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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Defiant Dictatorships
Paul Brooker

(NY: New York University Press, 1997)
223pp. Index. Bibl.Hb.: 0-8147-1311-4..

In Defiant Dictatorships Paul Brooker sets out to discover why eight dictatorships have proved so stable against a tide of democratization, or its facade at least, elsewhere, The cases covered are four communist cases - China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba - and four middle-eastern countries - Syria, Iraq, Libya and Iran. A Chapter is devoted to each case and these chapters adopt a clear format with the dictatorships described under three headings: political structure, ideology, and economic policy. The cases are explicitly viewed as dynamic entities, explaining the sequences of political, ideological and economic changes. Written in a clear style these chapters present useful sources on the political systems and policies of the regimes.

In the introductory chapter Brooker offers his 'prima facie' explanation for these regimes' survival, namely 'the stabilizing influence of defiance itself' (p. 163). This is not as circular as it sounds for his argument is that it is defiance against external 'foes' which produces stability, internally. In essence foes making military threats produce a 'siege mentality'. Brooker also offers two alternative or 'supplementary' explanations, 'structural/ideological' and 'economic policies'. In the concluding chapter he argues that some support can be found for the supplementary relevance of increasing nationalism and a trend towards economic liberalism. Their secondary importance follows from their fitting only some of the cases.

Though an interesting and informative book, the way the argument is developed creates a serious methodological weakness. It is not possible to prove a thesis, however tentative, by showing that alternative explanations are less than satisfactory. It is also necessary to demonstrate the primary explanation to be of central importance. As such, each of the chapters should have been devoted to showing how external threats had produced internal stability and how, at best, alternative explanations were only supplementary. This is particularly important when in the first chapter one of the cases is acknowledged as different from the rest: in Cuba military threats (from the USA) are viewed as 'latent' only. China too turns out to be somewhat outside of the generalization for it is internal threats to stability, the pro-democracy demonstrations, which are stressed, in combination with the strengthening of the siege mentality through China being left, after 1991, 'the lone Communist power' (p. 9). This is hardly the same thing as being under actual threat of military invasion.

Dictatorships, rather, may choose to rally support through military aggression and use the excuse of war to increase the state's capacity for coercion to be used not only abroad but also at home. A focus on state coercion could have directed attention to the state's role in causing ethnic conflict. Understanding might then have been developed both on the conditions under which a western-type competitive political system would be viewed as desirable by an encumbant dictatorship and under which it would be workable.

Rosemary H. T. O'Kane, University of Keele

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