Military coups happen for various political, economic, and historical reasons. A vast literature investigates the external factors that affect coup vulnerability, including interstate wars, security threats, regional spillovers, and foreign economic linkages. An even more impressive number of studies, going back almost seven decades, focuses on the domestic causes of military coups. These causes of coups can be classified under two broad headings: background causes and triggering causes. Background causes are those structural determinants that generally increase coup vulnerability in a given country and create motives for coup attempts. The most prevalent background causes concern the regime type and characteristics, historical legacies and cultural diversity, and economic conditions. The triggering causes are temporally and spatially more specific conditions that determine the opportunities for coup plotters. Various types of political instability and violence, such as popular protests and civil wars, can become important triggers. Additionally, the characteristics of the military organization and the effectiveness of coup-proofing strategies fall under this category. An extensive review of the cross-national civil-military relations literature reveals that very few of the proposed determinants survive empirical scrutiny. Three findings stand out as consistently robust predictors of coup activity. First and most notably, there is broad consensus that the “coup trap” is an empirical reality: coups breed coups. This finding is bolstered by the fact that military regimes are especially vulnerable to coup attempts. Second, income and wealth have a strong negative correlation with coup probability. All else equal, poor countries are more coup prone than their richer and more developed counterparts. Last but not the least, political instability and violence increase coup likelihood, although scholars differ on which exact type of instability or popular unrest is the most significant. Many other oft-cited factors such as colonial legacy, culture, ethnic fractionalization, resource wealth, and economic crisis are not consistently robust in global samples. This observation highlights the need for more metastudies to separate the relevant variables from idiosyncratic effects.
Armies in Politics: The Domestic Determinants of Military Coup Behavior
Military Coups d’État and Their Causes
There have been three waves of scholarship on military coups d’état (or simply “coups”)—the unconstitutional replacement of chief executives by military officers—since the 1960s. The first used case studies to explore why the military overthrows governments. One of its central findings was that military uprisings were an integral part of political succession in many countries. A second wave produced the “aggregate studies” that were the first to deploy cross-national databases to identify the measurable features that distinguished more from less coup-prone political systems. These studies revealed, among other things, that coups proliferated in places with a history of instability. The third and current wave of scholarship takes advantage of the development of statistical software for limited dependent variables—then unavailable, now commonplace—to recast the quantitative research on coups. Two core findings have survived disconfirmation since the start of the third wave. First, higher income countries have fewer coups, though the effects are small (and become even weaker when models only contain developing countries). Second, “political legacy effects” mean that the probability of a coup declines with time since the last military uprising. Much of the latest wave of research pinpoints factors—like coup proofing, less inequality, or the end of the Cold War—that reduce the probability of a coup. The development of ever more sophisticated statistical techniques to divine the causes of instability, nevertheless, relies on off-the-shelf data sets and coup catalogs whose validity—properly understood as accuracy—is questionable. Only a greater attention to accuracy and complementary methods promise to produce a comprehensive account of why the military topples governments in some, but not in other, places.
Civilian Coup Advocacy
Drew Holland Kinney
Available scholarship on civil–military relations, and coup politics in particular, tends to treat military coups d’état as originating purely within the minds of military officers; that is, the overwhelming bulk of scholarship assumes that the idea to seize power stems from officer cliques. To the extent that societal factors (e.g., polarization, economic decline, party factionalism) explain coups, they merely account for why officers decide to seize power. Most research that discusses civilian support for coups does so within single case studies—almost entirely drawn from the Middle East and North Africa. Building on a vibrant wave of studies that disaggregates civil–military institutions, a small body of recent research has begun to systematically and comprehensively consider the theoretical and empirical importance of civilian involvement in military coups. This perspective deemphasizes the military’s possession of weapons and instead focuses on ideational sources of power. Civilians have more power and resources to offer military plotters than existing scholarship has given them credit for. Civilian elites and publics can legitimate coups, organize them, manipulate information on behalf of the plotters, and finance coups for their own economic interests. In short, to fully understand coups, one must seek as much knowledge as possible about their formation, including where the idea for each plot originated. Such detailed analysis of coup plots will give researchers a clearer picture about the motivating factors behind coups.
