Amicable Contempt: The Strategic Balance between Dictators and International NGOs
Over the past decade, international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) have become increasingly active in authoritarian regimes as they respond to emergencies, assist with development, or advocate for human rights. Though these services and advocacy can challenge the legitimacy and power of the regime, many autocratic states permit INGO activities, and INGOs continue to work in these countries despite heavy restrictions on their activities. In this dissertation, I theorize that the relationship between INGOs and autocrats creates a state of amicable contempt, where each party is aware that the other both threatens and supports their existence. After outlining the theory, I explore the factors that determine when autocracies will constrict the legal environment for INGOs through de jure anti-NGO laws and the discretionary implementation of those laws. I combine a set of statistical models run on a cross-sectional dataset of 100 autocracies between 1991–2014 with case studies of Egypt, Russia, and China to test the effect of internal risk, external threats, and reputational concerns on the de facto civil society regulatory environment. I find that autocracies constrict civil society regulations in response to domestic instability and as regimes become more stable and cohesive. I also find that autocracies constrict civil society regulations in response to external threats to the regime, including the pressures of globalization. I find no evidence of an effect from reputational concerns. I then use results from a global survey of 641 INGOs to test the determinants of international NGO behavior. I find that the conflict between principles and instrumental concerns shapes INGO behavior and influences its relationship to its host government. Finally, I combine the survey results with case studies of four INGOs—Article 19, AMERA International, Index on Censorship, and the International Republican Institute—to analyze how INGOs respond to two forms of government regulation. When facing gatekeeping restrictions designed limit access to the country, I find that INGOs rely on their programmatic flexibility to creatively work around those restrictions. When facing restrictions aimed at capturing INGO programs, organizations rely on their programmatic flexibility to protect against changes to their core principles and mission.
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