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Old 01-14-2019, 02:05 PM
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What makes some countries prone to coup d'etats?

Putschs, military overthrows, whatever name you use. When General So-and-so's soldiers suspend the legislature and/or arrest legislators, troops occupy the television and radio stations, opposition presses are shut down and their editors and reporters arrested, etc. Either the President is deposed, or alternatively it's the perpetually re-elected President of a one-party state who's doing all this.

Latin American countries like Bolivia or Argentina used to be infamous for this. Today it's probably Pakistan that's the perennial winner of the World's Shakiest Democracy award. And of course there are countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where there's no real semblance of democracy to begin with and this is simply how power politics plays out.

I'm too cynical about human nature to believe that it's because of our "culture of respecting democracy". I'm more inclined to believe that there are impersonal forces that somehow make respecting democracy work in some countries and not work in others. My tentative hypothesis is that this happens in countries where military rule is part and parcel with a corrupt spoils system- that it literally pays to do this. But I don't have any cites to back this up.
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Old 01-15-2019, 04:17 AM
clairobscur clairobscur is online now
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I would definitely assume that it's dependent on a culture of democracy. If you've been taught from the youngest age that things should work in a certain way, and that this is right, while departing from this is wrong, and you've seen all your life things work in this way, you'll be shocked when they don't, and you won't be inclined to accept, support or participate in this new situation. And since most people think like you even those who would be so inclined know that their prospect of success is slim, and they won't attempt anything.

A coup can't succeed without some significant level of popular support or at least acceptance or resignation. A handful of corrupt people, even powerful ones, can't just band together and announce to the nation "We're now in charge". This would just get them ignored and arrested. I'm not saying that a long-standing democracy can't turn into a dictatorship. For instance 9/11 resulted in Guantanamo, which I think could never have been accepted in the USA without this event because it was a massive departure from American principles that everybody had learn to deem fundamental. Given an even bigger shock, so that the population's well established values begin to seem much less important than the looming threat, you most certainly can convince a large enough part of this population that a strong regime is needed to make a coup a possibly viable prospect. Democratic culture is important but no kind of culture will win against fear or starvation.

So, a democratic culture isn't an absolute protection, but it does afford a significant level of protection. While if you're living in a country where there has been 7 coups during your lifetime, even if you have in theory a preference for a democratic system, you won't be shocked when the 8th coup happen, it will be just life as usual, and you and plenty of other people might even be willing to support it or even participate in it if you have something to gain from it, or even simply if your political side is the one that will be in charge, since after all better you and your friends than these other guys who will probably seize power if you don't.

And I'm not really convinced that it needs to pay for a coup to take place. Of course, sometimes it might be the main reason, and even if it's not, there will certainly be a lot of people rallying solely out of self-interest because they expect it will pay, but in my opinion, ideological reasons might really (not just officially) be the main factor. If enough people are, say, truly afraid of the communist threat and of the ongoing destruction of all moral and religious values they perceive, that might be a very sufficient reason to organize or support a coup. I don't think that, say, Franco and the other Spanish generals, started a coup because they thought there was a lot of money to be made. I'm convinced they honestly did so to save Spain from the disastrous future they expected if they did nothing.
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Old 01-15-2019, 07:25 AM
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I have more personal experience on the topic that I'd like to.

After a coup, at the moment or looking back, people who support it almost invariably have told me something along the lines "At least now/then you could walk on the streets safely". The common point is that at least you can go on with a normal life without fear of disruptive social conflict or becoming a victim of political violence or rampant criminality caused by an ineffective, corrupt, weak or even complicit government in said issues; those who support coups and dictatorships by and large say is because they want order restored in the face of a threat.
The thing is, most people want stability in their lives, ideals of Democracy come after that. So it's less "hail to the chief!" and more "someone do something!".

At least that is the background of the ones I have lived through, obviously there are other paths that lead to coups.