The Military in African Politics
Interstate conflict has been rare in sub-Saharan Africa and militaries often do not fit the image of a force focused on external threats. Instead, they have often been heavily engaged in domestic politics, regularly serving as regime protection. For many militaries on the continent, the continued internal focus of the armed forces has been shaped by practices under colonialism. One defining feature of African militaries’ involvement in politics is the coup d’état. From the 1960s to the 1980s coups were the primary method of regime change, making the military central to the political landscape of the continent. By the start of the 21st century there were far fewer direct attempts at military control of African states, yet militaries continue to influence politics even under civilian leadership. While there are differences in the role of militaries based on the unique circumstances of each state, there are also general patterns regarding new missions undertaken by armed forces following the end of the Cold War. These include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance, all of which generally involve international partnerships and cooperation. Yet these missions have also had domestic political motivations and effects.
Greece: From Overt Military Activism to Democratic Normality
Greek civil-military relations (CMR) have been fraught with tension and conflict for a long time, almost since the country’s independence in 1830. A high number of military coups and mutual mistrust between political elites and military officers characterized periods of civilian rule for most of the 20th century. However, and that is what makes the Greek case especially interesting, the restoration of democratic rule after the last military coup in 1967 has been both swift and successful. Ever since 1974, Greece’s CMR have stabilized along the archetypal examples of advanced Western democracies. Interpreting this impressive transformation of Greek CMR is an exercise that needs to bring together distinct factors: the country’s historical evolution, its political transformation, and its economic development. When in 1974 the Cyprus fiasco exposed the colonels’ regime as inept and incapable of defending the country’s national interests, the country was politically ready for a smooth transition to institutional normality. External factors, such as the prospect of European Union (EU) membership, assisted the country’s civilian leadership by offering Greece a path toward economic prosperity and political stability. For all of the country’s economic problems in the early 21st century, that path has been followed consistently ever since
Niger: Armed Force Politics and Counterterrorism
Since the independence of Niger in 1960, Nigerien armed forces have played a prominent role in the country’s history, either because of their recurrent “nonpolitical” interventions in the political arena or based on their involvement in the stabilization process of the Sahel and the fight against terrorism. Nigeriens have lived under civil, military, and authoritarian regimes, experienced four coups d’état (1974, 1996, 1999, and 2010), four political transitions, nine presidents, and have voted on seven constitutions. The Nigerien population lived under military rule for 23 out of 60 years following independence. Thus, Nigerien contemporary politics cannot be analyzed without a sound understanding of the Nigerien Army, how the institution became an “entrepreneur politique,” and how institutional, economic, and social factors may encourage the intervention of a nonpolitical institution in the political arena. Politics and the military are definitely connected in Niger. Each coup has had a different motive. The 1974 military coup is one of the many successful military seizures of power that occurred in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. This first “praetorian” intervention resulted from intramilitary and domestic factors and lasted 17 years under the rule of Seyni Kountché and his successor Ali Saibou. The second intervention in politics occurred in 1996 and also resulted from institutional factors and the inability of the newly elected authorities to overcome their divisions. The 1996 coup d’état was a classic case: a time-limited military intervention using violence to convert itself into a civilian regime. In 1999 the army overthrew a military regime, whereas in 2010 militaries put an end to the democratically elected president’s shift toward authoritarianism. In 2010, the shift in the security situation in the Sahel marked the armed forces’ return to strictly military functions, such as national defense and security and providing support for external operations. Consequently, the security situation in the Sahel strip deteriorated and the major economic and social challenges of the poorest country in the world were neglected. This has led to recurrent political and social tensions that reinforce the fact that addressing the basic needs of the people is as, important as Niger’s security policy.
