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Democratic versus Authoritarian Coups: The Influence of External Actors on States’ Postcoup Political Trajectories

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Democratic versus Authoritarian Coups: The Influence of External Actors on States’ Postcoup Political Trajectories

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Once considered artifacts of history, research on coups has burgeoned recently. Most studies focus on decisions to stage coups, considering factors like individual benefits, organizational interests, and government legitimacy. Less work considers what happens following coups. This article considers the political trajectory of states following coups. We argue that external reactions to coups play important roles in whether coup leaders move toward authoritarianism or democratic governance. When supported by external democratic actors, coup leaders have an incentive to push for elections to retain external support and consolidate domestic legitimacy. When condemned, coup leaders are apt to trend toward authoritarianism to assure their survival. We test our argument by considering how international responses to coups from states and international organizations influence coup states’ political trajectories. Our findings indicate that international actors play key roles in determining democracy levels of coup-born regimes.

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International IDEA’s Annual Review of Constitution-Building series provides a retrospective account of constitutional transitions around the world, the issues that drive them, and their implications for national and international politics. 2021 was a tumultuous year for many reasons—including the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, a series of military coups around the world and the rumblings of war from Russia—and was no less so in the world of democracy. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the chapters in the ninth edition of International IDEA’s Annual Review of Constitution-Building reflect this instability. The chapters cover a number of themes including constitutional regulation of environmental protection, judicial review of constitutional amendments, reforming semi-presidential systems, codification of parliamentary conventions and military coups.
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The author is a Senior Analyst at the RAND Corporation. The opinions expressed are solely the author's and do not represent those of RAND or any of its sponsors. The author is grateful for comments from Daniel Byman, Russell Glenn, Thomas McNaugher, Bruce Nardulli, Kenneth Pollack, Thomas Szayna, Barry Watts, and two anonymous reviewers on an earlier version of this article. 1. Edward Luttwak, Coup D'Etat: A Practical Handbook (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969). There is a large literature on the coup and military interventions in politics, and Arab politics in particular. See S.E. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics, 2d ed. (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1988); Eric A. Nordlinger, Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977); Claude E. Welch Jr. and Arthur K. Smith, Military Role and Rule: Perspectives on Civil-Military Relations (North Scituate, Mass.: Duxbury Press, 1974); J.C. Hurewitz, Middle East Politics: The Military Dimension (New York: Praeger, 1969); Eliezer Be'eri, Army Officers in Arab Politics and Society (New York: Praeger, 1970); and Amos Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Modern Times: On Professionals, Praetorians, and Revolutionary Soldiers (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977). 2. The "how-to" format seems inevitably to lead to such a tone. An earlier book by Curzio Malaparte has a tone similar to Luttwak's, as do later handbook-style volumes. Malaparte, Coup d'Etat: The Technique of Revolution, trans. Sylvia Saunders (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1932); and Gregor Ferguson, Coup D'Etat: A Practical Manual (Poole, Dorset: Arms and Armour Press, 1987). 3. Luttwak, Coup D'Etat, p. 12. 4. Kermit Roosevelt, Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979). 5. Eliezer Be'eri, "The Waning of the Military Coup in Arab Politics," Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (January 1982), pp. 69-81. 6. This list replicates the recommendations and terminology of Donald L. Horowitz's section on coup prevention in ethnic conflicts. As Horowitz points out, these recommendations replicate many of the principles long used by colonial powers to recruit colonial forces. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). The techniques fit easily in the pattern of "pervasive division and personal rivalry" inherent in patrimonial leadership in the Middle East. James A. Bill and Robert Springborg, Politics in the Middle East, 4th ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 166. These methods also bring the "traditional bonds" that complicate coup-making into more advanced bureaucratic states. Luttwak, Coup D'Etat, pp. 4-5. 7. S.E. Finer, "Foreword," in Luttwak, Coup D'Etat, p. xv. 8. Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and of Its Communists, Ba'athists, and Free Officers (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978); and Charles Tripp, "The Future of Iraq and Regional Security," in Geoffrey Kemp and Janice Gross Stein, eds., Powder Keg in the Middle East: The Struggle for Gulf Security (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995), pp. 133-159. 9. Nikolaos van Dam, "Middle Eastern Political Clichés: 'Tikriti' and 'Sunni Rule' in Iraq; 'Alawi Rule' in Syria: A Critical Appraisal," Orient, January 1980, pp. 42-57. 10. It is difficult to obtain reliable population figures for these countries. Saudi Arabia has long been known as a state in which demographic measurements are suspect if public, secret if accurate, and always controversial. Syria and Iraq are just as sensitive. Iraq's last publicly available census was conducted in 1977. The Iraqi census of 1987 may be unique in making failure to register for the census punishable by death. The 1987 census helped identify the location of Kurds for later extermination campaigns. Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign against the Kurds (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), pp. 10, 87. Completed forms from the 1987 census were provided to local offices of the General Directorate of Security together with directions on maintaining the files as a regular information source. Middle East Watch, Bureaucracy of Repression: The Iraqi Government in Its...