I would say that the point all bets are of is when political violence begins to be condoned; the end of the game of political violence is that the people who are better in exercising violence win.
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Old 01-15-2019, 07:33 AM
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Interesting question, let me muse upon this notion.

A state has a power structure by which leaders are chosen and institutions by maintain order and manage the economy internally and though trade with other states. The state must also have some common belief informed by religion, ideology or national myth that distinguishes a unique national identity that binds the population and clearly demarcates its interests from those of rivals. It helps if there are geographic features that help demarcate a geographic territory.

Every now and then, some innovation transforms the economy and trade and the population increases and the state becomes more powerful and expands. These changes put a big strain in the political structure and the institutions needed to operate the state and it may come into conflict with other states. Those that adapt fastest to the new rules will prosper at the expense of their rivals.

The modern nation state we know today is the product of the industrial age. Its features were adapted from nations that were based on trade and plantation agriculture. They in turn were based on states controlled by monarchies and land owning barons or land empires whose wealth derived from the major food producing land adjacent to major river systems. However, there are barriers to this development.

Many parts of the world have not followed this economic progression and the huge increase and military power that goes with it and their indigenous economies become prey to outside influence. It is not in the economy interests of a modern nation states to encourage other states to follow the same path of development. That would to be invite rivalry and give up a powerful advantage. Their trading relationships are often still based on previous colonial relationships which sought to exploit weak governments in parts of the world that had abundant natural resources be it agricultural production, mineral or oil and gas wealth.

To this end, they find it convenient to deal with dictators, one party states who guarantee security and distribute the wealth of the country amongst a group of influential families that have close connections with the President and Military.

The answer to the question is that some countries have an economy very influenced by other states. Some developed states have proud, long standing democracies. But the freedoms they enjoy are won at the expense of others through unequal treaties with less powerful countries and trade tied to security guarantees for a favoured elite. Such arrangements are a recipe for regular coup d'etat as foreign powers vie to promote the interests of their preferred political faction and access to the countries valuable resources.

The Banana Republics run by Mr Del Monte. African states still dominated by European powers after decolonisation. Chinese trade expansion and the long standing curse of Oil and Gas.

It is interesting that we are now some way into another innovation that is again changing economic rules for developed economies. The Internet has allowed the free mobility of information and data and this is destablising democracies and has created intellectual property as a new asset and services as currency for international trade. The states that master the new rules fastest will prosper. You can see some of this happening in the GM debates and the huge legal fights between the likes of Apple and its rivals over who owns some gesture on smartphone.

The race is on for states to create educated, wealth creating classes of workers. Ambitious people want to move to states that embrace the freedoms that encourage innovation, enterprise and opportunity. You can see the modern states struggling to adapt their economies in the face of strong vested interests and the bewilderment of workers brought up with the old certainties of the factory or mine.

There is great opportunity for smaller, weaker states to prosper if they can resist the brain drain as the world becomes more connected and they avoid being controlled by others. Will the free movement of information may see the end of centralised power and dictatorships or will it create new ones? it could go either way and we must hope we don't create some Orwellian nightmare.

Whenever we take one step forward we often take one step back.
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Old 01-15-2019, 08:57 AM
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In some countries, a coup is the only way an administration can change.
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Old 01-15-2019, 10:28 AM
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Some states were the result of borders being drawn at the convenience of foreign powers.

Many South American countries were the result of decolonisation by the Spanish and Portugese in the 19th century, leaving behind states dominated by settlers, slaves and immigrants in vast countries with indigenous natives and a plantation economy.

The Scramble for Africa divided up the continent for the convenience of the European powers in the 1880s. Little wonder that during the decolonisation period following WW2, the borders of these states bore little relation to the people contained within them. Nigeria, for example had three quite different language/cultural and religious groups contained within its borders and so struggled find stability. The same was true of many other states formed during that period. It was made worse by the proxy wars fought between the West and Soviet Union for influence in these countries.

