Dealing with Tyranny: International Sanctions and the Survival of Authoritarian Rulers1


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     The authors thank Irfan Nooruddin, Adam Przeworski, Armando Razo, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions on this project. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the conferences, “Dictatorships: Their Governance and Social Consequences,” (Princeton University: April 25–26, 2008) and III Conferencia de Doctores (Juan March Institute: June 18–19, 2008). Replication material is available at


This paper examines whether economic sanctions destabilize authoritarian rulers. We argue that the effect of sanctions is mediated by the type of authoritarian regime against which sanctions are imposed. Because personalist regimes and monarchies are more sensitive to the loss of external sources of revenue (such as foreign aid and taxes on trade) to fund patronage, rulers in these regimes are more likely to be destabilized by sanctions than leaders in other types of regimes. In contrast, when dominant single-party and military regimes are subject to sanctions, they increase their tax revenues and reallocate their expenditures to increase their levels of cooptation and repression. Using data on sanction episodes and authoritarian regimes from 1960 to 1997 and selection-corrected survival models, we test whether sanctions destabilize authoritarian rulers in different types of regimes. We find that personalist dictators are more vulnerable to foreign pressure than other types of dictators. We also analyze the modes of authoritarian leader exit and find that sanctions increase the likelihood of a regular and an irregular change of ruler, such as a coup, in personalist regimes. In single-party and military regimes, however, sanctions have little effect on leadership stability.