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  • Cited by 169
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
August 2016
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Book description

How do dictators stay in power? When, and how, do they use repression to do so? Dictators and their Secret Police explores the role of the coercive apparatus under authoritarian rule in Asia - how these secret organizations originated, how they operated, and how their violence affected ordinary citizens. Greitens argues that autocrats face a coercive dilemma: whether to create internal security forces designed to manage popular mobilization, or defend against potential coup. Violence against civilians, she suggests, is a byproduct of their attempt to resolve this dilemma. Drawing on a wealth of new historical evidence, this book challenges conventional wisdom on dictatorship: what autocrats are threatened by, how they respond, and how this affects the lives and security of the millions under their rule. It offers an unprecedented view into the use of surveillance, coercion, and violence, and sheds new light on the institutional and social foundations of authoritarian power.


Winner, 2017 Best Book Award, Comparative Democratization Section, American Political Science Association

Honourable Mention, 2017 J. David Greenstone Book Award, Politics and History Section, American Political Science Association


'This contribution to international relations theory is for scholars in the field … Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.'

J. P. Dunn Source: Choice

'Dictators and their Secret Police is an important, thoughtful and well-researched contribution to the large and growing body of literature on authoritarianism. It not only fills multiple important gaps, but - as any good book - suggests a number of avenues for future inquiry. Conceptually, the book introduces the useful distinction between fragmented-exclusive and unified-inclusive repressive apparatuses, which immediately raises the question whether there are mixed types (for example, fragmented-inclusive coercive systems), how and why these are chosen, and how they affect coercion in authoritarian regimes. Theoretically, the book not only provides the first systematic and coherent explanation for the particular design of repressive apparatuses and their effects on the human rights tally of authoritarian regimes, but also reminds students of authoritarian politics that repression is the result of agency and strategic considerations by rational actors who react to (or aim to preempt) real or perceived structural threats.'

David Kuehn Source: Democratization

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