In This Review

Dictators at War and Peace (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)
Dictators at War and Peace (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)
By Jessica L. P. Weeks
Cornell University Press, 2014, 264 pp

Commentators on international affairs often assume that authoritarian states tend to pursue unpredictable and aggressive foreign policies. In this important book, Weeks demonstrates that this simplistic view misses important variations in how autocrats make decisions about the use of force. In authoritarian states run by institutionalized parties or groups, such as the Soviet Union in the post-Stalin era and contemporary China, leaders face a surprising amount of domestic accountability over decisions to use force. Weeks argues that these states actually tend to take cautious and prudent positions in foreign policy, not unlike leaders who must run for reelection in democracies. In contrast, authoritarian states in which individual rulers and their immediate circles control the instruments of the state and the military, such as North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, tend to be less mindful of domestic opinion and more willing to initiate international conflict. Weeks’ argument seems particularly relevant at the moment, since the resolution of a number of ongoing international standoffs might depend on whether certain countries—Iran and Russia, for example—behave more like the first type of authoritarian state or more like the second.