Holger Albrecht, “How to Keep Officers in the Barracks: Causes, Agents, and Types of Military Coups.” Journal Article

Holger Albrecht (University of Alabama) and Ferdinand Eibl

International Studies Quarterly Vol. 62, No. 2 (2018), pp. 315-32


What are the most efficient strategies to prevent military coups d’état? The answer depends on coup agency, that is, who attempts to overthrow the regime: elite officers or lower-ranking combat officers. Elite officers and lower-ranking combat officers have different incentives, opportunities, and capacities when it comes to perpetrating coups. Using original data on coup agency, public spending, and officer salaries in the Middle East and North Africa, we find that counterbalancing—a strategy designed to increase barriers for coup plotters’ coordination efforts—and higher shares of defense spending prove more effective at preventing coups by elite officers. However, higher social spending reduces the risk of coups by combat officers. Political liberalization has mixed effects on military agents. It decreases the risk of coups by combat officers, but makes elite officers more likely to mount coups. Our findings suggest that the study of coups needs to better incorporate variation and that we need to rethink the image of coups as purely elite-led power grabs.