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Article

Many scholars consider the military dictatorship a distinct authoritarian regime type, pointing to the singular patterns of domestic and international behaviors displayed by military regimes. Existing studies show that compared with civilian dictatorships, military dictatorships commit more human rights abuses, are more prone to civil war, and engage in more belligerent behaviors against other countries. Despite their coercive capacity, rulers of military dictatorships tend to have shorter tenures than rulers of non-military dictatorships. Additionally, military dictatorships more quickly and peacefully transition to democracy than their non-military counterparts and frequently negotiate their withdrawal from power. Given the distinct natures of military dictatorships, research on military dictatorships and coups has resurged since 2000. A great body of new research utilizing new theories, data, and methods has added to the existing scholarship on military rule and coups, which saw considerable growth in the 1970s. Most studies tend to focus on domestic issues and pay relatively little attention to the relationship between international factors and military rule. However, a growing body of studies investigates how international factors, such as economic globalization, international military assistance, reactions from the international community, and external threat environments, affect military rule. One particularly interesting research topics in this regard is the relationship between external territorial threats and military rule. Territorial issues are more salient to domestic societies than other issues, producing significant ramifications for domestic politics through militarization and state centralization. Militaries play a pivotal role in militarization and state centralization, both of which are by-products of external territorial threats. Thus, external territorial threats produce permissive structural conditions that not only prohibit democratization but also encourage military dictatorships to emerge and persist. Moreover, if territorial threats affect the presence of military dictatorships, they are more likely to affect collegial military rule, characterized by the rule of a military institution, rather than military strongman rule, characterized by the rule by a military personalist dictator. This is because territorial threats make the military more internally unified and cohesive, which helps the military rule as an institution. Existing studies provide a fair amount of empirical evidence consistent with this claim. External territorial threats are found to increase the likelihood of military regimes, particularly collegial military regimes, as well as the likelihood of military coups. The same is not true of non-territorial threats. This indicates that the type of external threat, rather than the mere presence of an external threat, matters.

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

Politics in Chad was militarized at the time of colonial conquest and has remained so ever since. Except for the French-supported candidacy of François Tombalbaye for the presidency in 1960, all other presidents of Chad have been connected to a coup d’état. All presidents in independent Chad have relied heavily on armed support, creating ample armies, feared presidential guards, and terrifying secret services. Proxy wars, political mistrust, economic opportunity-seeking, and strategic ever-changing armed alliances characterize Chadian politics. Flexibility and fluidity have embodied the heart of armed resistance in Chad since the establishment of the first important politico-military rebel movement Frolinat in 1966. In fact, for rebels and powerholders alike, the state is at its best when it is most fragile (in a Western sense). With fragility comes blurriness and flexibility and thus predation opportunities. During the Cold War, most of the various armed fractions were supported militarily and economically by either the United States and France or Libyan Colonel Gaddafi and the regime in Khartoum. During Habré’s regime (1982–1990), the Cold War heated Chad. Fearing to lose Chad to the communists or “crazy” Colonel Gaddafi, the United States and France supported a brutal and ruthless Chadian president who ruled with terror and force. The current president, Déby, gained power in the wake of the Cold War and has managed to keep it ever since by cleverly changing his rhetoric from a hope for democracy to a fear of war, both internally and internationally. After starting to export oil in 2003, Chad has used petrodollars to upgrade its armed forces, both in numbers and in materiel. Since about 2010, Chad has been a prime EU- and US-financed antiterrorism force in the Sahel. With its courageous troops, especially the former Presidential Guard, transformed in 2005 to Direction Générale de Service de Sécurité des Institutions de l’État (DGSSIE) and from 2014 led by Mahamat Déby, son of President Déby, Chad’s army has gained international fame. The Chadian army has benefited largely from the tactical training and military equipment provided by the United States and France in the name of antiterrorism. Thus, by the end of the 2010s, Chad had one of the best-equipped and trained armies in Africa.

