Accountable Autocrats? Post-War Punishment in Authoritarian Regimes

60 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 16 Dec 2009

See all articles by Jessica L.P. Weeks

Jessica L.P. Weeks

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2009


When do leaders lose office because of their foreign policy decisions, and why? Many scholars argue that democratic leaders are substantially more likely to be ousted for their foreign policy performance than authoritarian leaders, rendering democracies more cautious in their foreign affairs. This paper questions the conventional wisdom, analyzing the accountability of authoritarian leaders in the wake of military defeat from 1919 to 1997. Based on a new dataset of authoritarian regime characteristics, I find that “constrained” authoritarians – authoritarian leaders who have not consolidated personal control of high appointments, and have not tampered with military institutions – are punished at relatively high rates after defeat in war, particularly when compared to their rates of ouster after victory or during peacetime. Intriguingly, however, unlike democratic leaders, constrained authoritarians tended to lose power after draws only slightly more often than after victories. These general patterns held whether the leaders initiated the war, or were targeted by other states. In contrast, “semi-” and “unconstrained” authoritarians appear remarkably resilient even in the face of defeat. Most of the few unconstrained authoritarians that did lose power after defeat were driven out by foreign forces after disastrous military performance. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the relationship between regime type, domestic accountability, and international conflict.

Keywords: war, international conflict, international relations, authoritarian regimes, dictatorship, non-democracies

Suggested Citation

Weeks, Jessica L.P., Accountable Autocrats? Post-War Punishment in Authoritarian Regimes (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Jessica L.P. Weeks (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
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