Shapes ’Democratic’ Institutions in Dictatorships


Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


124 Mount Auburn, Suite 200-North, Cambridge, MA

Barbara GeddesBarbara Geddes, University of California Los Angeles

About the Seminar
In this seminar, Professor Barbara Geddes will investigate the survival strategies of dictators whose tenure in office depends on armed supporters. The main threat that faces such leaders is ouster by military coup. Geddes will argue that dictators’ strategy choices for responding to that threat depend on characteristics of the military force from which these rivals are likely to come. Where the military is unified and disciplined, commanders can make credible promises to support a dictator who shares power with the rest of the officer corps and also credible threats to oust those who do not. In such circumstances, dictators’ best strategy is to agree to authoritarian institutions that induce power sharing and consultation among military rivals. Where the military is factionalized, however, promises of support are not credible because commanding officers cannot assure the discipline of other officers. Dictators who lack the option of stable power sharing with the rest of the military often try to build a balancing political force through the creation of a mass-based party and holding elections. Results of the data analysis are consistent with the argument that dictators from factionalized armed forces are more likely to organize support parties. Her argument also implies that if the strategies described are effective, dictators who form parties while they rule should be less likely to be ousted by coup than those who do not. Results from the data analysis show that party creation tends to reduce the likelihood of coups and coup attempts. The implication of this argument is that institutions that mimic those in democracies may be responses to challenges from within the armed group supporting the regime rather than from societal opposition groups.

About Barbara Geddes
Barbara Geddes, who earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, has written about politics and breakdown in authoritarian regimes, bureaucratic reform and corruption, political bargaining over institutional change, and research design. Her current research focuses on institutional choice in dictatorships, supported by an NSF grant for the collection of information about dictatorial politics. Her publications include Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics (2003); Politician’s Dilemma: Building State Capacity in Latin America (1994); and “What Causes Democratization?” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Science. She teaches Latin American politics, authoritarian politics, and research design at UCLA.

Democracy Seminar Series
The Democracy Seminar Series brings distinguished speakers to Harvard Kennedy School for the academic year to address critical challenges facing democratic governance.