Decision Making in Autocratic Regimes: A Poliheuristic Perspective



This paper applies the poliheuristic theory of foreign policy decision making to non-democratic states. Poliheuristic theory asserts that state leaders assign primary importance to their political survival; however, the meaning of “the political” varies dramatically from country to country. Furthermore, the types of actors who hold leaders politically accountable also vary between countries. Consequently, leaders often pursue vastly different means of ensuring their political survival. The author uses the common distinction between single-party, military, and personalist autocracies to show that apparently arbitrary differences in autocratic leaders' political concerns actually vary in systematic and potentially predictable ways. Because this argument is generalized to non-democratic states as a whole, it has important implications for the ways in which democratic states craft their policies toward autocracies.