Global Autocracies: Strategies of Transnational Repression, Legitimation, and Co-Optation in World Politics

Gerasimos Tsourapas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How, when, and why does a state take repressive action against individuals residing outside its territorial jurisdiction? Beyond state-led domestic forms of control over citizens living within their legal borders, autocracies also seek to target those abroad—from African states’ sponsoring violence against exiled dissidents to Central Asian republics’ extraditions of political émigrés, and from the adoption of spyware software to monitor digital activism across Latin America to enforced disappearances of East Asian expatriates. Despite growing global interconnectedness, the field of international studies currently lacks an adequate comparative framework for analyzing how autocracies adapt to growing cross-border mobility. I argue that the rise of global migration flows has contributed to the emergence of “transnational authoritarianism,” as autocracies aim to both maximize material gains from citizens’ “exit” and minimize political risks by controlling their “voice” abroad. I demonstrate that governments develop strategies of transnational repression, legitimation, and co-optation that transcend state borders, as well as co-operation with a range of non-state actors. Bringing work on the international politics of migration in conversation with the literature on authoritarianism, I provide illustrative examples drawn from a range of transnational authoritarian practices by the fifty countries categorized as “Not Free” by Freedom House in 2019, covering much of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. I sketch an emerging field of international studies research around the novel means that autocracies employ to exercise power over populations abroad, while shedding light on the evolving nature of global authoritarianism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Studies Review
Early online date31 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


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