Why do some leaders eliminate rivals from authoritarian regimes and therefore diminish elites' capabilities to remove them via coups, while others do not? By examining both dictators' incentives and opportunities to weaken regime elites, I show that dictators are more likely to eliminate rivals when elites' capabilities to oust dictators via coup is temporarily low. Thus, somewhat paradoxically, my theory predicts that dictators are more likely to weaken elites' capabilities as the threat of coup decreases rather than when coup risk is high. Furthermore, I argue that successful coups that put new dictators in power temporarily diminish elites' capabilities to remove dictators and, thus, provide a window of opportunity for the dictators to take steps to consolidate power. Empirical results using a new dataset on purges of militaries from 1969 to 2003 provide strong evidence for my hypotheses.
- authoritarian regime
- elite purge