Pakistan: Persistent Praetorianism
The military has dominated politics and national security in Pakistan since the decade following independence from British colonial rule in August 1947. The country appears to be caught in a persistent praetorian trap: It has experienced three military coups (1958, 1977, 1999, and an intra-military coup led by General Yahya Khan against President and Field Marshall Ayub Khan in 1969), and each of them was followed by military or quasi-military governments (1958–1969, 1969–1971, 1977–1988, 1999–2007) that have left behind legacies curtailing the authority of civilian governments long after the generals exited power. Scholars have examined the causes of military intervention, the role of the military in democratic transitions, and the patterns of civil–military relations under elected rule, which are perennially defined by military autonomy and weak civilian control. The military established its most recent dictatorship under General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, which lasted for 8 years. The subsequent transition to civilian rule in 2008 resulted in the first ever transfer of power from the government of the left-of-center Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which had completed its constitutional tenure, to the right-of-center Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N of Nawaz Sharif) in 2013. Bipartisan reforms enacted in 2010 restored the 1973 constitution’s federal parliamentary structure and removed several authoritarian distortions (e.g., the power of the president to arbitrarily sack elected governments) introduced under military rule. In the subsequent 2018 vote, the incumbent PML-N government peacefully yielded power to the right-of-center Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). Despite multiparty elections followed by executive turnovers, civil–military relations remain fraught and the generals continue to retain their vast prerogatives and reserve domains under elected regimes, including institutional affairs, defense allocations, commercial interests in vital sectors of the economy, foreign policy, nuclear weapons, intelligence, and even civilian administration. Between 2008 and 2017, civilian government made repeated attempts to erode its privileges (e.g., the PPP government’s decision to place the country’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), under civilian control) and challenge its presumptions of impunity (e.g., the decision of the PML-N government to prosecute Musharraf for “high treason”). The military responded by publicly contesting civilian policies, resisting or rejecting directives, and mobilizing its civilian proxies to destabilize elected rule. In 2018, the generals manipulated the polls to install the pro-military PTI in power. The country’s weak democracy has since mutated into a hybrid regime where formal democratic political institutions mask undeclared martial rule.
Ethnic Inequality and Coups d’État
Cristina Bodea and Christian Houle
A coup d’état is an all-around consequential event, and coups remain frequent in sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, ethnic inequality—the measure of income disparities at the level of ethnic groups—has been paid little attention as a potential cause of coups and other types of regime breakdown. More work exists on the relationship between ethnicity broadly construed and coup d’état, and in particular the role of unequal access to the military for different ethnic groups and the role of ethnic exclusion from political power. Our own work presents a theory that links “between” and “within” ethnic group income inequality to coup d’état initiated by ethnic groups. The argument is that high income and wealth inequality between ethnic groups, coupled with within-group homogeneity, increases the salience of ethnicity and solidifies within-group preferences vis-à-vis the preferences of other ethnic groups, increasing the appeal and feasibility of a coup. Empirical findings from sub-Saharan Africa support the main theoretical claim linking ethnic inequality to coup d’état. Additional evidence from sub-Saharan Africa and a larger global sample are consistent with the causal mechanisms. More remains to be researched in this area, however. Directions for future research include looking at the access of ethnic groups to the military, the intervening role of natural resources in the calculus of ethnic groups, and the role of ethnic inequality in incumbent takeovers.
Japan: The Culture of Insubordination in the Army, 1868–1945
The soldiers and sailors of Imperial Japan (1868–1945) are often presented in Western popular publications as obedient robots, unblinkingly following their commanders to certain death. In fact, however, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy were among the most disobedient military forces in modern history. Structural flaws in the political code of the early Japanese state, as well as a series of misguided reforms to the Army, incubated an ideology of military independence from civilian rule. The Army, placed directly under the Emperor, did not institutionally believe it had to unconditionally obey the civilian government. Even worse, generals used their connections with the sovereign as an excuse for their individual disobedience. In the 1920s, this ideology of military independence converged with a subculture of insubordination from below, recalling revolutionary traditions of the mid-19th century. According to this ideology, prevalent among both officers and civilian activists, spontaneous political violence was justified when motivated by sincere patriotism and imperial loyalty. By the 1930s, insubordination from above and from below converged to produce a strong sense of military superiority, independence from any kind of civilian supervision, and endemic violence. The result was an unending series of unauthorized military operations, political assassinations, and coups d’état. These terrified the civilian leadership and eventually drove Japan to imperial overreach and disastrous, unwinnable wars.
