Christian Gläßel contributes chapter to authoritarianism research handbook

The newly published Research Handbook on Authoritarianism includes a chapter from postdoctoral researcher Christian Gläßel on the authoritarian security apparatus and trade-offs in officer command assignments.

Who should an autocratic leader appoint to a command position – the fiercely loyal but incompetent officer, or the highly skilled officer who could become a threat given more power? In his new chapter in the Research Handbook on Authoritarianism, Gläßel and co-authors Belén González (University of Zurich) and Adam Scharpf (University of Copenhagen) investigate how autocratic leaders navigate the trade-off between competence and loyalty in the leadership of security organizations.

“Faced with the dual threat of revolutions and coups,”  Gläßel and his co-authors explain, “autocratic leaders must forge a security apparatus that is most capable and loyal”. Capable officers in command posts are necessary for effective state security, but they also pose the greatest risk of rebellion. In the chapter, the authors lay out a method for addressing this dilemma – by appointing capable officers while safeguarding their loyalty by offering the most desirable command posts to those most likely to be disgruntled.

Gläßel and his co-authors demonstrate this method in practice in the case of the last Argentinian dictatorship. Using a large dataset of army officers with career and biographical details, the authors analysed who was placed in the most desirable field command positions – that is, the positions closest to their home region. The analysis showed that the officers chosen for these coveted postings were very likely to be highly skilled and to have waited a long time for a command post, translating into a high potential for resentment and dissatisfaction. By awarding them these positions, autocratic leaders can bolster these officers’ loyalty while also placing the regime’s defence in capable hands. This research “sheds light on the dynamics within the authoritarian security apparatus”, revealing command postings as an underexplored tool for management and obedience in authoritarian regimes.

Read more about the chapter and the Research Handbook on Authoritarianism here.

This research chapter is a part of the larger three-year project The Anatomy of the Authoritarian Security Apparatus (AASAP), generously funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

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