External Territorial Threats and Military Regimes

Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterArticles
812743PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918812743Political Research QuarterlyKim
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(4) 863 –877
External Territorial Threats
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
and Military Regimes
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918812743
Nam Kyu Kim1
This study argues that sustained threats to homeland territory create an environment conducive to the presence of
military regimes. Territorial threats lead to increased levels of militarization and make the military internally unified
and cohesive. These developments enhance the military’s capacity for intervening in politics where a strong and
autonomous military serves as an institutionalized veto player. Accordingly, collegial military regimes, characterized by
a group of high-ranking officers and distinct from military strongman rule in which power is concentrated in the hands
of a single military leader, are likely to exist in environments rife with territorial threats. Supporting my argument, I find
that a country is more likely to experience collegial military rule when it engages in rivalries or claims over territorial
regime, dictatorship, authoritarian, military, territorial threat
Why do some countries experience military rule while
democracy than their civilian counterparts and frequently
others do not? Under what conditions does the military
negotiate their transitions from power (Geddes, Wright,
as an institution remain politically powerful? Numerous
and Frantz 2014). Meanwhile, the military usually remains
studies attempt to answer these questions, but most of
politically organized and powerful following transitions to
them focus on domestic factors, such as levels of eco-
democracy, making democratic consolidation more diffi-
nomic development, economic growth, social and eco-
cult (Cheibub 2007) and increasing the risk of civil wars
nomic inequality, and political institutions, but pay little
(Cook and Savun 2016).
attention to the role of the international security environ-
I argue that sustained threats to the homeland territory
ments in facilitating the presence of military rule (e.g.,
create permissive conditions for military dictatorships.
Belkin and Schofer 2003; Londregan and Poole 1990;
Particularly, I expect that territorial threats influence the
Stepan 1988; Svolik 2013). The lack of studies linking a
presence of collegial military regimes, which are charac-
state’s international threat environment to military rule is
terized by a group of high-ranking officers and distinct
surprising, particularly as a large body of studies explor-
from military strongman rule in which power is concen-
ing the relationship between external security threats and
trated in the hands of a single military leader (Geddes,
domestic politics (e.g., Gibler 2012; Hintze 1975; Frantz, and Wright 2014). Territorial threats pressure
Owsiak 2013; Rasler and Thompson 2004) treat the mili-
states to develop and maintain large standing armies
tary, created to protect the homeland against foreign and
(Gibler 2012; Huth 1996). High levels of militarization
domestic enemies, as a critical factor in their theoretical
give the military a politically prominent role, allowing it
to obtain greater resources and institutional autonomy
The distinct patterns of domestic and international
(Lasswell 1941; Svolik 2013). Intense territorial threats
behaviors displayed by military regimes make it particu-
also influence the structure of the military institution,
larly important to understand the structural conditions that
making the military more internally unified and cohesive
support the establishment and survival of military regimes.
(Desch 2001) and enhancing the military’s capacity for
Compared with civilian authoritarian regimes, military
intervening in politics. A strong and autonomous military
authoritarian regimes, characterized by rulers who spe-
cialize in the use of force, tend to commit more human
1Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, South Korea
rights abuses (Poe, Tate and Keith 1999), more frequently
experience civil war (Fjelde 2010; Nordlinger 1977), and
Corresponding Author:
Nam Kyu Kim, 53 Myeongnyun-dong 3-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-745,
engage in more belligerent foreign policy strategies
South Korea.
(Weeks 2012).1 They also transition more quickly to
Email: namkkim1@gmail.com

Political Research Quarterly 72(4)
serves as an institutionalized veto player. At the same
The second line of research focuses on the relation-
time, the very importance of national security encourages
ship between external security environments and regime
the military to intervene in politics as a guardian of
type. Several scholars argue that a country’s hostile
national interests. Collegial military regimes are, thus,
security environment fosters authoritarianism and
likely to exist in environments rife with territorial threats.
undermines democratic rule (Hintze 1975; Rasler and
In addition, the effects of territorial threats will proceed
Thompson 2004). In contrast, the absence of these
and accumulate over time because prolonged threats fos-
threats improves a state’s prospects for democratization
ter a political culture of militarism, steadily increasing the
and democratic consolidation. Building on this peace-
military’s political power, autonomy, and resources.
to-democracy literature, Gibler (2012) emphasizes terri-
My empirical analysis provides significant evidence
torial threats and develops the so-called “territorial
linking sustained territorial threats with the presence of
peace” theory (see also Owsiak 2013). Contested borders
collegial military rule. Threats emanating from territorial
constitute the most salient security threats to the state,
rivalries and claims have not only immediate but also
increasing militarization and state centralization and hin-
cumulative effects on collegial military rule. The longer a
dering democratization.
country’s exposure to salient territorial threats, the greater
The last research program specifically probes the
the political influence of that country’s military and the
influence of external security threats on civil-military
more likely the country is to experience collegial military
relations. Within this scholarship, there is considerable
rule. Contrarily, I find no significant evidence that territo-
disagreement about the effect of external threats on civil-
rial threats influence the presence of strongman military
military relations. Some scholars argue that greater exter-
rule. The results show that isolated militarized disputes,
nal threats galvanize the state, increasing cohesiveness
including both territorial and nonterritorial disputes, have
and orienting attention outward (Arbatli and Arbatli
no discernible impact on the presence of collegial mili-
2016; Desch 2001; Huntington 1957). Thus, external
tary rule.
threats discipline military adventurism and make the mil-
This study contributes to the literature on military dic-
itary externally oriented, decreasing the military’s incli-
tatorships by presenting the first systematic evidence that
nation to participate in domestic politics. Against this
external territorial threats foster collegial military rule. It
functionalist argument, other scholars claim that external
confirms the importance of distinguishing between col-
threats can result in military intervention (Finer 2002;
legial military rule and military strongman rule, which is
Staniland 2008; Woo 2011).
emphasized by previous studies by Geddes, Frantz, and
Wright (2014) and Kim and Kroeger (2018). This study
Territorial Threats and Military
shows that collegial military rule is established in a man-
ner clearly distinct from that by which military strong-
man rule is established. Last, it weighs in on the long
Focusing on sustained territorial threats distinct from
debate over the role of external threats in civil-military
one-time conflict events, I argue that sustained external
relations. My contribution is to distinguish between
territorial threats establish fertile conditions for the pres-
threats and armed conflicts, emphasize external threats to
ence of collegial military regimes. Prolonged exposure to
a country’s homeland territory, and connect them to col-
territorial threats leads to increased levels of militariza-
legial military rule.
tion, which in turn empower the military, shape the insti-
tutional configuration of a military regime, and increase
Previous Studies on External Threats
the likelihood of military rule as an institution.
and Domestic Politics
External Territorial Threats
How do states’ security environments influence their
domestic politics? Three lines of research address this
To capture the effect of sustained, international security
question. First, the prominent so-called war-making and
competition on domestic politics, I focus on the combina-
state-making literature emphasizes the role wars and
tion of interstate rivalry and territorial competition.
external threats play in state centralization and develop-
Interstate rivalry involves a pair of states that regard each
ment, analyzing the interrelationship between wars, the
other as competitive, threatening enemies in protracted
military, and state...

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