“Dictators, Personalized Security Forces, and Coups.” (Under Review)
Dictators rely on coercive forces to remain in office, as violence is the ultimate arbiter of power in these regimes. However, coercive forces can also remove dictator from office in a coup. This presents the dictator with a dilemma. One way to address this dilemma is to personalize the security forces. This paper argues that personalizing the security forces decreases coup risk by: (a) linking the security elites’ fate more closely to the leader’s; (b) increasing the informational advantage the leader has over security elites; (c) and deterring coup attempts by creating coordination obstacles between security forces. Using a new measure of the personalization of the security apparatus, I show that personalization decreases coup risk in dictatorships, but this stabilizing effect of personalization disappears after the dictator’s natural death. This study documents how dictators transform the security apparatus to stabilize their rule, with implications for how dictatorships survive and collapse.
The North Korean regime is unique among dictatorships because it is both long lasting and highly personalized. We answer the puzzle of how the North Korean regime became a personalist dictatorship while the other communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Asia did not. We utilize both time-series measurement models and process tracing of the key political events with primary and secondary Korean sources to show that the first regime leader amassed personal power first by consolidating power over military elites and then subduing the dominant support party. The first leader successfully wrested power from the military because two foreign factions – Chinese and Soviet – supported the regime from the start. Thus external – rather than internal events – explain why the North Korean regime personalized. This paper capitalizes on unique characteristics of the North Korean autocracy to evaluate theories of autocratic regime development and its consequences.