Foreign Military Training and Coups d’État
Jesse Dillon Savage
There has long been concern that foreign military training could increase the coup propensity of recipient militaries. Alternatively, others have held the hope that such training could be used as a development tool to help improve the normative outlook of militaries and increase their respect for civilian control. The primary goal of such training is rarely to improve, or worsen for that matter, civil–military relations in the recipient state. Instead, donor or provider states are usually aiming to strengthen their own security and strategic positions. If there is a relationship between training and civil–military relations, these effects are mostly, then, second-order effects. The academic study of the issue has often reflected this divide, though many have been skeptical of any effect at all. Along with the theoretical differences regarding the effects of foreign military training, empirical results have been mixed. While some have found a relationship between training and coups, other studies have found the opposite. These divergent results can be attributed to a few factors. First, the field of civil–military relations lacks a solid empirical understanding of the effects of military education and training in general, let alone how foreign military training fits into this. Second, the theoretical arguments lack appropriate refinement. This has led to possible misspecification of empirical models or a failure of construct validity. Finally, most research has failed to account for heterogeneous effects from different donors in different political contexts.
Benin and Togo: Loyalist Stacking and Rival Security Forces
Benin and Togo’s postcolonial histories have been shaped by the actions of military personnel. In both cases, governments were either placed into power or toppled by the military. This trend ended in Benin after 1991, when the military returned to the barracks. In Togo, as of 2020, Faure Gnassingbé’s government still relies on the armed forces to remain in power. To understand this path divergence, it is necessary to look at the regimes that arose in 1967 in Togo and 1972 in Benin. After years of coup cycles and failed civilian or military governments, two leaders—Mathieu Kérékou in Benin and Étienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma in Togo—established stable military governments. In order to end coup cycles, both leaders put in place coup-proofing measures that profoundly influenced the composition of the armed forces of their respective countries. In Benin, the Kérékou government implemented a series of measures to heighten divisions among the armed forces and to preclude the coordination of rivals. In Togo, the Eyadéma government filled the army with those from the leader’s ethnic group and pushed out any rivals. While both strategies were effective, as no successful coups were staged in either country after the early 1970s, they also influenced each government’s ability to rely on their armed forces to defend the standing regime. In Benin, the Kérékou government fell, as it could not rely on the armed forces to quell a civic resistance campaign, while in Togo, the Eyadéma government could count on military personnel to crush a similar campaign. Consequently, the 2020 Togolese government is still ruled by the Eyadéma clan and relies on ethnically stacked armed forces to maintain its power. In Benin, a new civilian government has started the process of reprofessionalizing the armed forces.
The International Determinants of Military Coup Behavior
Ekim Arbatli and Cemal Eren Arbatli
Why do coups d’état happen? Although many studies have investigated this question, they pay relatively little attention to the international causes and ramifications of coups. Especially, empirical studies on the external determinants of coup risk and outcomes still remain limited. There are two current lines of research in this direction. The first line studies international linkages and coup risk, looking at the external determinants of coups: regional spillover effects, foreign linkage, and foreign leverage. A promising angle on this front is focusing on the role of post-coup reactions from international actors to illuminate how coup plotters shape their incentives under outside pressure. The second line of research investigates interstate conflict and coup risk, considering diversionary behavior and external threats as potential coup-proofing strategies. In this effort, studying the relationship between external threat environment and coup risk can be fruitful, whereas empirical tests of the classical diversionary war theory will yield relatively marginal contributions. Currently, three issues stand out in the empirical coup literature that should be further addressed by scholars. First is the need for more extensive and systematic data collection efforts to obtain detailed information about the identities, targets, and motives of coup perpetrators. Second, the external sources of leader insecurity beyond interstate conflicts remain an underexplored area. Third, although many studies have tried to determine when coup attempts happen, scholarly knowledge of when and how they succeed remains very limited. More work is needed to uncover the determinants of coup success across different regimes and leader survival scenarios.
