That the military intervenes in domestic politics is obvious even from the briefest of overviews of history. In recent times many Latin American and African nations have seen military interventions. Often these would be in the form of military coups and the emergence of military dictatorships.
At VoxEU.org there is new column which offers A theory of military dictatorships, by Daron Acemoglu, Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni. The paper, in the authors' view,
... takes a first step towards a systematic framework for the analysis of the role of the military in domestic politics. Our objective is to ultimately understand what types of nondemocratic regimes can survive with the support of the military, which regimes will generate interventions from the military, and why the military may align itself with some segments of the society against others.The basic framework in which the authors work is simple.
Two groups, the elite rich and the citizens, are in conflict under democratic and nondemocratic regimes. Under democracy, redistributive policies benefit the citizens at the expense of the rich. Under oligarchy the rich keep their wealth but have to create (and pay) a repressive military to maintain them in power. A repressive military is a double-edged sword, however; once created, it has the option of attempting to establish a military dictatorship, seizing power from democratic or oligarchic governments. This is the political moral hazard problem at the core of our framework.The framework is there to help when thinking about the military's relationship with oligarchies. In particular, the conditions under which the military will act as a perfect agent of the elite in oligarchies. This in turn raises the question of under what conditions the military will turn against the elite and attempt to set up its own dictatorship. The framework also helps when dealing with the issue of the military’s role in transitions to democracy.
The key element concerns the credibility of future pay-offs. Since oligarchies need a repressive military in ways that democracies do not, the oligarch’s commitment to future pay-offs is credible while those of a democratic government may not be. Consequently, our framework suggests that military coups are more likely to take place against democracies than against oligarchies because of the inability of democratic regimes to commit to not reforming the military in the future. Nevertheless, military coups against oligarchies are also possible when the political moral hazard problem is sufficiently severe. The point turns on the assumption that there is a probability that coups against oligarchies will fail.Interestingly other factors that appear to be important include the extent of income inequality and abundance of natural resources. Conflict between the elite and the citizens is greater when inequality is greater and this encourages oligarchic regimes to maintain power by using stronger militaries. This increases both the risk of military intervention during the oligarchic regime and also once democracy emerges. Large amounts of natural resources makes military interventions more likely since the military can exploit natural resources once it comes to power.
This perspective also suggests that military coups may be more likely when the external role of the military is more limited. When a strong military is needed for national defense, democratic regimes can also commit to keeping a relatively large military, thus reducing the incentive for military takeover at the early stages of democracy.
This framework also predicts that the historical relations between nondemocratic regimes and the military are important for the consolidation of democracy once this regime emerges. If a powerful military has been created by the elite to prevent democratization, then this military will be present at the early stages of the nascent democracy. However, since democracy does not have as much of a need for coercion as the nondemocratic regime, the military anticipates future reforms by the democratic government to reduce its size and power. This anticipation induces the military to take action against nascent democratic regimes, unless credible commitments for the continued role of the military in politics or other significant concessions can be made.
The conclusions offered by Acemoglu, Ticchi and Vindigni are
One of the important implications of this general research program is that, when trying to shape or influence transitions to democracy, it is important that policy makers consider the complexities of the three-way interactions between the elite, the military and citizens. Our theory is a step towards a systematic framework for the analysis of the role of the military in domestic politics and will hopefully spur more theoretical and empirical research to understand the factors that facilitate the emergence and persistence of democratic regimes.