Tagged: Coup

Kai Striebinger

Neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ – Re-Focusing the debate on Coup Outcomes

Dadis Camara, who led the Coup in Guinea 2008 and briefly was the country’s president (Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Recent blog posts by Sebastian Elischer and Alexander Noyes have revived the debate whether Coups d’Etat – the accession of the military to the presidency of a country – are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I argue that this discussion is not very fruitful. While those who argue that Coups can be ‘good’ sometimes refer to the consequences of Coups for the overall political regime, most of those who say that they are ‘bad’ make a principled argument saying that perpetrating a Coup is, in itself, bad – regardless of the consequences.

Only the first understanding allows probing into the effects of Coups. In order to evaluate their effects on the (violated) core feature of democratic regime (the selection of a head of state or government), it is useful to understand how and why military governments stay in or withdraw from power. This opens the research agenda to include military internal, domestic, and international factors.

Principle versus consequences

The confusion in evaluating whether Coups are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stems from two different points of measurement. In one perspective, the act is evaluated; in the other, its consequences are measured. If the core of democracy is defined as accession to the presidency via free and fair elections, then the act of a Coup itself cannot be democratic. It is a violation of a democratic principle and therefore – by definition – ‘bad for democracy’. But if the purpose of a Coup is considered, then a Coup might make a regime more ‘democratic’ after some time at least.

This latter point warrants expansion: most countries where top executive leaders are determined through elections have a constitutional provision to use violence to prevent the abuse of power. Article 20(4) of the German Basic Law, for example, reads: “All Germans shall have the right to resist any person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, if no other remedy is available.” This is an attempt to prevent the rise of another autocratic regime. Such clauses recognize that formally democratic systems (selection of head of state via elections) may erode into political systems where the rights and institutions that the democracy is supposed to protect are systematically violated. In such a situation, a Coup d’Etat can theoretically lead to a system where fewer violations take place. While the act itself violates democratic principles, the purpose aims to protect them, and therefore can be justified. If this second understanding is adopted, then it is an empirical questions what effects Coups d’Etat can have on the nature of political systems.

While it is relevant to inquire about the overall effects of military government on the liberty of the press, the respect for human rights, or economic performance, for example, the main question in order to determine whether there is a chance for establishing a democratic form of government via free and fair elections is whether the military stays in or withdraws from power. The question is thus no longer about an overall effect on ‘democracy’ (which is determined by many other factors as well such as the independence of judicial institutions or a free press), but rather centered on the military itself.

When does the military stay in power after a Coup d’Etat, and when does it withdraw?

When re-centering the attention on this question, three explanatory factors come to the fore. The first concerns the role the other soldiers play. Whether a military is united and features values of civilian supremacy is likely to impact on whether it will reduce its involvement in government after a Coup d’Etat. In the thirteen Coups d’Etat in West Africa from 1990-2014 (without the Coups in Guinea-Bissau), this explanation does, however, only have limited leverage. In about half the cases, the setup of the military does not explain its continued rule. A clientelist military in Guinea in 2008 withdrew from power, while a similarly constituted military in Togo in 2005 held on to power and the Coup President is still ruling today, for example.

Other domestic actors, especially the extent to which they can exert pressure on the military in government shapes the governments’ decision to withdraw from or stay in power. The examples of Guinea and Togo show, however, that extended pressure by civil society actors is necessary but not sufficient to enable a military withdrawal. This is only possible in conjunction with the involvement of external actors who are jointly voicing their preference for military withdrawal.

External actors do play an important role. They can, for example, use coercive power in order to remove the military leadership from government – as has been done after Coups in Sierra Leone in 1997 and Guinea in 2008. But they can also adopt a variety of negative material incentives (such as an arms embargo or travel and financial restrictions) but also positive material incentives (such as an increase in Official Development Assistance or unconditional loans) as well as positive and negative immaterial incentives. They also engage the military leadership in processes of persuasion appealing to their considerations of appropriate behavior.

