Interventions against a Dictator

By Pape, Utz J. | Journal of International Affairs, Fall-Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Interventions against a Dictator


Pape, Utz J., Journal of International Affairs


The Arab Spring, a wave of revolutions in nondemocratic countries in North Africa and the Middle East, forced some dictators to flee from their countries while others stayed and one faced intervention by an international coalition. Using a stylized game-theoretic model, this article analyzes the decision-making process of a dictator and explains the different outcomes. A rational dictator only leaves the country if the expected costs from punishment outweigh the benefits of staying. For the international coalition, the model identifies a trade-off between the cost of the intervention and the potential for economic benefit from a successful intervention. A higher number of participants in the coalition increases the probability of the intervention's success. However, if the intervention fails, coalition participants lose all economic benefits. Therefore, an intervening country benefits from the participation of other countries because it lowers the risk of failure. If the intervention succeeds, the economic benefits are shared among all intervening countries. Thus, an intervening country has the most to gain if it acts alone. Furthermore, a country can deliberately abstain from an intervention to benefit from higher shares of economic profit if the intervention fails and coalition members lose all economic benefits. The model can help explain the rarity of unanimous votes for an intervention and the complex and tedious bargaining process surrounding decisions to intervene.

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In early 2011, the world observed a wave of revolutions in nondemocratic countries in North Africa and the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring. The revolution in Tunisia swept away the longstanding president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. After another successful revolution in Egypt, protests in Libya, Syria and Yemen intensified. The leaders of all three countries countered the

uprisings with military force. After Muammar al-Qaddafi ordered his air force to attack demonstrators, the United Nations authorized an international coalition to intervene in Libya. (1) Although the Syrian regime was committing similar violence against its citizens, the international community chose not to intervene militarily. A game-theoretic framework based on a stylized model sheds light on the decisionmaking process underlying these choices at the international level.

A dictator seeks to maximize his rents. (2) One can distinguish between two extreme types of dictators who seek high rents. (3) The first type exercises force and control, coercing citizens to work. Since this coercion impedes the growth of the country--at least in the long run--leaders increase coercion and atrocities over time, resulting in a totalitarian regime (e.g., Mao Zedong in China, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, etc.). Other dictators try to maximize rents by stimulating growth (e.g., Park Chung Hee in South Korea and Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore). (4) Often, a regime's party is founded for the recruitment and distribution of patronage. (5) The incorporation of opposition groups into the system (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan) can reduce the chance of rebellion. (6) The model focuses on totalitarian leaders, but the analysis also discusses a rationale for the existence of the second type of leader.

The model assumes a hypothetical country where an insurgency of citizens, rebels or revolutionaries is endangering the rule of a well-established, exploitative dictator. (7) In line with recent events in Libya, the model assumes that the rebels cannot overthrow the current regime without military support from the international community. For this reason, the rebels are not modeled as active decision makers. Only the dictator and the international coalition of intervening countries are players in the model. The dictator can decide to leave the country to avoid punishment or stay and face a possible intervention from the international coalition.

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