Argentina: The Journey From Military Intervention to Subordination
Argentina has moved through two defining eras. The first was one of military coups and dictatorships that repeatedly interrupted democratic periods of governance. The second has been one of uninterrupted democratic rule marked by firm military subordination to civilian control. From 1930 to 1976, the Argentine armed forces cut short the tenure of every democratically elected head of state. Eleven of 16 presidents during this period were generals. Military coups in Argentina were brought on by a combination of factors, including societal pressures, tactical and strategic blunders on the part of political leaders, and the military’s own thirst for power and privileges. Militaries would eventually leave power, but their repeated interventions would weaken respect for democratic processes. The last coup, which occurred in 1976, marked a turning point, giving rise to an authoritarian regime that spelled political, economic, and military disaster for the nation. So disgusted was the public with the dictatorship’s incompetence and brutality that it discovered a newfound respect for democratic rules of the game. The demise of the Proceso dictatorship helped usher in a long and unbroken period of democratic rule. Still, contemporary Argentine democratic governments have had to grapple with civil-military issues. Notable progress has been made, including the holding of human rights trials, the enactment of laws that restrict the military’s use in internal security, and the strengthening of the defense ministry. Notwithstanding a few rebellions in the late 1980s, the Argentine armed forces have remained firmly under civilian control since the return of democracy. Nonetheless, administrations have varied in their abilities and motivation to enact reforms.
The Philippines: Civil-Military Relations, from Marcos to Duterte
The Philippines has been beset by several instances of military mutinies since the end of the Marco dictatorship. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were also actively involved in pressuring the resignation of President Joseph Estrada and in propping up the presidency of Estrada’s successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The military’s actions suggested that that the armed forces’ influence in Philippine politics was on the rise. Since that time, with no instances of coups and mutinies under the presidencies of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Rodrigo Roa Duterte, military adventurism appears to be on the decline. Could it be that civilian supremacy is ascendant in the Philippines and the AFP have abandoned their “interventionist tendency” in civilian affairs? An examination of the patterns in post-Marcos Philippine civil-military relations in five domains—elite recruitment, public policy, internal security, national defense, and military organization—indicates that the AFP remain a highly politicized institution. Although institutional guardrails to preserve civilian supremacy have been instituted, with positive moves to professionalize and reorient the armed forces toward an external security posture, challenges in the areas of elite-dominated and clientelistic governance and the country’s protracted insurgencies remain obstacles to civilian political leaders’ authority over the military.
Costa Rica: Demilitarization and Democratization
John A. Booth
An isolated Spanish frontier settlement with little or no significant mineral wealth, exportable crops, or exploitable indigenous population, colonial Costa Rica had only a rudimentary military. After independence in 1825, the population expanded and diversified as coffee cultivation generated growing wealth. Competing factions of the emergent coffee bourgeoisie fought to control the emerging state using elite-linked military officers to seize ruling power. Modernization and an external threat from Nicaragua and U.S. freebooters at mid-19th century led nation-building leaders to invest heavily in the army. Victorious in the 1856–1857 National War in Nicaragua, the military attained maximum size and power from 1870 to 1920 while oligarchic factions disputed ruling authority via fraudulent elections and coups d’état. Integration into the world economy deepened with banana production after 1890. Subsequent recessions and wars generated domestic economic inequality and a growing labor movement demanding reform. Civilian rule in the early 20th century was interrupted by the military regime of Federico Tinoco (1917–1919), whose atrocities led his civilian successors to almost dismantle the army. When a civil war erupted in 1948 against the divided, Communist-allied reformist government of the 1940s, the rebels defeated the army. The victorious National Liberation junta and new constitution abolished the army in 1949. Costa Rica committed to a police-based security model, nonaggression toward neighbors, and reliance on international alliances. Meanwhile, elites, spared the menace of military disruption, developed a successful electoral democratic regime. This has contributed to seven decades of political stability and allowed Costa Rica to invest successfully in economic development and its citizens’ welfare.