When Yugoslavia fell apart after the death of Tito, there was a scramble to create nation states based around historic language/cultural and religious identities. Rivalries and divisions that dated back to the Ottoman empire emerged that had been suppressed by Titos divide and rule policies. The result was series of civil wars and conflicts to establish new states with defined borders that laid waste to the Balkans during the 1990s. It did not help that Yugoslavia was a major arms manufacturer.

Many of the borders created in the Middle East were drawn by the European powers and the US marking out their areas of interest and sharing out control over the Oil assets as the Ottomans withdrew. They bore little relation to the history of the region. There were some notable losers such as the Kurds who are people split over four states.

The ingredients of making a stable state in these circumstances are often quite absent and with plenty of outside powers keen to assert control by backing one faction against another. Nations are rarely left alone to develop at their own pace. It helps if the country is an island with a coastline that can be defended (UK, Japan) or large and geographically situated so that it is out of the reach of other, more powerful nations (US). Some countries are just plain lucky.
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Old 01-15-2019, 10:33 AM
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Some states were the result of borders being drawn at the convenience of foreign powers.

Many South American countries were the result of decolonisation by the Spanish and Portugese in the 19th century, leaving behind states dominated by settlers, slaves and immigrants in vast countries with indigenous natives and a plantation economy.
A lot of Latin America did not have plantation economies until after independence; those mainly grew during the 19th century (both in already-independent countries and in places that were still colonies). And borders between Spanish-speaking Latin American countries were drawn as different parts of it became independent, either from Spain or from a former Spanish colony: current lines in maps rarely correspond to former Spanish virreinates and provinces, even though some names already existed pre-independence (Peru or Mexico, for example, are old names).
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Old 01-15-2019, 10:37 AM
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A few points, just off the top of my head. None of these apply universally to every country, but most points apply to most countries.

(1) America was very lucky to have founders who deeply understood political philosophy. We experienced an almost ridiculous confluence of events in which a generation of men who were highly educated and deeply concerned with the theory and practice of nation-building found themselves in the remarkable situation of having to build a nation. They were almost universally subject matter experts and there is no better group of individuals who could have been chosen for the task. Most of these countries under discussion had little political experience or expertise, and many of them were forced to adopt unfamiliar governments practically overnight.

(2) Many of the countries in places like Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East exist in conflict zones with few resources and poor geopolitical boundaries. They often incorporate deeply divided ethnic groups in a single political body, which is unfortunate but also unavoidable. (Much is made of foreigners or wartime victors drawing irrational and arbitrary political borders around incompatible ethnic groups, but I don't blame them much for this. These regions are so confused that there is NO possible way to make everyone happy in this respect.) These countries also have few natural geographic obstacles to migration, so they naturally become the 'mixing point' where incompatible cultures meet, which produces yet more conflict.

(3) They had shitty examples. Take a look at what happened when Guinea requested independence from France. De Gaulle threw a world-class temper tantrum and ended French support with a giant 'fuck you.' Colonial powers were universally rapacious, divisive, and kleptocratic. The fundamental point of colonialism was to drain these countries of their wealth. So if you were someone who lived in a very traditional society, and your only experience with state government was the example provided by European colonial powers, its no great surprise that their governments were not exactly benign.
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Old 01-15-2019, 10:51 AM
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If there's one thing the wiki list of countries which have experienced coups, attempted or otherwise - all 131 of them, including the US - shows us, is that there isn't much they have in common with each other at all.
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Old 01-15-2019, 10:57 AM
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(3) They had shitty examples. Take a look at what happened when Guinea requested independence from France. De Gaulle threw a world-class temper tantrum and ended French support with a giant 'fuck you.' Colonial powers were universally rapacious, divisive, and kleptocratic. The fundamental point of colonialism was to drain these countries of their wealth. So if you were someone who lived in a very traditional society, and your only experience with state government was the example provided by European colonial powers, its no great surprise that their governments were not exactly benign.
Yes, this is a useful observation and a correct one. Excepting maybe the 5-10 years of the colonial rule, none of the colonial empires ruling over the populations not white settlers, had any semblance of the good governance relative to the local masses.

