Coups are less frequent these days, but more likely to succeed

In other words, last night was an outlier.  Here is Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton L. Thyne in the Journal of Peace Research:

We also see some interesting trends in the frequency of coup attempts over time. As shown in Figure 2, there is a fairly clear decline in the total frequency of coup attempts over time. The high point for coup attempts came in the mid-1960s, followed by two more bubbles in the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. The number of successful coups has likewise decreased over time. We saw 12 successful coups in both 1963 and 1966. The mid- to late-1970s also saw a brief burst of successful coups (ranging from 3 to 9 for each year). An interesting trend emerges when we look at the percentage of coup attempts that resulted in successful regime changes, which we plot on the right side of the Y-axis. The mean success rate is 48% during the entire time span. This rate saw early peaks around 1970 and 1980, and then a decline until the turn of the century. However, we see another spike in the success rate starting in 2003. Twelve of the 18 (67%) coup attempts since then have been successful, and only one of the most recent four coup attempts has failed. While coups have certainly waned over time, the recent success of coup plotters suggests that coups remain a key element of governmental instability.

I cannot readily pull out Figure 2 from the pdf, but it is on p.7 of the document.  Note that their data run up through 2010, and thus do not cover the Arab Spring.


'Coups are less frequent these days'

Almost as if the Cold War proxy game has been over for a couple of decades. And the Arab Spring uprisings, with the fairly notable exception of Egypt, would not normally be considered 'coups.'

Good point. Another point I made in an earlier thread is demographics: with worldwide populations aging, most coups won't work with an elderly, "don't rock the boat" population.

I seriously sometimes doubt whether most Americans (and that includes gun owners) would fight to overthrow a dictatorship in the USA, if it arouse. I think they would not bother, especially if they might risk life and limb. Already most USA-ers don't bother to vote and willingly pay 40% of their income to government (Fed, state, local), so what difference does it make if the government is not elected? Not much, and I don't buy the argument that people are satisfied hence they don't vote.

"Another point I made in an earlier thread is demographics: with worldwide populations aging, most coups won’t work with an elderly don’t rock the boat population"

So what? Recruits are young anyway and the old officers retire anyway. An older population may prevent "spontaneous" "revolutionary" civilian agitation, like May 1968 or the Arab Spring, or hurt groups that depend on mass manifestations under a professional leadership, the old Leninist organizational model, but why would it prevent soldiers from fulfilling orders or their commander officers from issuing such orders?

@TR - I think we are in "violent agreement" as the saying goes, as your points seem to confirm mine.

Regarding civilian resistence-- or lack of resistence-- to a coup, I think we agree, the population is too old and too disenfranchised and demoralized to resist. I just don't understand what a "don't rock the boat population" has to do with coups not working.

It is pure numbers. Erdogan managed to get crowds of his supporters into the streets.

Whoever manages to harness the energies of a large number of younger people, I don't mean 18 year olds, but people 20-40 will be able to move things in his direction. If the numbers are low, or the support diffuse, they won't be able to get their way.

It also works the other way. A large stable established group predominantly older has a tendency to ignore the restive. When something like Trump comes along, they literally don't know what to do. All the ways they have used to manipulate and maintain influence suddenly don't work. So they are unable to respond adequately even though they have the tools.

How this ties into military coups would depend on the local situation. In Turkey there obviously wasn't enough of a base of support that could be roused against Erdogan. Partly demographics, partly the dilution of power that Cowan referenced in a previous post.

I suspect in fact that successful military coups have nothing to do with popular support but rather have more to do with popular indifference.

A tiny fraction of Americans pay 40% of their income to the government. Stick to hookers and chess, Ray.

Faux coups' pendulum?

Sample size?

....ask the CIA -- oh wait, CIA didn't even see this Turkish coup coming.

The U.S. government intelligence community has over 100,000 employees, $100+ Billion annual spending, and closely monitors worldwide communications (including all Americans).

U.S. taxpayers are really getting their moneys-worth... and the trashing of Constitutional rights is really worth it.

Not to nitpick, but what you actually know is that the US government did not publicly announce the risk of a coup.

Which year did people start putting a potential Turkish coup in the cards? Was it ... how many minutes, hours or days until how many people wondered about the possibility if it went in such and such a direction, after the present top dog got his spot? But I don't think anyone's ever mistaken him for an extremist, although clearly he's not one to play lap dog.

If you look at Fig. 2, you can see the y-axis ranges up to 15/year, which isn't actually too bad. The spikes they claim ("in mid-1960s, followed by two more bubbles in the mid-1970s and the early 1990s") are almost certainly not statistically significant, but the overall trends probably are. The plot in Fig. 2 would be much improved by Poissonian error bars.

Successful coups are all alike, every unsuccessful coup is unsuccessful in its own way.

+ 1
Isn't it true about every enterprise and every person?

Isn't this true about families, too?

