Dictatorships have dominated global politics for hundreds of years, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the absolute monarchs of Europe. Though democracy has since spread to much of the world, about a third of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared to democracies, we know very little about how dictatorships work, who the key political actors are, and where decision-making powers lie. Political processes are opaque, and information is often intentionally distorted. Political survival depends not on maintaining the favor of voters, as in democracies, but on securing the backing of a considerably smaller coalition of supporters. The absence of a reliable third party to enforce compromises among key players means that power-sharing deals lack credibility and the threat of forced ouster is omnipresent. Uncertainty pervades authoritarian politics.
Modern autocrats respond to this uncertain environment in a variety of ways. They use political parties, legislatures, elections, and other institutions typically associated with democracies to lessen their risk of overthrow. Despite the façade of democracy, these institutions are key components of most autocrats’ survival strategies; those that incorporate them last longer in power than those that do not. The specific ways in which autocratic institutions are used and the extent to which they can constrain leadership choices to prevent consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, however, vary enormously from one dictatorship to the next. Better understanding the conditions that push autocracies down a path of collegial versus strongman rule remains a critical task, particularly given that the latter is associated with more war, economic mismanagement, and resistance to democratization.
We can distinguish between three moral approaches to war: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. There are various theoretical approaches to war within the just war tradition. One of the central disputes between these approaches concerns whether war is morally exceptional (as held by exceptionalists), or morally continuous with ordinary life (as held by reductive individualists). There are also significant debates concerning key substantive issues in the ethics of war, such as reductivist challenges to the thesis that combatants fighting an unjust war are the moral equals of those fighting a just war, and the challenge to reductivism that it undermines the principle of noncombatant immunity. There are also changing attitudes to wars of humanitarian intervention. One under-explored challenge to the permissibility of such wars lies in the better outcomes of alternative ways of alleviating suffering. The notion of unconventional warfare has also come to recent prominence, not least with respect to the moral status of human shields.