And their local power expression was almost always sans any real consultation and the brutal change of the local intermediaries - leaders if there was any conflict with the imperial authorities.

Thus yes, the model of the bureaucratic state (not the state government) government was something that indeed set the default template for a high-handed authoritarianism and even the changes of the power at the gunpoint.
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Old 01-15-2019, 11:07 AM
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For instance 9/11 resulted in Guantanamo, which I think could never have been accepted in the USA without this event because it was a massive departure from American principles that everybody had learn to deem fundamental.
Ha ha ha ha!

Ha.

No.
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Old 01-15-2019, 01:34 PM
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Ha ha ha ha!

Ha.

No.
I knew about the school of the Americas. But training other countries' torturers isn't the same as using torture yourself. The American population at large has never felt extremely concerned by the messy things done in remote shitty countries. But I'm convinced that if in 2000, I had predicted Guantanamo, people here (including those also aware of the School of the Americas) would have sworn high and low that such a thing could *never* happen in the USA, barring a nuclear apocalypse or something like that. That it would be inconceivable that people could be detained for undetermined duration without due process to be kept in cages and tortured. They would have said that it would run against all legal and constitutional principles that are strictly respected in the USA, and that any attempt at doing such a thing would be immediately thwarted by the courts and would result in any official guilty of such terrible offenses ending up himself behind bars.

Now, of course, I can't prove that they would have said that. I'm just absolutely convinced of it (apart possibly DerTrihs who would probably have said that I was underestimating the evilness of the USA and that kittens would probably be tortured too for fun and giggles).

But then the US government came up with a variety of fig leaves (they aren't *really* in the USA, they aren't *really* political prisoners, they aren't *really* deprived of due process, they aren't *really* tortured...) to justify how it just looked a lot like a massive breach of legal and constitutional protections but wasn't actually one and people swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
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Old 01-15-2019, 03:30 PM
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I think it's mostly a combination of democratic tradition and cultural inertia in the democracies that are stable. In other words, people have been raised with centuries of looking to the ballot box to effect change, and that's how they go about it. And there's a long tradition of the military being subordinate to the civilian authorities.

In other countries that are prone to coups d'etat, I feel like the governments there aren't really "by the people, for the people, of the people" in the way that say... those of stable democracies are, and that there's a lot of lip service paid to the institutions of a democratic nation, but not a whole lot of buy-in on a fundamental level to the notion that they're part of the government in a fundamental way; they think of government as some sort of separate thing that exists and inflicts stuff on them, but isn't something they (as a collective unit or personally) can really influence.

So when someone launches a coup in those countries, it's just seen as something that those other elites and people in power are doing, not as something fundamentally opposed to the national tradition.
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Old 01-15-2019, 03:45 PM
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But training other countries' torturers isn't the same as using torture yourself.
Talk about your distinction without difference - not that US personnel didn't engage in torture themselves, from Vietnam to El Savador.
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Old 01-15-2019, 03:58 PM
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ISTM that the question should be what makes some countries prone to not having coups. The coup seems like a third world phenomenon when we look at recent history, but go back far enough and it seems like coups were par for the course in most times and places. I think having a stable democracy helps prevent them. In other systems any time the old leader dies (by natural causes or otherwise) there is an opportunity for someone who is ambitious and powerful but not the legitimate successor to try to force their way into power.

What’s more difficult to understand is why people in general support coups. It seems to me that in general coups lead to disruptions and worsening of conditions. Take the Roman Empire as an example. They had the most domestic prosperity when the emperors followed the established succession (Tiberius, Claudius, Hadrian and Trajan) and had problems when the emperors were being killed and getting killed in turn. That seems to be the case with coups in general, but yet they keep happening.
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Old 01-15-2019, 05:28 PM
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What makes some countries prone to coup d'etats?
The CIA.

Not a joke.
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Old 01-15-2019, 07:26 PM
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The CIA.

