What is a military dictatorship? Definition and examples (2023)

A military dictatorship is a form of government in which the military has most or all of the political power. Military dictatorships may be ruled by a single high-ranking military officer or by a group of such officers. Military dictatorships are notorious for human rights abuses and the denial of political and social freedoms.

Main conclusions Military dictatorship

  • In a military dictatorship it is a type of autocratic government in which the military has all or most of the power over the country.
  • The ruler in a military dictatorship may be a single high-ranking military officer or a group of such officers, called a military junta.
  • Most military dictatorships take power after overthrowing the existing civilian government in a coup.
  • Historically, many military regimes have been distinguished by their brutal suppression of freedom and the persecution of political opponents.
  • The number of countries ruled by military dictatorships began to decline dramatically after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
  • Although Thailand remains the world's last active military dictatorship, other notable examples of modern countries with histories of military rule include: Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Greece.

Military Dictatorship Definition and Characteristics

In a military dictatorship, military leaders exercise substantial or complete control over the people and government functions. like oneautocraticform of government, a military dictatorship may be ruled by a single strongman whose authority is unlimited, or by a group of high-ranking military officials – a “military junta” – who may to some extent limit the authority of the military.of the dictatorauthority.

During the 19th century, for example, many Latin American countries struggling to reorganize after being freed from Spanish colonial rule allowed military dictators to seize power. These self-proclaimed charismatic leaders, known as "caudillos," used to leadguerrilla armiesit had gained control of territories formerly controlled by the Spanish before turning to vulnerable national governments.

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In most cases, military dictatorships come to power after the previous civilian government was overthrown in aRebellion🇧🇷 Usually, the military dictator completely dissolves the civil government. Occasionally, components of the civilian government structure can be restored after a coup, but these are strictly controlled by the military. In Pakistan, for example, while various military dictators held sporadic elections, they did not meet the UN definition of "free and fair." The secrecy of the vote has been periodically compromised and the military authorities frequently deny the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement.

Along with the suspension or revocation of constitutional rights and freedoms, an almost universal characteristic of a military dictatorship is the imposition of martial law, or a state of permanent war.national emergencyintended to distract people in constant fear of attack. Military regimes generally ignorehuman rightsand do everything possible to silence political opposition. Ironically, military dictators often justify their rule as a way to protect their people from "harmful" political ideologies. For example, the threat ofcommunism or socialismoften used to justify military regimes inLatin America.

Playing on the public assumption that the military is politically neutral, military dictatorships may attempt to present themselves as the people's “savior” from corrupt and exploitative civilian politicians. For example, many military juntas have adopted titles such as Poland's "National Liberation Committee" in the early 1980s, or Thailand's current "Council for the Maintenance of Peace and Order."

Because their oppressive style of rule often breeds public dissent, military dictatorships often leave the same way they came in: through an actual or impending coup or popular uprising.

Military Boards

A military junta is a coordinated group of high-ranking military personnel running an authoritarian regime ortotalitarianto rule a country after seizing power by force. Meaning "meeting" or "committee," the term junta was first used for Spanish military leaders who resistedof Napoleoninvasion of Spain in 1808 and later the groups that helped to conquer Latin AmericaSpain's independencebetween 1810 and 1825. Like military dictatorships, military juntas often seized power through a coup.

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What is a military dictatorship? Definition and examples (1)

Unlike pure military dictatorships, where the power of a single dictator or “military strongman” is unlimited, the officers of a military junta can limit the dictator's power.

Unlike military dictators, military junta leaders can end martial law, wear civilian clothes, and appoint ex-military officers to maintain de facto control over local governments and political parties. Instead of all functions of the national government, the military junta may choose to control a more limited range of areas, such asforeign policyoNational security.

Military dictatorship vs civilian

Unlike a military dictatorship, a civil dictatorship is an autocratic form of government that does not derive its power directly from the military.

Unlike military dictatorships, civilian dictatorships do not have built-in access to an organized support base like an army. Instead, civilian dictators assume and maintain power by controlling a dominant political party and the electoral process or by winning fanatical levels of popular support. Instead of the threat of military force, charismatic civilian dictators use techniques like mass bombing.propagandamipsychological warfarecreate feelings of support andnationalismBetween people. Civil dictatorships that depend on political domination tend to be more durable than cult-supported personalist dictatorships.

