Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2012
A common assumption in the recent literature on conflict is that leaders want to remain in office and will try to extend their domestic political power while ruling (see, for example, Bueno de Mesquita et al. 2003). However, these same leaders are constantly confronted with an opposition that is also trying to gain and maintain domestic power within the political process, and strategic bargaining between these groups is greatly affected by changes in the level of threat confronting the state. This inter-group bargaining is an essential element in the political centralization of the state.
In this chapter I demonstrate that external threat can dramatically alter the bargaining dynamic between leaders and oppositions. External threats, especially threats over territory, change the domestic resources available to each group. With public opinion unified against the threat, seeking security from the state, and intolerant of diversity from their opinion, any opposition will likely be stymied by the broad support for the executive. Meanwhile, leaders are gaining domestic political power as they control an arming state, which can also suppress dissent if needed. These short-term advantages for the leader translate into a very favorable political environment, and, over time, an opposition consistently muted by external strife creates the political conditions necessary for domestic institutional change. Without opposition, the leader can move to institutionalize greater executive powers. Thus, states with centralized institutional political authority will be found in environments that suffer from extended external threats to the state that are salient to the public at large.