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

Since Lebanon’s independence in the mid-1940s, its military—the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)—has played a pivotal role in the country’s politics. The political role of the LAF in Lebanon might seem surprising since the Lebanese state did not militarize, and its political leaders have continuously managed to keep their military relatively weak and small. Indeed, in this respect Lebanon has been markedly different from its close neighbors (Syria and Israel), but also from several other Middle Eastern states (especially Egypt and Iraq), where the military, which was large and powerful, was continuously involved in politics. Additionally, both Lebanon and the LAF have persistently striven to distance themselves from regional conflicts since 1949, particularly in relation to the Palestinian issue, albeit not always successfully. Still, and despite these ostensibly unfavorable factors for the military’s involvement in politics in Lebanon, the LAF has played an important political role in the state since its independence. This role, which has been marked by elements of continuity and change over the years, included mediation and arbitration between rival political factions (in 1945–1958, 2008, 2011, and 2019); attempts to dominate the political system (in 1958–1970 and 1988–1990); intervention in the Lebanese civil war (in 1975–1976 and 1982–1984); attempts to regain its balancing role in politics (in 1979–1982 and 1984–1988); and facilitating the state’s postwar reconstruction (since 1991). The political role of the military in Lebanon can be explained by several factors. First, the weakness of Lebanon’s political system and its inability to resolve crises between its members. Second, Lebanon’s divided society and its members’ general distrust towards its civilian politicians. Third, the basic characteristics of Lebanon’s military, which, in most periods, enjoyed broad public support that cuts across the lines of community, region, and family, and found appeal among domestic and external audiences, which, in their turn, acquiesced to its political role in the state.

Article

Jorge I. Domínguez

Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), founded in 1959, have been among the world’s most successful military. In the early 1960s, they defended the new revolutionary regime against all adversaries during years when Cuba was invaded at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, faced nuclear Armageddon in 1962, and experienced a civil war that included U.S. support for regime opponents. From 1963 to 1991, the FAR served the worldwide objectives of a small power that sought to behave as if it were a major world power. Cuba deployed combat troops overseas for wars in support of Algeria (1963), Syria (1973), Angola (1975–1991), and Ethiopia (1977–1989). Military advisers and some combat troops served in smaller missions in about two dozen countries the world over. Altogether, nearly 400,000 Cuban troops served overseas. Throughout those years, the FAR also worked significantly to support Cuba’s economy, especially in the 1960s and again since the early 1990s following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Uninterruptedly, officers and troops have been directly engaged in economic planning, management, physical labor, and production. In the mid-1960s, the FAR ran compulsory labor camps that sought to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals and to remedy the alleged socially deviant behavior of these and others, as well. During the Cold War years, the FAR deepened Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union, deterred a U.S. invasion by signaling its cost for U.S. troops, and since the early 1990s developed confidence-building practices collaborating with U.S. military counterparts to prevent an accidental military clash. Following false starts and experimentation, the FAR settled on a model of joint civilian-military governance that has proved durable: the civic soldier. The FAR and the Communist Party of Cuba are closely interpenetrated at all levels and together endeavored to transform Cuban society, economy, and politics while defending state and regime. Under this hybrid approach, military officers govern large swaths of military and civilian life and are held up as paragons for soldiers and civilians, bearers of revolutionary traditions and ideology. Thoroughly politicized military are well educated as professionals in political, economic, managerial, engineering, and military affairs; in the FAR, officers with party rank and training, not outsider political commissars, run the party-in-the-FAR. Their civilian and military roles were fused, especially during the 1960s, yet they endured into the 21st century. Fused roles make it difficult to think of civilian control over the military or military control over civilians. Consequently, political conflict between “military” and “civilians” has been rare and, when it has arisen (often over the need for, and the extent of, military specialization for combat readiness), it has not pitted civilian against military leaders but rather cleaved the leadership of the FAR, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), and the government. Intertwined leaderships facilitate cadre exchanges between military and nonmilitary sectors. The FAR enter their seventh decade smaller, undersupplied absent the Soviet Union, less capable of waging war effectively, and more at risk of instances of corruption through the activities of some of their market enterprises. Yet the FAR remain both an effective institution in a polity that they have helped to stabilize and proud of their accomplishments the world over.