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Without automatic backing from the military, civilian dictators are less likely to embroil the country in foreign wars and be overthrown in an insurrection or rebellion than are military dictators. Civil dictatorships are also more likely to be replaced bydemocraciesoconstitutional monarchiesthan military dictatorships.

Examples of 20th century military dictatorships

What is a military dictatorship? Definition and examples (2)

Once common in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, the prevalence of military dictatorships has been declining since the early 1990s.collapse of the soviet unionand the end of the Cold War, it became more difficult for military regimes to seize power by using the threat of communism to win the support of powerful Western democracies like the United States.

While Thailand remains the only country currently ruled by a military dictatorship, dozens of other countries were under military rule at some point in the 20th century.


On May 22, 2014, Thailand's interim government was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, commander of the Royal Thai Army. Prayuth established a military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), to govern the country. The junta repealed the constitution, declared martial law, and banned all forms of political expression. In 2017, the NCPO issued an interim constitution granting itself near-total power and establishing a puppet legislature, which unanimously elected Prayuth as prime minister.

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From 1964 to 1985, Brazil was controlled by an authoritarian military dictatorship. After seizing power in a coup, Brazilian army commanders, backed by anti-communist interests including the United States, enacted a new constitution that restricted freedom of expression and prohibited political opposition. The military regime won popular support by promoting nationalism, promising economic growth, and rejecting communism. Brazil officially restored democracy in 1988.


On September 11, 1973, the socialist government of ChileSalvador Allendehe was overthrown by a US-backed coup. For the next 17 years, a military junta headed bygeneral augusto pinochetorchestrated the most brutal period of human rights abuses in Chilean history. During what it called “national reconstruction,” the Pinochet regime banned political participation, executed more than 3,000 suspected dissidents, tortured tens of thousands of political prisoners, and forced an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile. Although Chile returned to democracy in 1990, the people continue to suffer the effects of Pinochet's military dictatorship in political and economic life.


After overthrowing President Isabel Perón in a coup on March 24, 1976, a right-wing military junta ruled Argentina until democracy was restored in December 1983. Operating under the official name of the National Reorganization Process, the The junta persecuted minorities, imposed censorship, and placed all levels of government under military control. During the so-called military dictatorship period of the so-called “Dirty War” in Argentina, around 30,000 citizens were killed or “disappeared”. In 1985, five leaders of the former ruling military junta were convicted of crimes against humanity.


From 1967 to 1974, Greece was ruled by a far-right military dictatorship known as the Regime of the Colonels. On April 21, 1976, a group of four Greek army colonels overthrew the provisional government in a coup. In the first week of his reign alone, the junta arrested, tortured and exiled more than 6,000 suspected political opponents in the name of protecting Greece from communism. His actions were so swift and brutal that, in September 1967, the European Commission of Human Rights accused Colonel Regime of multiple and serious violations of human rights.

Sources and Reference

  • GEDDES, Barbara. "Military Rules."Political Science Annual Review, Volume 17, 2014, https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-polisci-032211-213418.
  • Merieau, Eugénie. "How Thailand Became the World's Last Military Dictatorship".the atlantic, March 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/03/thailand-military-junta-election-king/585274/.
  • SkidmoreThomas E.“The policy of the military regime in Brazil, 1964-1985”.Oxford University Press, 8 March 1990, ISBN-10: 0195063163.
  • Agent, Pamela."A Nation of Enemies: Chile under Pinochet".WW Norton & Company, 1993, ISBN 0393309851.
  • Lewis, Paulo H."Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina".Praeger, October 30, 2001, ISBN-10:0275973603.
  • Athenian, Richard."Inside the Greece of the colonels".WW Norton, January 1, 1972, ISBN-10:


What is the military dictatorship with example? ›

For example, from 1916 until the end of World War I, the German Empire was governed as an effective military dictatorship, because its leading generals had gained such a level of control over Kaiser Wilhelm II that the Chancellor and other civilian ministers effectively served at their pleasure.

What is a military dictatorship called? ›

A military junta (/ˈhʊntə, ˈdʒʌntə/) is a government led by a committee of military leaders.

What is an example of dictatorship? ›

Nazi Germany under Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin are the leading examples of modern totalitarian dictatorships.

