Effectiveness and price of infantry firearms. Notes: (a) The geometric mean of the range (in meters) and the rate of fire (in shots/minute) for infantry firearms. Data on range and rate of fire are for weapons used by the Prussian/German Army. (b) Prices are for weapons purchased by the US government. Credit: The Economic Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1093/ej/ueac073
Autocrats and dictators quickly acquire new weapons technologies from abroad and often use them against their own citizens. Now, a study of various nations over the period 1820-2010 shows that the diffusion of military technologies inhibits democratic reform. This raises serious questions about the future.
The findings are published in The Economic Journal.
In the early 19th century, a skilled soldier could fire a flintlock musket 2-3 times per minute if the subjects rebelled against the king, and at best hit the target at a distance of 75 meters. During the Arab Spring, the Syrian regime used helicopter gunships against protesters and tanks rolled through the streets of Cairo.
When autocratic rulers have access to modern weapons that are fast and accurate over long ranges, it allows them to suppress protests and riots more effectively and at lower cost. Now a large study confirms that access to modern military technology substantially reduces the likelihood of democratization for authoritarian regimes.
The study details the spread of 29 innovative military technologies across all independent states between 1820 and 2010, as well as the forms of government in these states. Based on statistical analysis of the data, the study draws connections between states’ access to specific weapons, their economies, and their forms of government.
According to the researchers, it makes sense that modern weapons would play a key role in suppressing democracy movements.
“In short, the more protesters a regime can kill using the fewest resources possible, the stronger it will be. But this is the first scientific study to show that regimes’ access to weapons [does] have a systematic and measurable effect on democratization,” says Associate Professor Asger Mose Wingender from the Department of Economics at the University of Copenhagen, who conducted the study with Professor Jacob Gerner Hariri from the Department of Political Science.
Less possibilities of democratization
Incumbent rulers often use violence, or the mere threat of it, to suppress popular uprisings. Although such uprisings contributed to two of the three successful democratizations in the period 1820-2010, many more were nipped in the bud.
The study shows that the success of pro-democracy movements crucially depends on the (in)ability of incumbent rulers to inflict violence on protesters, and that this ability depends on weapons technology. Overall, the study concludes that the probability of a democratic transition today is about 1.3 percentage points lower per year in autocracies with the most advanced weapons compared to autocracies with access to the least advanced weapons.
A difference of 1.3 percentage points may seem small, but over the years it becomes significant. Because modern weapons technologies have become so much more effective, the resources available to today’s autocratic regimes are radically different from those of their predecessors. The world’s poorest countries have access to powerful weapons technologies that are only a few decades old, even though these countries are, by some measures, less economically developed than Western Europe was two centuries ago.
This is a completely new situation, Wingender explains: “Historically, the development of military technology has gone hand in hand with economic and technological developments. It propelled the democratization of the Western world, because to wage war, the state collected taxes from its citizens. , who in turn often demanded and were granted the right to vote,” he says.
“Today, there is less pressure on autocratic regimes. Weapons are more profitable and technologies have spread to poor countries, giving authoritarian rulers access to extremely strong means of repression. Consequently, an imbalance has emerged between technological-military and economic development”. development that inhibits democratization”.
Democratization does not happen automatically
This imbalance between prosperity and democratic reform may be the most encouraging result of the study. Many Western economists and political scientists have suggested that a country’s level of economic development is a decisive factor in democratic reform: when the wealth of the state and its citizens increases, many countries will move towards democratization.
The new study confirms that economic modernization is indeed a key factor in democratization, but refutes the idea that it happens automatically as authoritarian regimes’ increased access to highly effective weapons generates economic progress and prosperity.
“Our conclusion is actually quite pessimistic,” says Asger Mose Wingender.
“We have this idea in the West that economic development in countries like China and Russia will lead to democracy when the growing middle classes start demanding their say. And it’s true that economic development has made people in general want democracy, but at the same time, states have access to better means of repression This makes revolutionary waves like the ones we saw in Europe, for example, in 1848-1849 and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, less likely to succeed today , particularly in parts of the world that are less developed than Europe.”
A shift in the balance of power.
Clearly, access to modern weapons does not fully protect regimes against democratic reform. However, Wingender believes it is important to recognize that many countries have seen the balance of power between the state and citizens shift to the benefit of the state.
This may affect the way the Western world engages with autocratic regimes.
“Our study suggests that we in the Western world may have been naive about modern dictatorships, and that we cannot simply apply Western European experiences with democratization to the rest of the world.”
Jacob Gerner Hariri et al, Jumping the Gun: How Dictators Got Ahead of Their Subjects, The Economic Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1093/ej/ueac073
Provided by the University of Copenhagen
Citation: Study: Modern Weapons Technologies Help Autocratic Rulers Stay in Power (January 26, 2023) Accessed January 26, 2023 at https://phys.org/news/2023-01-modern-arms -technologies-autocratic-rulers.html
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