Counterbalancing and Coups d’État
Erica De Bruin
Counterbalancing is a coup-proofing strategy in which rulers divide the state’s coercive power among multiple, overlapping security forces to hedge against defection from the regular military. There is wide variation in the types of security forces that rulers use to counterbalance the military, including presidential guards, militarized police, and militias, as well as in the extent of counterbalancing rulers engage in. Since the late 1990s, scholars have made important strides in documenting the use of counterbalancing across countries and within them over time, and in understanding mechanisms through which it operates. Counterbalancing has become more common even as the risk of coup attempts has declined. It is most frequently employed by rulers in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and is least likely to be used in Latin America and Western Europe. While dictators are more likely to counterbalance their militaries than democratic rulers, counterweights have also been important to stabilizing many newly democratizing states. There is also important variation among authoritarian regimes in the extent and types of counterweights employed. Counterbalancing is thought to prevent coups by making it more difficult for potential coup plotters within the military to seize power. While coup attempts are underway, counterweights might impede coordination between security forces or create incentives for resistance to a coup. Statistical analyses of counterbalancing and coup outcomes suggests there is a strong, negative association between the use of counterweights and the success of coup attempts. However, there is less evidence that counterbalancing deters coup attempts. This may be because although counterbalancing makes coups more difficult to carry out successfully, it can also generate new grievances among soldiers who must compete with other security forces for funds, arms, and recruits. As a result, efforts to establish counterweights can provoke new coup attempts. Counterbalancing has also been associated with an increased risk of other forms of political violence including repression and civil war.
Political Exclusion in Africa
The political history of Africa is a history defined by political exclusion. Groups of people and politicians have been excluded from political participation on the basis of religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and disability throughout the continent. Sometimes political exclusion is a result of a bigoted ideology of a group being inferior—as was the case during the colonial period. Other times, leaders use exclusion in order to maintain power, attempting to neutralize their rivals by removing them from the political system. That exclusion often creates destabiliziation, and sometimes violence. In some cases, notably in Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the debate over who is “legitimate” to include in politics and who is “illegitimate” has sparked civil wars and coups d’état. However, there is a strategic logic to political exclusion: it often tempts autocratic leaders as seemingly the “easiest” way of staying in power in the short term, even if it creates a higher risk of political violence in the long run. Nonetheless, political exclusion remains a widespread feature of most African states well into the 21st century. Until African politics become more inclusive, it is likely that the volatility associated with exclusionary politics will persist even if democratic institutions become stronger over time.
Ghana: The Military in Transition from Praetorianism to Democratic Control
Eboe Hutchful, Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum, and Ben Kunbour
With the end of the Cold War and onset of democratization, the academic field of “civil–military relations” (CMR) has arguably gone into relative decline, replaced by the new global template of “Security Sector Reform and Governance” (SSR/G). This is a notable shift in several senses: firstly, from a narrow focus on the military (and coups in particular) to the “security sector” as a whole; and secondly because the two “fields” have been driven by different imperatives, priorities, and methodologies, in part shaped by changing historical contexts. In contrast to the CMR scholarship, SSR/G has been much more of a “policy and operational science” than an academic discipline, primarily oriented toward norm development and formal institution building in response to imperatives of democratization. This “policy praxis”—driven by sovereign actors and often delivered by consultants and private contractors with a primarily technical focus—has not always prioritized evidence-based research or interrogated real power dynamics. And while the nation-state remains the core actor, external powers (bilateral partners and international and multilateral institutions) have emerged as a critical supporting cast in SSR/G, evolving their own normative and policy frameworks and providing the financial resources to drive reforms (paradoxically, these are usually the same powers that conduct humanitarian interventions and extend security assistance to contain the proliferation of terrorist attacks in the region). Nevertheless, there are strong linear links between the two “disciplines,” as CMR legacies have shaped the SSR discourse and agenda. An offshoot of the SSR focus has been the implementation of practical programs to address some of the weaknesses of the defence sector exposed in the CMR literature, evident in a set of technical and “how to” tools, such as defence reviews, security sector public expenditure reviews, the “Defence