Domestic and external actors need to be united in their responses

The effect of such instruments depends, however, on the unity among external actors. When China provides a 100 million dollar grant to the military government in Guinea, then the suspension of official development aid by the US, the EU, and EU member states to the fraction of this amount is unlikely to have any (material) effect on the leadership. But it is true that China does not always support military governments (in Mali, for example, it contributed troops to the UN peacekeeping mission). Neither is it the case that ‘Western’ powers and organizations always support military withdrawal (France’s involvement in Niger 1996 is a case in point).

Next to individual countries, international organizations have to be considered as well. African organizations like the African Union or the Economic Community of West African States have far-reaching mandates to react to Coups d’Etat and have used these extensively to contribute to a decrease in the degree of military involvement. They act on par with the traditional external actors on the continent.

Whether Coups ‘are good or bad’ is thus not the most interesting question. It is more fruitful to ask under what conditions and how the military leadership withdraws or stays in power after a Coup d’Etat. Especially the unity of a domestic opposition and external actors are shaping this decision – almost regardless of military internal factors. Under what situations military withdrawal contributes to free and fair elections or broader results such as economic development, good governance, or more equality would need to be subject of another research agenda.

Kai Striebinger wrote his PhD dissertation on the question how and under which conditions international actors contribute to the decision by military governments to either withdraw from or stay in power after Coups d’Etat in West Africa (1990-2014). He is currently a researcher at the German Development Institute.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Forecasts for 2014; How to Rank IR Journals

(CC) Sanjay Acharya
(CC) Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s your last chance to take part in New America’s Weekly Wonk 2014 Forecasting Contest. Most of the questions are brilliant, but my favorite is #4:

Which number will be highest in 2014?

  • Gold medals won by China in the Sochi Winter Olympics
  • Oscars won by American Hustle
  • Days the temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Washington, D.C.
  • Mentions of the word “progress” by Barack Obama at his State of the Union Address

I’ll pick my answers after finishing this blog post… (via Tobias Bunde)

A far more serious forecasting exercise was just published by Jay Ulfelder. He and Ben Valentino used a survey to plot the likelihood of “state-led mass killings” around the world:

Data & map by Jay Ulfelder and Ben Valentino (Dart-Throwing Chimp)

It is very important to understand that the scores being mapped and plotted here are not probabilities of mass-killing onset. Instead, they are model-based estimates of the probability that the country in question is at greater risk than any other country chosen at random. In other words, these scores tell us which countries our crowd thinks we should worry about more, not how likely our crowd thinks a mass-killing onset is.

Also note that less than 150 people took part in the survey. Still, the method is neat.

In another post, Jay sheds some light on how and when he is going to post his 2014 forecasts for coups. Again, it turns out that attaching probabilities to very rare events is extremely tough. The post also illustrates that choosing a data source can be driven more by administrative reasons (who publishes when, how often, and how transparently) than by trust in its quality (or: optimal fit for the purpose)…

At the Duck of Minerva, Brian J. Phillips explores how to rank IR journals:

What are the best International Relations journals? How do we know if one journal is better than another? And how should this affect your decision about where to send a manuscript?

Phillips considers surveys (TRIP) and citation indexes (Thomson-Reuters, Google, etc.) that might be relevant to come up with a ranking. You won’t be surprised by the top 10. But the data, the discussion and follow-up questions, and the (critical) comments are well worth reading…

Sören Stapel

A military coup is a military coup

Anti Morsi protests at June 28. Source: Wikimedia (public domain).

Over the weekend, I attended a workshop with IR people from very different backgrounds. As it often happens, small-talk themes varied from workshop-related conceptual disagreements and the situation at the respective home institutions to actual political events. This time, the most prominent topic given the coup against Morsi last Wednesday was the Egyptian crisis and its causes.

What struck me most about the reactions was that a large part of the participants actually justified and legitimized the military’s actions to push Morsi out of office. This was demanded by the Egyptian people by being on the street and protesting against the ruling regime, it was often said. Morsi made too many mistakes as he was not able to improve the economic situation and because he set different groups against each other, others claimed. The military had to interfere in order to reconstitute order and in order to protect the democratic endeavor in Egypt.

Truth be told, this sucks: what is a military coup should also be named a military coup.

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