And about Russian writers?

Actually, the interesting thing about coups is that there are a lot of different types of successful coups, even if you limit yourself to just military coups. Anna Karenina does not apply here. Which makes sense: if there were only one path to a successful coup, or if success required coup-plotters to check all the right boxes, it probably wouldn’t happen very often. But, in historical terms, successful coups are quite common. This sets them apart from successful social revolutions (see Skocpol) or successful guerrilla wars (see Wickham-Crowley), which are comparatively quite rare.

You could generalize about successful coups that they are “stronger” than the government they defeat, but I don’t see that that gets you very far. How would you know ahead of time? Just thinking about historical cases, it seems clear that the range of coups is very large even you if you limit yourself to basic descriptors like the breadth of involvement and the degree of planning. In my case, I am most familiar with Latin American cases, and particularly Chilean cases, of both failed and successful coups and I am struck more by the differences between them than by the similarities.

Just for example, at one extreme you have the Bonapartist coup (as typically imagined if not in reality): the lightning-quick, only lightly-coordinated action of a small group or small number of disciplined units where the government (in the form of a core group of officials) is physically seized or otherwise put in direct peril. This well-planned and carefully-calculated action leaves other military units paralyzed, at least long enough for the coup leaders to appoint a new government, take over the government themselves, or otherwise replace the previous government. These are obviously very bold (and risky) actions, but when they work they can be quite decisive and almost bloodless.

At the other extreme, you have the spontaneous, broad-based protest coups. These are often caused by specific acts on the part of the government, either intentional, negligent, or through force majeure, that leaves broad swathes of the military so angry and disaffected that they take action. This can happen when a government tries to discipline a military force by cutting its budget, cutting pay, or punishing popular members of former members. This can also happen when a government, through its own obliviousness, does something surprising like failing to pass a long-expected military-modernization measure or a new military budget. Or it can happen when a financial crisis forces unpopular decisions on the government that affect things like military pay, readiness, professionalization, or pensions. These kinds of actions can fizzle quickly or can dissolve into horribly destructive anarchy, but occasionally they produce a new (but frequently unstable) government.

Another type would be the broad-based, carefully planned mass coup. These are, or course, comparatively rare among coup attempts, because they are the most difficult to carry out without early detection by the government. But when (and if) they reach the point of execution, governments find them very difficult to resist, so they might be the most common among successful coups. At the other extreme are the spontaneous (and somewhat irrational) acts of rebellion by small isolated units. These are almost always doomed to failure and might be seen as desperate acts. But they sometimes succeed if, for example, they are carried out by popular and charismatic commanders that rally support from others units and/or regions. Unfortunately, analytically they are sometimes difficult to differentiate from the classic Bonapartist type because a historian’s irrational and spontaneous act might be a local commander’s carefully-planned action.

In addition, it would seem important to differentiate between peacetime and wartime coups. Setting the issue of whether the Cold War makes every coup from 1947 to 1989 a wartime coup, most coup attempts are usually peacetime coups. But a lot of coups happen during wartime or in the immediate aftermath of a war. This obviously can have a bearing on success. Government’s have generally sought to protect themselves from coups by deploying multiple units to capital cities and rotating officers so as to make plotting difficult. In wartime, these kind of measures can get overlooked. In addition, wartime decision-making frequently politicizes the military more than during peacetime.

Finally, there are basic differences in leadership structures. Some coups are led by by the high command. Others by field commanders, with or without contacts in the general staff. But there are also Colonel’s coups, Junior Officer coups, and even Sergeants coups. All of these differences give a different character to the coups in terms of their initiation, planning, development, execution, and aftermath. What is striking about the Turkish case is that we have heard so little about all variables I would consider crucial for understanding the case. But of course that might also be a testimony to the fact that few coups are of a singular type. Successful coups, in particular, might blend two or more different types together, especially in the way the pre-planned elements ultimately depend on some spontaneous support later in the process. Nevertheless, I can’t see an analytical thread that unites ALL successful coups.

First, you must pretend to be on their side, then when they turn their backs, you take the bayonet from your pockey and drive it through their hearts. Never fails. Unless they were pretending to be on your side

To capture Figure 2, use a screen grabber like Gadwin Screen Printer (free). In over 2000 instances, it has never failed me once.

In Turkey, I think one might now need to consider the possibility that the real coup is now in progress.

Yeah, a generation ago, the Turkish government was quite secular. Bye bye.

Now that they're increasingly Islamist - one of the coup soldiers was beheaded - the EU is opening its borders to 70 million Turks as part of a migrant deal.

Top men in Brussels, top men. Coupled with the genius that saw France import the beginning of a caliphate on its own soil, is it really that surprising that so many Europeans are rejecting their political betters.

Same story in the US really. It's just a shame that a guy like Trump was the only candidate to echo the concerns of an increasingly restless electorate.

How France is white (0 coups) in figure 1?

