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International Relations / Political Science

Garrison State Project

Project Lead: David Sylvan
Senior Researcher:
Ashley Thornton
Research Assistants: Juliette Ganne, Laura Schenker, Will Bennett, Flavia Eichmann (Former Assistants: Michael Barczay, Mira Fey, Moe Saito)
Timeline: 2015-2019
Keywords: garrison state, surveillance, national security, parliamentary debates, ideological consensus
Funding Organisation: Swiss National Science Foundation, grant #159373

Abstract: This multi-year project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, is examining the expansion of what political scientist Harold Lasswell called "garrison states": developed democracies in which organizations concerned with issues of national security grow in size, become more active, and are less and less subject to oversight. The project looks at 7 countries, over a time span of almost 70 years, to see if Lasswell's argument holds for a variety of democracies: large vs. small, members of alliances vs. neutrals, and those with vs. those without colonies. If it turns out that Lasswell was indeed correct, this suggests that in the long term, democratic governance is being eroded by concerns over national security.

Garrison State Project
It’s easy to imagine a general phenomenon of the garrison state, but it’s very hard to measure it in a systematic and cross-national way.
David Sylvan
about the methodological challenge


By its nature, the extent of the garrison state cannot be observed directly. The actions and influence of what Lasswell called "specialists on violence" often occur behind the scenes and are deliberately undocumented. Many written materials are classified and many of the relevant officials from earlier eras are retired or dead. These facts render problematic any attempt to study the garrison state by means of archival or interview strategies. They also make it close to impossible to use budgetary data as a proxy for the size of the garrison state (in most countries, for example, the budget of intelligence agencies is deliberately undisclosed or dissimulated among dozens of other line items).

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