Crafting the Dictator’s Military: Loyalty, Efficiency, and the Guardianship Dilemma

Jack Paine (University of Rochester)

Abstract: Although some dictators construct coup-proofed and personally loyal militaries, others favor professional militaries that more efficiently repress outsider threats. Existing research analyzes the purportedly ubiquitous “loyalty-efficiency” tradeoff that dictators face and the “guardianship dilemma” that strong outsider threats create. This paper shows these two tradeoffs are intimately related by studying the orientation and strength of outsider threats. In the formal model, a dictator chooses between a personalist and professional military. The military can repress to defend the dictator, stage a coup, or transition to outsider rule. Non-revolutionary threats do not generate a loyalty-efficiency tradeoff. Personalist militaries’ lower reservation value under outsider rule yields considerably stronger incentives than professional militaries to repress non-revolutionary threats—and, consequently, higher equilibrium repressive efficiency. The dictator’s strict preference for the personalist military also eliminates the guardianship dilemma. However, revolutionary threats trigger both tradeoffs. A strong, revolutionary threat encourages choosing a professional military, raising coup likelihood.

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