More than 200 successful military coups have taken place in 95 countries over the last 75 years. Although military involvement in politics seems to have diminished following the Cold War, the aftermath of the Arab Spring reminds us that the military still plays a critical role in the politics of many states, and institutional structures are key to understanding this role. This article discusses how a particular set of institutions shapes military elites’ decisions regarding the form and degree of intervention in political processes when they face an undesirable chief executive. The broad literature on civil-military relations highlights the fact that military coups are only one form of military intervention in politics. In many cases, military elites try to find alternative, less costly options to achieve their ultimate political aims. These options include intervening in key political decision-making processes without overt military takeover. As long as they achieve their ultimate policy aims, military elites will not choose the most costly option, namely, a military coup. Coups, by definition, target the ouster of the sitting chief executive. When institutions provide a path for military elites to achieve their goals without the military overthrow of the chief executive, this article argues, they will pursue these less costly alternatives.
Therefore, the set of rules associated with the selection of the chief executive is an important factor in determining military elites’ strategies. In this respect, constitutional design matters. In fact, contrary to presidential regimes, parliamentary systems elect the chief executive within parliament rather than through direct, separate popular elections. Additionally, all government formation debates take place behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. I argue that such a low level of transparency may benefit the military in countries where military elites are highly politicized.
From this theoretical discussion, I draw two implications. First, in countries where the selection of the chief executive is through parliament (that is in parliamentary systems), military coups are less likely. Existing studies of democratic breakdowns have examined a related question for the last several decades. However, more recent studies find that the impact of constitutional design disappears when military legacy is taken into account. This study will extend their analysis by expanding the data set they examine. Because of the nature of their research questions, these studies only focus on democratic states and try to understand the determinants of government breakdowns. This study, in contrast, focuses on the prevalence of military coups. Hence, I will include all the countries that may be classified in terms of constitutional design following the approach proposed by John Gerring, Strom Thacker, and Carola Moreno. Gerring and his colleagues argue that at least some modicum of multiparty competition is enough to separate presidential systems from parliamentary ones. In other words, countries do not need to be full democracies for such classification. By expanding the data set, I will test the impact of constitutional design on the likelihood of military coups by controlling for military legacy status.
The second implication is that in parliamentary systems, military elites may force, threaten, or cajole members of parliament to influence the selection of the chief executive. This implication will be supported by several real-world examples from countries such as Turkey, Thailand, Spain, and Greece. In addition, for illustrative purposes, I will compare the 1997 civil-military conflict in Turkey with the 2013 civil-military conflict in Egypt. The following sections will review the literature, discuss the theoretical argument, compare the civil-military conflicts of Egypt and Turkey as well as present different examples from parliamentary systems, describe data and methods used in the analysis, discuss the results, and draw conclusions.
Read the full article in Political Science Quarterly.