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Article

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.

Article

Coup-proofing—that is, measures aimed at preventing military coups and ensuring military loyalty—has been a key feature of civil–military relations in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) states. Just as the MENA region has been one of the most coup-prone regions in the world, coup-proofing has been an essential instrument of regime survival in Arab countries. The most commonly found coup-proofing strategies in the region include (a) so-called “communal coup-proofing,” involving the appointment of individuals to key positions within the military based on family, ethnic, or religious ties; (b) providing the military with corporate and/or private benefits in order to ensure its loyalty; (c) creating parallel military forces in addition to the regular military, so as to “counter-balance” the latter; (d) monitoring of the military through a vast internal security and intelligence apparatus; and (e) promoting professionalism, and thus political neutrality, within the military. The experiences of the “Arab Spring,” however, have shown that not all of these strategies are equally effective in ensuring military loyalty during times of popular upheavals and regime crises. A common finding in this context has been that communal coup-proofing (or militaries based on “patrimonialism”) creates the strongest bonds been the armed forces and their regimes, as evidenced by the forceful suppression of the popular uprising by the military in countries such as Syria, or by parts of the military in Libya and Yemen. By contrast, where coup-proofing has been based on the provision of material benefits to the military or on counterbalancing, as in Tunisia or Egypt, the armed forces have refrained from suppressing the popular uprising, ultimately leading to the downfall of these countries’ long-standing leaders. A further lesson that can be drawn from the Arab Spring in terms of coup-proofing is that students of both military coups and coup-proofing should dedicate (much) more attention to the increasingly important role played by the internal security apparatus in MENA countries.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

In Latin America, democratization in the 1980s and 1990s brought greater military subordination to elected leaders and a promising new era of civil–military relations. Yet the threat of coups lingered—particularly where leaders most threatened elite interests and where coups could be justified as “restoring” democracy. Such was the case in the early 21st century for presidents on the radical, populist side of Latin America’s “New Left,” including Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, and Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. In response, these presidents sought to guard their “contestatory” agenda by diminishing the armed forces’ ability and willingness to derail it. They adopted strategies like increasing spending on military hardware and salaries, stacking the officer corps with loyalists, indoctrinating the armed forces into the government’s political ideology, and raising citizen militias and parallel security forces. To different degrees—and with different degrees of success—they attempted to secure the military’s loyalty and to raise the costs of executing a coup. In other words, they engaged in coup-proofing, a practice used by vulnerable leaders around the world. The study of coup-proofing in Latin America can advance research on comparative civil–military relations and democratization in several ways. First, scholars usually treat coup-proofing strategies as a response to the elevated risk of a coup. But when they threaten the military’s conservative corporate identity or limit its autonomy from civilian control, those strategies themselves could end up elevating that risk. Cases of coup-proofing from Latin America’s New Left would prove relevant for research seeking to disentangle this complicated causal relationship. Second, coup-proofing could jeopardize democratic consolidation, if not survival, if it shifts the military’s loyalty from a democratic, constitutional order to a particular leader and ideology. But if coup-proofing prevents unelected leaders from usurping office, then it might protect democracy. The short and long-term effect of coup-proofing on democratic institutions thus remains an open question. And third, if coup-proofing is to retain its conceptual utility in a region populated by democracies and hybrid regimes, then the definition of a “coup” has to remain limited to an illegal, undemocratic seizure of power involving at least some elements of the armed forces. Otherwise, coup-proofing could become conflated with impeachment-proofing. In practice, however, it becomes difficult to distinguish efforts aimed at preventing a coup from efforts aimed at escaping legal constraints on presidential power. This presents a challenge but also an opportunity for future research. The record of coups and attempted coups in Latin America over the first two decades of the 21st century shows that while the coup d’état is no longer a fixture of political life in the region, it remains a real possibility. That reality calls for more research into coup risk, the ways that leaders respond to it, and the political consequences that follow.

Article

From the middle of the 20th century, Venezuela’s governments have demonstrated surprising immunity to successful coups. The more than 40-year Punto Fijo democracy (1958–1999) boasted free and competitive elections even while the vast majority of Latin American governments fell to military rule. Two decades later, the beleaguered government of Nicolás Maduro withstood not only national, but international demands for a military coup under conditions of virtual economic collapse and extreme political crisis. This resilience is largely a function of successful coup-proofing—deliberate government policies to both reward military loyalty and defend against possible dissent. The Bolivarian leaders of the early 21st century—Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro— built on a combination of strategies previously utilized by either the Pérez Jiménez military regime (1948–1958) or the Punto Fijo democratic regime, notably expanding such elements as politicization and the creation of competing militarized forces (counterbalancing) to fit with the revolutionary model that the chavistas sought to pursue.

Article

The military plays a vital role in upholding Cameroon’s authoritarian government. Since independence, in 1960, the country has been ruled by a single political party and only two presidents: Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya. Both have gone to great lengths to secure military loyalty: counterbalancing rival forces, personalizing command hierarchies, ethnically stacking both the regular military and presidential guard, and providing extensive patronage benefits to soldiers. Ahidjo and Biya have both also repeatedly used the security forces to repress threats from below and stabilize their dictatorships. Combined gendarme, army, and paramilitary units have been deployed to defeat the southern maquis rebellion of the 1960s; the mass protests for democratization in the 1990s; the fight against Boko Haram, beginning in 2014; and the Anglophone separatist movement, which exploded in 2017. Whether facing nonviolent demonstrators or armed rebels, the military has never defected or refused to obey orders. Yet, as the 1984 coup attempt demonstrated, the bounds of military loyalty are not limitless. When Ahidjo retired, the northern Muslim Fulbe members of the elite Republican Guard attempted to prevent Biya—a southern Christian Beti—from rising to power.

Article

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.

Article

The considerable variation in the way national security agencies are structured is a function of two basic factors: the state’s political and social heterogeneity and the possibility of allying with a strong external state, usually the United States. The problem, however, with fragmenting the military and security forces to achieve “coup-proofing” is that a tradeoff exists between fragmentation and assuring internal security on the one hand, and ensuring offensive capabilities to ward off external enemies, on the other. According to this model, centralized homogenous entities enjoying U.S. protection will tend to fragment their security systems most. States that duplicate their security forces least are plural societies that cannot command U.S. interest and commitment to meet their external security threats. The Palestinian Authority (PA) under Yasser Arafat was emblematic of political entities that were homogenous and enjoyed the protection of the United States and Israel, and it could therefore fragment its security forces into 12 or more security agencies compared to Eritrea, which achieved independence a year before the establishment of the PA, and maintained a very unified security apparatus to meet the threat of a vastly larger enemy—Ethiopia. As long as Israel (and the United States and its allies) supported the PA, Arafat made do with a fragmented inefficient security structure that was nevertheless efficient enough, with Israeli security backing, to meet the major external threat—Hamas and the Jihad al-Islami in both the West Bank/Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Israel’s decision to withdraw from Gaza in December 2003 and to complete its withdrawal from Gaza by September 2005 forced the fragmented PA to face these enemies alone, leading to the loss of Gaza to Hamas. By contrast, in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, the more fragmented PA security structure prevailed as a result of considerable security cooperation with Israel. Hamas, bereft of a close external ally, challenges a superior Israeli military and therefore has a unified security structure much like Eritrea in the 1990s.