A volume in the series Cornell Studies in Security Affairs edited by Robert J. Art, Robert Jervis, and Stephen Walt
Author: Jessica L.P. Weeks
Publisher: Cornell University Press – 247 pages
Book Review by: Paiso Jamakar

This is a research, study, and discussion book on dictators, their invasions of territories they want to add to their own, and the different outcomes they get. They get surprisingly different results not only because their personal characteristics vary, but also because their actions and moves are distinct, and the responses of those being attacked are rather unusual and sometimes unexpected.

At the outset, Jessica Weeks gives three examples of dictators who tried to claim lands and hegemony over people who inhabited them, and the different outcomes their attempts brought about:

  • Saddam Hussein – In August of 1990, this dictator of Iraq sent tanks into Kuwait after simply and suddenly claiming that Iraq was going to regain its 19th province. The United States swiftly stopped Saddam’s further attacks and sent his troops and equipment home. It was an embarrassing defeat for the Iraqi leader. It seems that Saddam did expect that the U.S. will prevent Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, but made the bold and daring attempt anyway.   Perhaps he did not care for the loss of human lives, but just the prize.
  • General Leopoldo Galtieri – in April of 1982 this military dictator of Argentina sent his forces to occupy the Falklands and Mariana Islands, a British territory that had been the subject of discord between Argentina and Britain. Galtieri had thought that Britain would not prevent his attempt to take those territories, but he suffered a humiliating reversal.
  • Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan – Through the 1960s these communist leaders of North Vietnam tried to unify their country with South Vietnam. The U.S. was involved in a long drawn-out war, but finally withdrew in 1973, and the two countries were unified in 1975. So the outcome of the Vietnam War was way different than the other two.

This study of war and dictatorships is extensive. It provides many historical examples of conflicts and gives answers to questions that crop up in the minds of those who study different patterns of international conflict. The author has organized the contents of this book into just six chapters, and we provide you their titles below.    


  1. Authoritarian Regimes and the Domestic Politics of War and Peace
  2. Initiating International Conflict
  3. Winners, Losers, and Survivors
  4. Personalist Dictators: Shooting from the Hip
  5. Juntas: Using the Only Language They Understand
  6. Machines: Looking Before They Leap


Dictators take divergent paths. Some wars are short and won or lost quickly, while others are protracted. What are some of the questions Jessica Weeks raises and gives you answers to? Among the questions she asks are the following:

  • Why do some dictators make risky and sometimes foolhardy decisions about the use of force, whereas others are much more cautious in their decisions to exercise military power?
  • Why do some authoritarian leaders limit themselves to winnable wars, whereas others embroil their countries in defeats that could surely have been avoided?
  • Why do some dictators weather defeat, whereas others are ousted within days of losing a war?

The author points out that there are books out there that focus on the differences between democracies and dictatorships, but there are few if any books that study the differences among dictatorships. This book focuses on the latter.

This book is unique in this respect, and it can us provide the answers we direly need in order to bring about peace in our war-torn world. This book then, is a valuable contribution to an understanding of how dictators think and what motivates them to make war, not peace.