Undemocratic shifts for state control: Part I

Undemocratic shifts for state control: Part I




This examination was featured in basic State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

With six attempted or successful coups in Africa in 2021, and the military takeover in Burkina Faso in January, the sudden proliferation of undemocratic shifts in state control has reignited a series of debates about coups. What causes them? Are they predictable? We’ll probe new research on these questions this week and next in thorough Dive. 

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ average: Part I

Military officers most involved in deposing democratically elected leaders were, not so long ago, at one or another US military base being lectured about the importance of civilian control of the military.

One topic that comes up frequently in discussions involving military coups is the training backgrounds of the coupists. It seems that, with exceptional frequency, the military officers most involved in deposing democratically elected leaders were, not so long ago, at one or another US military base being lectured about the importance of civilian control of the military. US military training of foreign officers, which ostensibly counts reinforcing democratic norms among its many goals, appears at first to peek briefly to have, at best, little effect on the likelihood of a trainee to be involved in a future coup, and at worst makes it much more likely that they will be involved.

In a new article in the Journal of Peace Research, however, political scientists Theodore McLaughlin, Lee Seymour, and Simon Pierre Boulanger-Martel dig a bit deeper into the data to see whether there are any variations in coup outcomes across the wide range of foreign training the US offers.

Related: What does ‘legitimacy’ average: Part II

McLaughlin et. al. have put together a new dataset of all international military training programs the US ran between 1999 and 2016. The data allows them to take a general look at the enormous US effort to aim members of foreign militaries. The US ran 34 different training programs during the period covered by the database, which taught over 2.3 million pupils. already if you leave out the country-wide programs the US conducted in Afghanistan and Iraq, you’re nevertheless left with 971,054 people trained over that period. 

A close study of IMET and the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program in 2017 showed that the presence of either program doubled the likelihood of a military coup in that country.

One of those 34 programs that has come in for particular scrutiny from scholars and activists is the International Military Education & Training programs (IMET). A close study of IMET and the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program in 2017 showed that the presence of either program doubled the likelihood of a military coup in that country. The authors of that study extrapolated their results to US foreign military training programming generally, arguing that IMET’s focus on inculcating norms of civilian control of the military and respect for democratic processes method that if IMET graduates are doing coups, then surely graduates of all the other programs are doing coups in addition.

The correlation between IMET programming and coup attempts remains strong, but the relationship does not keep up for any other US-led foreign military training program the researchers track.

in addition McLaughlin et. al., looking at all those other programs, find a different consequence. The correlation between IMET programming and coup attempts remains strong, but the relationship does not keep up for any other US-led foreign military training program the researchers track. already the Regional Centers for Security Studies programs, which, like IMET, take on as trainees the class of senior officer most likely to be involved in coups, do nothing to increase the likelihood of military coups in recipient countries. In short, there is something in particular about IMET that is either attracting or creating coupists.

This consequence indicates two things. The first is that the idea of inculcating democratic civil-military norms in a classroom setting — a chief goal of IMET — is likely a pipe dream. At the very least, we don’t understand how to do it in addition. The second, more optimistic, conclusion is that reformers in and out of government trying to limit the negative spillover effects of US training programs can aim their fire on IMET. Understanding the role that program plays in producing coup-committing graduates would be a major step forward in lessening the harms produced by US military outreach.

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