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The International Dimensions of Authoritarian Rule

Final Report Summary - IDAR (The International Dimensions of Authoritarian Rule)

The IDAR project sought to identify and evaluate the different international influences on authoritarian rule. The project involved a number of strands designed to explore different elements of the international politics of authoritarianism, including a single-authored monograph focused on external sponsors of autocratic regimes, and collaborative, multi-method research that explored the impact of 'autocratic linkages', that is, international connections and ties between autocratic states. The project has produced a number of important conceptual and theoretical findings.

Much of the early research on the international politics of authoritarian rule simply borrowed concepts from the study of the international dimensions of democratisation. This was problematic, however, as they do not represent the flip-side of the same coin. A key contribution of the project has been to advance a distinct typology of international forces that bolster authoritarian rule at the domestic level, entailing three distinct categories: passive influences, active but unintended influences, and active autocratic sponsorship. This typology is central to the project monograph and also a related journal article, ‘The Problem with Autocracy Promotion’, published in the journal Democratization. Another key conceptual contribution was the development and systematic measurement of the concept of autocratic linkages, which relate to the cross-border ties between authoritarian regimes. This concept (and its associated dataset) is an important contribution and rests at the heart of much of the collaborative research on the project.

The project produced a number of important findings about the influence of active external sponsorship of authoritarian regimes. Studies on the international politics of democratisation often distinguish between conditionality-based approaches, which use material incentives to alter the behaviour of domestic elites, and socialisation-based approaches that rests on shaming, normative pressure or persuasion to induce change. If these efforts work, it is because domestic actors have changed in some way. By contrast, the mechanisms through which external autocratic sponsorship operates are different. International sponsors are not seeking to induce altered behaviour at the domestic level, but rather are seeking to help domestic elites to carry out the policies that they are already committed to. The project identified the ways in which international sponsors enhance the resilience of authoritarian regimes through various forms of material and strategic assistance, including financial and military aid as well as diplomatic sponsorship and strategic advice. Such forms of assistance can lower the perceived and real costs of authoritarian behaviour, making it more likely that autocratic will repress their citizens and protecting them from the domestic and international repercussions of doing so.

Furthermore, cross-national and quantitative research into the role of autocratic linkages reveals that they serve to prolong the duration of authoritarian regimes. Previous research had suggested the international linkages were largely conducive to democratisation at the domestic level, and our research demonstrated that linkages between autocratic regimes had quite distinct effects that contributed to authoritarian resilience.