After Coup, Myanmar’s Military Rule Is an Exception

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Government-sponsored massacres became less frequent too. But a wave in the 1990s were mostly in countries that, like Myanmar, had histories of civil war, weak institutions, high poverty rates and politically powerful militaries — Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.

Though they largely failing to stop those killings as they happened, world leaders and institutions like the United Nations built systems to encourage democracy and avert future atrocities.

Myanmar, a pariah state that had sealed itself off from the world until reopening in 2011, didn’t much benefit from those efforts.

The country also missed out on a global change in how dictatorship works.

A growing number of countries have shifted toward systems where a strongman rises democratically but then consolidates power. These countries still hold elections and call themselves democracies, but heavily restrict freedoms and political rivals. Think Russia, Turkey or Venezuela.

“Repression in the last couple of years has actually gotten worse in dictatorships,” Dr. Frantz said. But large-scale crackdowns are rarer, she added, in part because “today’s dictators are getting savvier in how they oppress.”

Only 20 years ago, 70 percent of protest movements demanding democracy or systemic change succeeded. But that number has since plummeted to a historic low of 30 percent, according to a study by Erica Chenoweth of Harvard University.

Much of the change, Dr. Chenoweth wrote, came through something called “authoritarian learning.”

New-style dictators were wary of calling in the military, which might turn against them. And mass violence would shatter their democratic pretensions. So they developed practices to frustrate or fracture citizen movements: jailing protest leaders, stirring up nationalism, flooding social media with disinformation.

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