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Authoritarian Gravity Centres: Fostering Power, Stability, and Legitimacy through Autocracy Promotion and Diffusion in Regional Organizations

Comparative Politics
Foreign Policy
Government
International Relations
Thomas Demmelhuber
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Thomas Demmelhuber
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Marianne Kneuer
University of Hildesheim
Raphael Peresson
Stiftung Universtität Hildesheim
Tobias Zumbrägel
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
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Abstract

Despite the ‘waves of democratization’ throughout the last century, empirical evidence has underlined the emergence and resilience of clusters of authoritarianism in the world. Moreover, one can even notice a ‘pressure for autocratization’ emanating from certain non-democratic regimes that seek cooperation and legitimation in their immediate neighborhood. In this vein, this article will be guided by the following research question: To what extent do regional organizations (RO) play a role for this phenomenon of authoritarian clustering? We suggest that it is foremost ROs that are used as a ‘transmission belt’ for disseminating autocratic elements (ideas, institutions, policies, models, behaviors, and techniques). Applying our concept of authoritarian gravity centres (AGC), we argue that AGCs – defined as “regimes that constitute a force of attraction and contagion for countries in geopolitical proximity” – are the main contributors in regional organizations. AGCs are using ROs for active promotion of autocracy (intentional, actor-driven) and diffusion (unintentional, neutral transmission) in order to strengthen political stability and power in the proximity, and to increase political legitimacy at home and abroad. In a cross-regional comparison, we investigate the role of three AGCs, namely Kazakhstan, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia within their respective regional organizations, i.e. the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP), and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). By focusing on different arenas, i.e. the institutional arena, the policy arena, the ideational arena as well as administrative techniques, our purpose is to identify forms of collaboration how they determine the promotion and diffusion of autocratization and how they contribute therewith to the stabilization of a regime friendly environment.