Not a joke.
I don't know enough about most of the incidents in the above looked Wikipedia list, but I expect they show up quite a bit.
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Old 01-15-2019, 07:47 PM
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Talk about your distinction without difference - not that US personnel didn't engage in torture themselves, from Vietnam to El Savador.
I don't think it makes a moral difference, if anything, vastly more people suffered (and died) as a result of US policies in South America . But I think it makes a difference for the American public, in the sense that one isn't perceived as a compromission of their fundamental values (if it's away from home, the constitution doesn't apply) while the other does.

(and same for American personnel being personally engaged).
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Old 01-16-2019, 08:10 AM
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Fair enough, I get your point there.
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Old 01-16-2019, 07:17 PM
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I have more personal experience on the topic that I'd like to.

After a coup, at the moment or looking back, people who support it almost invariably have told me something along the lines "At least now/then you could walk on the streets safely". The common point is that at least you can go on with a normal life without fear of disruptive social conflict or becoming a victim of political violence or rampant criminality caused by an ineffective, corrupt, weak or even complicit government in said issues; those who support coups and dictatorships by and large say is because they want order restored in the face of a threat.
The thing is, most people want stability in their lives, ideals of Democracy come after that. So it's less "hail to the chief!" and more "someone do something!".

At least that is the background of the ones I have lived through, obviously there are other paths that lead to coups.

I would say that the point all bets are of is when political violence begins to be condoned; the end of the game of political violence is that the people who are better in exercising violence win.
Yeah, I'm sure stability and safety is lower on maslows hierarchy than freedom. I've heard the same thing about places like Iraq, some people miss the days of Saddam when there was stability.

What role does injustice or poverty play? If the dictator is a billionaire and the people are starving, I don't know if that leads to a coup or not.
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Old 01-16-2019, 09:27 PM
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What role does injustice or poverty play? If the dictator is a billionaire and the people are starving, I don't know if that leads to a coup or not.
Not the way you meant, but I think poverty plays a role. That in a country where almost everyone is poor, opportunities for advancement are practically non-existent, and the only source of wealth is squeezing the populace (or controlling the few profitable extraction-export industries), the police/gendarmes/military is one of the few ways for poor nobodies to have a stab at wealth. Granted being a patrolman or private at the bottom of the totem pole sucks, but it still doesn't suck quite as much as being an impoverished slum dweller. There's always some graft to be had, you get the fringe benefit of being one of the bullies instead of the bullied, and if you can climb the ladder the graft and status becomes richer. This guarantees that regardless of who's running things at the top, the muscle to keep the peons in line will be there. It's when the rank and file grunts desert and throw their lot in with the peasants that revolution is imminent.
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Old Today, 05:51 AM
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Poverty can be related to coups, but it is a relatively weak motivator. It does not necessarily follow that poverty itself is an impetus for a coup, largely because (A) a country can be poor but politically stable and (B) coups are usually perpetrated by the upper-level military types. If the great mass of proletariat peasants overthrows the government, we are technically talking about a revolution and not a coup.

Political disorder, corruption, and insecurity are all major predictors of coup attempts, but the single biggest predictor might be an over-emphasized faith in the military. Most of these countries are very divided and chaotic, and so people begin to believe that a military dictatorship would be preferable to the otherwise corrupt or inept government. Poverty is a driver only so far as it contributes to corruption and social disorder.

There’s an idea out there called “relative deprivation theory” which claims disorder and violence can increase when the impoverished feel like they are being denied opportunities. (Eg “People around me have greater wealth and luxuries, and I am being unfairly denied these same things, so I will join a terrorist group in order to get what I think I deserve”). If this hypothesis is correct, the dissatisfaction may drive crime, corruption, class warfare, terrorism, and other forms of disorder. This disorder would then in turn make people support a military coup if it promises to restore order.

I also agree very much with the idea that people might look to a coup as a way to upset the hierarchy and move up in the world, under certain circumstances. We saw this very clearly in Iraq. After the 17 July coup, the military became the ruling class in Iraq and belonging to a military family became the key to social mobility.
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