What is the meaning of dictatorship Short answer? ›

dictatorship, form of government in which one person or a small group possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limitations.

What is an example of military power? ›

Military power may refer to: The armed forces of a nation (in a narrow sense) or in the wider sense, the capabilities of a group such as a fire team, squad, etc. A great power, in a military context. Military power (jet engines), the maximum power setting of a military jet aircraft without the use of afterburners.

Is there a difference between military and civilian dictatorship? ›

A civilian dictatorship is a form of government different from military dictatorships where the ruling dictator does not derive their power from the military. Among civilian dictatorships, dominant-party dictatorships tend to outlast personalistic dictatorships.

Is military dictatorship a form of government? ›

Military dictatorship, an authoritarian government controlled by a military and its political designees, called a military junta when done extralegally. Military junta, a government led by a committee of military leaders.

Is North Korea a military dictatorship? ›

According to Article 1 of the state constitution, North Korea is an "independent socialist state". It holds elections, though they have been described by independent observers as sham elections, as North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship with a comprehensive cult of personality around the Kim family.

Who is the decision maker in a military dictatorship? ›


What are two examples of dictatorship from the lesson? ›

Both Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union were considered totalitarian dictatorships.

What is dictatorship in sentence? ›

Example Sentences

The country suffered for many years under his dictatorship. His enemies accused him of establishing a dictatorship.

What words describe dictatorship? ›

Synonyms of dictatorial
  • authoritarian.
  • oppressive.
  • arbitrary.
  • autocratic.
  • despotic.
  • tyrannical.
  • domineering.
  • tyrannous.

What is the definition of dictatorship quizlet? ›

Definition (Dictatorship) A system of government in which one person, the dictator, has ultimate control. The dictator rarely has regard for human rights.

What is dictatorship and why is it important? ›

A dictatorship completely disregards the rights of individual citizens. The government and state will try to control all citizens through laws, police, spying and force. The government and state is the most important thing to a dictatorship.

What is the definition for dictatorship for kids? ›

A dictatorship is a form of government where absolute power is held by a single person or small group of people. In a dictatorship, the person or people in power are not held to account by any form of constitution or other constraints on what they can and can't do.

What is it called when the military takes power? ›

A coup d'état (/ˌkuːdeɪˈtɑː/ ( listen); French for 'stroke of state'; plural coups d'état), also known as a coup or overthrow, is a seizure and removal of a government and its powers. Typically, it is an illegal seizure of power by a political faction, politician, cult, rebel group, military, or a dictator.

What are the 3 types of military? ›

The US military has five branches: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

What are the 3 types of dictatorship? ›

Under this system, there are three types of dictatorships. Military dictatorships are controlled by military officers, one-party dictatorships are controlled by the leadership of a political party, and personalist dictatorships are controlled by a single individual.

Do civilians control the military? ›

Civil-Military Relations

As noted above, civilian control of the military refers to the principle that the military is ultimately subordinate to civilian authority. This formal governance structure for the military has always been necessary, but not sufficient, to ensuring civilian control of the military.

What are 4 characteristics of dictatorship? ›

Dictatorships are often characterised by some of the following: suspension of elections and civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents; not abiding by the procedures of the rule of law, and the existence of a cult of personality centered on the leader.

What are the 3 types of dictatorships? ›

Under this system, there are three types of dictatorships. Military dictatorships are controlled by military officers, one-party dictatorships are controlled by the leadership of a political party, and personalist dictatorships are controlled by a single individual.

Who were the 3 main dictators? ›

The Three Dictators: Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler.

When did South Korea stop being a military dictatorship? ›

In 1979, mass anti-government demonstrations occurred nationwide, in the midst of this political turmoil, Park Chung-hee was assassinated by the director of the KCIA, Kim Jae-gyu, thus bringing the 18-year rule of military regime to an end.

Why is North Korea allowed to be a dictatorship? ›

North Korea's political system is built upon the principle of centralization. The constitution defines North Korea as "a dictatorship of people's democracy" under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), which is given legal supremacy over other political parties.

Can you call North Korea? ›

Overseas callers to North Korea will usually need to go through the international operator service on +850 2 18111. A select few numbers (mostly fax numbers) are able to be dialled directly, without operator assistance.


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