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Why has postcolonial Africa been so vulnerable to military coups? Examination of the different types of military interventions (plots, attempts, and successful seizures) and comparison of the immediate independence period with the 1970s show the major sources of coups to be ethnic antagonisms stemming from cultural plurality and political competition, and the presence of strong militaries with factionalized officer corps. There is no evidence for a political ''overload'' due to rising mass participation, but politically factionalized regimes were more vulnerable to coups. During the 1970s, export dependence created political turmoil, which led to plotting, but foreign capital penetration, by strengthening states, deterred coups. Military coups are largely driven by elite rivalries inside the military and the civilian government. Stable civilian rule would require an elite pact to regulate political competition within multiethnic states.
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A formal dynamic theory of the transition from a developing autocracy to democracy is presented in the context of a heterogeneous agent general equilibrium growth model. The theory shows that the primary determinants affecting the timing of democratic transitions are per capita income, the distribution of wealth, educational levels, and the strength of preferences for political rights and civil liberties. The implications of the theory are tested by estimating a proportional hazard function to determine the probability of a democratic transition at a particular point in time. The empirics demonstrate strong support for the model in an estimation of 75 countries during the postwar period.
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Many sources of economic data cover only a limited set of states at any given point in time. Data are often systematically missing for some states over certain time periods. In the context of conflict studies, economic data are frequently unavailable for states involved in conflicts, undermining the ability to draw inferences of linkages between economic and political interactions. For example, simply using available data in a study of trade and conflict and disregarding observations with missing data on economic variables excludes key conflicts such as the Berlin crisis, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Gulf War from the sample. A set of procedures are presented to create additional estimates to remedy some of the coverage problems for data on gross domestic product, population, and bilateral trade flows.
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Elections are a defining characteristic of democracy, and thus form an integral part of the democratization process. Over the past decade, electoral systems and processes have become a centerpiece of UN peacekeeping missions and post-conflict democratization projects undertaken by intergovernmental organizations and donor agencies such as World Bank and USAID. The emphasis on elections as an element of UN peacekeeping missions is linked to a shift in focus to state rebuilding (or state creation, as was the case in East Timor). Elections thus provide a means for “jump-starting a new, post-conflict political order; for stimulating the development of democratic politics; for choosing representatives; for forming governments; and for conferring legitimacy upon the new political order.” Recent election-related violence in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, and Zimbabwe have led some to question whether elections reduce the risk of conflict and in fact lead to stability, democracy, peace and development. For example, Havard Hegre and Hanne Fjelde have recently argued that there is no evidence that post-war elections reduce conflict in the short term, but rather that electoral processes are associated with heightened risk of civil war. Such violence is often attributed to a lack of “security” before elections take place. There is thus an arguably growing view that security should be the dispositive pre-requisite for the organization of postconflict elections.
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International crises are modeled as a political “war of attrition” in which state leaders choose at each moment whether to attack, back down, or escalate. A leader who backs down suffers audience costs that increase as the public confrontation proceeds. Equilibrium analysis shows how audience costs enable leaders to learn an adversary's true preferences concerning settlement versus war and thus whether and when attack is rational. The model also generates strong comparative statics results, mainly on the question of which side is most likely to back down. Publicly observable measures of relative military capabilities and relative interests prove to have no direct effect once a crisis begins. Instead, relative audience costs matter: the side with a stronger domestic audience (e.g., a democracy) is always less likely to back down than the side less able to generate audience costs (a nondemocracy). More broadly, the analysis suggests that democracies should be able to signal their intentions to other states more credibly and clearly than authoritarian states can, perhaps ameliorating the security dilemma between democratic states.
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The problem of aggregating WEIS events data, coded as discrete events, into a continuous time series representing conflict or cooperation between two nations is discussed. Past literature on the subject reveals continuing confusion and controversy regarding such a conflict-cooperation scale. A new scale based on a small panel of international relations faculty is presented. Replication of several past studies of great power reciprocity, using the new scale, shows a slight increase in the statistical significance of relationships.
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Post-World War II Western foreign policies are often based on the claim that the spread of democracy will result in global peace. Our understanding of how this propagation can bring about peace is limited, and we have little reason to believe that the causal arrow points only in one direction. We tackle these issues by modeling the linkages between states' regime types, interstate conflict, and the strength of the democratic community relative to the autocratic community. Analysis of our model suggests initial increases in the strength of the democratic community increase the level of conflict in a system. Beyond a threshold of democratic strength, however, conflict wanes as the democratic community waxes. Our model also suggests that the survival rate of democracies increases as the material strength of the democratic community increases and decreases as systemic conflict rises. Empirical analyses offer support for the survival propositions.