Erosion of Civilian Control in Democracies: A Comprehensive Framework for Comparative Analysis

By Polina Beliakova, Ph.D. Candidate, The Fletcher School


Civilian control of the military is a fundamental attribute of democracy. While democracies are less coup-prone, studies treating civilian control as a dependent variable mostly focus on coups. In this paper, I argue that the factors predicting coups in autocracies, weaken civilian control of the military in democracies in different ways. To capture this difference, I advance a new comprehensive framework that includes the erosion of civilian control by competition, insubordination, and deference. I test the argument under conditions of an intrastate conflict—a conducive environment for the erosion of civilian control. A large-N analysis confirms that while intrastate conflict does not lead to coups in democracies, it increases the military’s involvement in government, pointing to alternative forms of erosion taking place. Further case study—Russia’s First Chechen War—demonstrates the causal logic behind the new framework, contributing to the nuanced comparative analysis of civil-military relations across regimes.

The full article can be found in Comparative Political Studies.

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