Former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. U.S. Navy photo

How Spreading Democracy Keeps Dictators in Power

Podcast — for authoritarians, bad behavior is almost always good policy


For his views on democracies and dictatorships, he’s been called a cynic. But NYU professor Alastair Smith doesn’t think that makes him wrong.

This week on War College, Smith debunks popular ideas about dictators and how they stay in power. According to Smith, and his colleague Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, the West too often trades cash for policy favors from dictators.

International criminal courts for authoritarian leaders are bad ideas, Smith argues, because they create negative incentives for dictators to leave. And attempts to help the masses — as former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi attempted — can be a dictator’s biggest mistake.

Smith says that for dictators, it’s good policy to understand who keeps them in power and to keep those entities — which can sometimes include the West — happy.

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