Coup-Proofing and Civil War
- Jun Koga SudduthJun Koga SudduthLecturer, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde
Political leaders face threats to their power from within and outside the regime. Leaders can be removed via a coup d’état undertaken by militaries that are part of the state apparatus. At the same time, leaders can lose power when they confront excluded opposition groups in civil wars. The difficulty for leaders, though, is that efforts to address one threat might leave them vulnerable to the other threat due to the role of the military as an institution of violence capable of exercising coercive power. On one hand, leaders need to protect their regimes from rebels by maintaining strong militaries. Yet, militaries that are strong enough to prevail against rebel forces are also strong enough to execute a coup successfully. On the other hand, leaders who cope with coup threats by weakening their militaries’ capabilities to organize a coup also diminish the very capabilities that they need to defeat their rebel challengers.
This unfortunate trade-off between protection by the military and protection from the military has been the long-standing theme in studies of civil-military relations and coup-proofing. Though most research on this subject has focused primarily on rulers’ maneuvers to balance the threats posed by the military and the threats coming from foreign adversaries, more recent scholarship has begun to explore how leaders’ efforts to cope with coup threats will influence the regime’s abilities to address the domestic threats coming from rebel groups, and vice versa. This new wave of research focuses on two related vectors. First, scholars address whether leaders who pursue coup-proofing strategies that weaken their militaries’ capabilities also increase the regime’s vulnerability to rebel threats and the future probability of civil war. Second, scholars examine how the magnitude of threats posed by rebel groups will determine leaders’ strategies toward the militaries, and how these strategies affect both the militaries’ influence over government policy and the future probability of coup onsets. These lines of research contribute to the conflict literature by examining the causal mechanisms through which civil conflict influences coup propensity and vice versa. The literatures on civil war and coups have developed independently without much consideration of each other, and systematic analyses of the linkage between them have only just began.