Saving Your Favorite Dictators: External Sponsorship of Authoritarian Regimes and Its Consequences

While the behavior of foreign actors during the upheavals of dictatorships receives much attention from international media, the academic literature has only recently begun to examine how and why outside interventions occur and its effects on autocratic regimes. My dissertation considers how external and domestic factors influence dictator’s ability to amass personal power relative to the ruling parties and security forces; and how the efforts to build highly personalized regimes, in turn, shape dictator’s domestic and foreign strategies to counter threats from rival elites and the masses.

I examine these topics in the three article-chapter dissertation. In the first chapter, I find that strategic importance largely explains arms transfers timed to bolster autocracies during domestic uprisings. However, during post-Cold War democratic uprisings, U.S. arms transfers drop in the short-term but quickly return to prior levels, especially when the Democratic Party is in power. In the second chapter, I consider the relationship between foreign policies of great powers and dictator’s ability to amass personal power. Reliance on a foreign patron provides the dictator with room to personalize his security apparatus by protecting the regime from the backlash against coup-proofing efforts. This personalization process intensifies during the conflict years backed by a great power patron as dictators exploit battlefield performances as a pretext for purges. In the third chapter, I analyze domestic implications of security forces personalization. I show that personalization decreases coup risk in dictatorships, but this stabilizing effect of personalization disappears after the dictator’s exit from office. This study documents how dictators transform the security apparatus to stabilize their rule, with implications for how dictatorships survive and collapse.