Also, because France was independent pre-1950, it could have had (and did have) pre-1950 coups, while nations that weren't independent until after 1950 could not. The data set has bias that obscures the general conclusion that all governments are prone to coups in the early years of democratic governance.

Given how people can communicate easily and coordinate their behavior over the internet, perhaps one has to distinguish between a popular coup and an unpopular one.

"In other words, last night was an outlier."

Tyrone is calling false flag!!

1. Fake coup to consolidate power.
2. Institute neo-Ottoman Empire
3. ?????
4. Profit!

Joking aside, a very real possibility.

The coup is very convenient for Erdogan

It's gotta be asked, anyways. But if I'm reading right in the range of 3000 officers, you can't really fake that.

There is a broader history of coups to take into account, I think, that gives some insight into the recent history of coups.

I would date the modern history of coups to the early nineteenth century and the emergence of Republican governments. Many of these Republics were of course born out military struggle, so it became somewhat natural for military commanders to insert themselves militarily into struggles for power. This was of course a characteristic of republican governance in post-independence Latin America. So coups and counter-coups became endemic.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, one of the characteristic moves of third-tier and fourth-tier military powers was to attempt to “professionalize” their military officer corps. In part this was done to make their militaries more internationally competitive, but it was also done in an attempt to stave off coups or at least limit them. This latter goal was not really achieved because professionalization had some unanticipated effects.

Typically in this period, national government sent contingents of their young officers off to military academies in some of the major industrialized countries, which were also some of the major military powers. These major powers probably accepted these foreign officers in the hope they would become future customers for their arms industries. But the result was that many less developed nations developed a somewhat skewed ruling class: the most technically sophisticated professionals tended to be the “military engineers.” After studying abroad, these officers – particularly the younger officers — tended to have more up-to-date knowledge of sanitation, public health, infrastructure engineering, and even education and training, than did many of their civilian counterparts. Worse, they knew their knowledge was superior. They also had the personal experience of seeing effective systems of sanitation, health, infrastructure, and education, before returning to their home countries to find comparatively ineffective systems of the same. Naturally then, late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century militaries in third- and fourth-tier powers were often contemptuous of civilians and civilian rule. That was not an ideal recipe for limits on coups attempts.

Fast forward to the post-WWII period. Decolonization leads to more independent countries. Again, most of them republics. The result is obviously an uptick in the number of coups simply because of the increased scope. In addition, many of the new states are again born out of military struggle, so this is another factor that is going to contribute to coups post 1950, just as it did post 1820. In addition, major powers are going to continue educating promising young officers from what are then called “Third World” countries. So far conditions post WWII are analogous to the early 19th century.

The one change that occurs is that by the late 1950s, developed countries begin some reasonably large-scale programs to train a range of civilian experts in a variety of fields from education to agriculture, to policing and economics. These efforts obviously have a lag time, but they accelerate in the 1960s. By the 1980s there are fewer senior military officials in most countries that honestly believe that they are the most technically sophisticated professionals operating in their societies. It would seem natural then that, overtime, the number of attempted and successful coups would begin to decline.

The important thing is having someone inside.

I bet Erdonon triggered the coup to justify taking great power for himself.

Use agents to find opponents and enemies in the military and convince them by playing telephone to take military action in the belief the chain of command is behind a coup. Gen. John is backing Gen. Bill in a coup, so hook up with your buddies in Gen. John's unit and give them weapons and then go takeover the TV station. Meanwhile Gen. John gets ready to capture Gen. Bill and send a unit to kill everyone who took over the TV station, so no one is left to tell tales and name names. Gen. Bill will of course deny being behind the coup, but what else would a traitor say.

Under martial law, opponents of Erdonon will be rounded up, hauled before military tribunals and executed as traitors.

But them you must get rid of General John, too. Three people can only keep a secret if two of them are dead."

The timeline is informative. It basically coincides with decolonialization, because almost every newly independent colony started out with a Western style democracy, and almost all of the regimes established in those attempts, sooner or later, either were deposed in a fairly prompt coup or ossified into one party states based upon the party that lead the initial independence movements.

The exceptions (e.g. the portion of India that didn't break off into Pakistan/Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand), are few and far between. The same can be said following the wave of independence declarations in Latin America in the late 19th century, and many European democracies (e.g. France, Greece, Spain). Even England's constitutional monarchy was briefly deposed in the Glorious Revolution. The U.S. also had an internal uprising that threatened the early regime although it failed (Shay's Rebellion). Moreover, almost all of the success stories involve countries that had self-governance powers for more than a century during which local corps of elites and institutional practices and legitimacy could be established.

Democracy is not a state of nature. It can persist only when it has a sufficient corps of elites to run it and the people subject to it are accustomed to and recognize as legitimate that regime. Until all of the elements of social consensus and elite expertise are in place, it almost inevitable degenerates into coups or one party regimes.

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