We investigate how the influence of the military differs across authoritarian regimes and verify whether there are actually systematic differences in military expenditures amongst different forms of dictatorships. We argue that public choices in autocracies result from a struggle for power between the leader and the elite. Elites matter because they control the fates of dictators, since most dictators are overthrown by members of their inner circle. Both actors want to ensure their continued political influence through a favourable allocation of the government budget. Moreover, the control over the security forces gives access to troops and weaponry, and affects the ease with which elites can unseat dictators. Autocratic rulers employ different bundles of co-option and repression for staying in power, and thus differ in the extent that they are required to buy off the military. Therefore, the institutional makeup of dictatorships affects the nature of leader-elite interaction, and in turn the share of the government budget allocated to military spending. Drawing on a new data set that sorts dictatorships into 5 categories from 1960 to 2000, our empirical results suggest that while military and personalist regimes have respectively the highest and lowest level of military spending among authoritarian regimes, monarchies and single-party regimes display intermediate patterns of spending.