Why do some autocratic states allocate more resources to the military than others? We contend that as narrow polit- ical interests have more influence on a leader, relative to broader political interests, a state’s military burden increases. Further, we argue that two domestic factors are central to explaining the relative strength of narrow political interests for military spending, and therefore variation in state military burden. First, institutions that increase the cost of political participation reduce the influence of the median citizen, increasing the strength of narrow political interests and, concomitantly, military spending. Second, as a regime ages, narrow interests become more entrenched and the regime becomes less concerned about overthrow. In turn, older regimes spend more on their militaries. We test hypotheses from this argument by examining the military burden for all autocracies over the period 1950–2000. We find that variation in restrictions on political participation and the age of the regime are central to understanding differences in military spending among autocracies. Further, once these institutional features are taken into account, we find only modest support for the view that certain types of regimes spend more than others. What matters is not regime type but specific institutional features that affect the strength of narrow interests and vary across, and within, autocratic regimes.
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