Article

Since independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic (CAR) has experienced numerous military coups both successful and unsuccessful, mutinies by disgruntled soldiers and civil wars that have had terrible impacts on civilians. Three career military officers took power by force and led the country for a total of 36 years: Bokassa (1965–1979), Kolingba (1981–1993), and Bozize (2003–2013). From the 1960s to 1990s, both military and civilian rulers politicized, regionalized, and weakened the CAR military by packing it with supporters from their home areas and ethnic groups, and establishing alternative security structures and bringing in foreign troops to secure their regimes. In this period, the CAR military became a Praetorian force obsessed with the country’s internal political power struggles. In the 1990s, in the context of the post-Cold War political liberalization of Africa, the CAR’s transition to democracy was undermined by a succession of army mutinies over lack of pay and other grievances that fatally weakened an already fragile state. A series of civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s resulted in the near dissolution of the CAR military and the partition of the country into a network of fiefdoms dominated by antagonistic local armed factions separated from each other by beleaguered UN peacekeepers.

Article

Available scholarship on civil–military relations literature treats the occurrence of military coups d’état either as a purely domestic affair or a simple outcome of international dynamics. That is, a large body of literature assumes that a military coup d’état takes place on either a domestic or international level. When taken as an exclusively domestic affair, reasons for military coups d’état run the gamut from domestic instability and political corruption, state weakness, economic collapse, and the institutional culture of a military and its desire to protect its corporate interests, to political culture and popular support. Yet, a parallel body of work either reduces coup plotters to the status of proxies of powerful global state actors or assumes that wars, crises, external threats, foreign military training, or peacekeeping missions shape the military decision to seize power. Both perspectives deservedly take the military as the focal point of coups, yet presume either that that military is easily able to dictate a particular course of action to all the remaining domestic actors or is unidirectionally influenced by international actors. A coup d’état, however, must take into account different constituencies within and outside the military for it to take place. At the domestic level various actors, from opposition politicians, media corporations, and labor unions to business associations and “military opinion” itself, need to be taken into account. At the international level, coup plotters may either directly engage in negotiations, bargaining, and dialogue with or try to interpret signals delivered by external state actors. Coup plotters may use military-to-military relations developed by military officer exchanges and joint work in common security and defense organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Given that they are rational actors, coup-makers know well enough to look for ‘propitious circumstances’ at home and abroad (regional and international) as well as predict resonance between the domestic and international environment. Although military elites are better positioned to use their international network to engage in dialogue and bargaining at the international level, mid-ranking officers also take into consideration the outside dimension. When several domestic pressure groups such as business organizations or ordinary people deem a coup not in their interest or not to be a preferred action at a particular point in time, and show their displeasure by sustained street action, a permissive international environment may not suffice to produce a coup. It is in the context of this brittle coup coalition and in this intimate and fragile appeal to domestic and international audiences that a coup attempt takes place.

Article

When, how, why, and to what effect did the military involve itself in Serbia’s politics? Due to its decisive role in national liberation and state-building, the Serbian military has always enjoyed high societal reputation. Since the 19th century, the military also played an important role of a nation-builder and social elevator for the lower strata of society. However, Serbia also has a very long tradition of military involvement in politics with several coups that decisively shaped the course of national history. Since the outset of Serbia’s state-building in the first half of the 19th century, Serbia experienced four successful military coups and many occasions when its armed forces were used to quash domestic unrest. The reasons behind the robust involvement of armed forces in Serbian (and Yugoslav politics) have been diverse and ranged from an ambition to provide internal stability and defend national or corporate interests to a desire to change the country’s foreign policy orientation. Since the end of the Cold War, the military played an ambiguous role on some occasions undermining democracy, while on others being an agent of democratic transformation. Since 2006, the military of Serbia has been placed under civilian democratic control and seems to have internalized its role of a politically neutral and professional force with a mission to defend the country, support civilian authorities in the event of emergency, and contribute to international peace and security. Still, the ongoing democratic backsliding, the lack of clarity about the state’s strategic outlook, and the still unresolved status of Serbia’s former province Kosovo all preserve the potential for civil-military tensions in the future.

Article

The relationship between the Colombian armed forces and civilian leaders within the state has been marked historically with the continuity of civilian control and the general avoidance of military coups or regimes. After a series of major civil wars during the 19th century, civil–military relations were guided by the need to preserve the power of economic and political elites, with the military consistently acting as a central pillar in the survival of this elite. Interestingly, in the context of civil–military relations in Latin America, Colombia has been a model of how a regime can pair formal “civilian control” with intensive levels of state repression and violence against opposing forces within civil society. This model has been maintained during periods of relative political stability as well as during periods of widespread internal conflict. Thus, illustrating the limits that formal institutional arrangements within the Colombian state have led to shifts in the behavior of its military.