Institutions of the Offensive: Domestic Sources of Dispute Initiation in Authoritarian Regimes, 1950–1992


  • Thanks to Emily Broeckling, Dan Reiter, Terry Chapman, Scott Gartner, Sara Mitchell, Kelly Kadera, David Clark, and the editors and anonymous reviewers at AJPS for their comments and assistance with this article. Previous versions were presented at the 2002 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, the 2003 Midwest Political Science Association Meeting, and the 2003 Iowa Political Science Workshop.

Brian Lai is assistant professor of political science, University of Iowa, 341 Schaeffer Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242 ( Dan Slater is assistant professor of political science, University of Chicago, 5828 S. University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637 (


What are the most important sources of institutional variation among authoritarian regimes, and how do such institutions influence these dictatorships' propensity to initiate military disputes? This article argues that most existing studies in both comparative politics and international relations employ a flawed conceptualization of authoritarian institutions. Excessive focus on the personalization or institutionalization of authoritarian regimes' decision-making procedures has distracted attention from the more critical issue of what institutions these regimes deploy to enhance social control and secure political incumbency. Since military regimes are systematically less effective than single-party regimes at developing these types of authoritarian institutions, they more frequently resort to desperate measures to fend off domestic challenges to their power. In particular, we find compelling empirical support for our hypothesis that military regimes are more likely than single-party regimes to initiate military disputes, irrespective of whether those regimes are highly personalized or not.