Anti-Corruption Index” (pioneered by Transparency International), and a variety of “toolkits” designed to enhance military professionalism and strengthen civilian oversight bodies and institutions. Academic research has also reflected this shift by broadening out from the analysis of the military and coups to encompass other agencies in the formal security sector (police and intelligence in particular), as well as looking much more closely at nonstate security and justice providers and their interaction with state security institutions and actors, through the prism of concepts such as “hybridity” and “hybrid security governance.” Even so, militaries per se have never strayed far from the center of the discussion. Militaries have not only remained the focal point of SSR efforts—in the process even acquiring new roles and missions and (undoubtedly) sources of influence—they have even been propelled back to center stage, as the security landscape has shifted and African states and armies (particularly in the Sahel) have struggled against a growing proliferation of armed groups and terrorist attacks, and as coups have threatened to make a comeback. However, both the theory and practice of these African transitions defy neat delineations and linear interpretations. Their many commonalities notwithstanding, these transitions have been multifaceted, ambiguous, and contested, as well as fragile and subject to reversal, nowhere more so than in the CMR arena. Nevertheless, three elements stand out: 1. A growing trend over time toward “illiberal democracies,” as a variety of African leaders have made willful efforts to hollow out democracy, cultivating or (over time) perfecting the tools to evade or erode the strictures of democracy, an activity in which security forces are increasingly implicated. 2. A consensus in both the academic and policy literature about the fragile foundations of CMR in these transitions, which have been replete with “democratic deficits” and operational weaknesses, addressed only selectively by SSR, and likely to be further aggravated by the trends toward “soft authoritarianism” in the region. 3. Importantly, democratization in the region has coincided with (if not spawned) a proliferation of terroristic activity and new forms of armed conflict which African states have been unable to contain, triggering “humanitarian interventions” and security assistance from a variety of external actors. This has been dubbed the new “global militarism,” accompanied by a reorientation (rollback) of SSR in favor of “hard security” and operational capacity building (“Train and Equip”).
Haiti: Deconstructing Military Entanglements in Politics
Michel S. Laguerre
Since the independence of Haiti in 1804, the military has played a central role in the governance of the republic, often accessing the presidency through the recurrent phenomenon of the coup d’état, which serves as both a principal mechanism for the transmission of power from one government to another and for reinforcing the domination of the military over the civilian population. The 19th-century model of the coup d’état reflected the de facto decentralization of the military as it was carried out through rebellions concocted and headed by army battalions stationed in the rural provinces. The U.S. occupation (1915–1934), by locating or relocating the military elite, the most prominent military bases, the largest contingent of the military officers and rank and file in the capital city, contributed to the reengineering of a new national infrastructure that facilitates a new model of the coup d’état to emerge: One that germinates among the high command of the military; one that takes the form of a corporate intervention; one that is made possible because of the high command’s control over tactical military weapons, including the heavy military equipment located in the capital city; and one that is swift, thereby preventing any provincial military base from mounting a meaningful or successful military counter-coup.
Mauritania: The Institutionalization of Military Supremacy
Since its maiden coup in 1978, which initiated both an era of recurrent coup activity and a regime type dubbed “Mauritania of the Colonels,” the Mauritanian military, once an unassuming, apolitical institution, has been in power either directly or through a “civilianized” military regime. Since its creation in the early 1990s, the Battalion for Presidential Security (BASEP) has played a prominent role in the workings of Mauritania of the Colonels. Only during a 17-month interlude under a civilian democratically elected president, following a bungled transition marked by the underhanded interference of some military officers, did the military formally leave power—and then only formally. Whether they tried to meet them in earnest or not, the challenges of withdrawing the military from the political arena and democratizing the country have dogged all military heads of state. The challenges were complicated by Mauritania’s intractable ethnocultural rivalries subsumed under the “national question” and the related “human rights deficit.” After Colonel Ould Taya, whose lengthy and repressive regime had the deepest impact on the country and the national question in particular, the challenges were even harder for his successors to face. The latest transfer of power between one retired general and another, both of whom had conspired to overthrow Mauritania’s only democratically elected civilian president, is evidence that, as major players, Mauritania’s military leaders are well on their way to institutionalizing the Mauritania of the Colonels they assiduously fashioned for more than 40 years.