Is kneejerk opposition to military coups misplaced? We can all agree that coups overthrowing democratic governments are never good, but what about authoritarian ones? asks Slate analyst Joshua Keating:
The economist Paul Collier has made that argument, suggesting that “the very forces that sanctimony comfortably condemns can sometimes be the most effective ally of democracy.” After all, whether or not a dictator survives often depends more on the support of those around him than the support of citizens. 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” – probably history’s most famous “good coup” ….
A recent paper by political scientists Clayton L. Thyne and Jonathan M. Powell in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis examines the relationship between coups and democracy in the context of the Arab Spring., where the behavior of the military was often the deciding factor. As they note, “loyal militaries have allowed the governments in Bahrain and Syria remain intact, regimes in Tunisia and Egypt fell after military defections, and military splits led to prolonged ﬁghting in Libya and Yemen.” In general, coups have been much more likely to lead to a return to elected government since the Cold War. Thyne and Powell argue this is in line with the incentives juntas face after taking power. …
The authors don’t go as far as to suggest supporting coups against authoritarian governments, but they say the U.S. and other foreign powers should focus more on “precoup levels of democracy when deciding how to respond to coup attempts.”
In general though, it would probably be wise for the U.S. to maintain a general bias against supporting coups,” Keating suggests. “And even when coups lead back to democracy, countries tend not to have just one. As we saw in Turkey and Thailand throughout the 20th century and Egypt more recently, countries can become trapped in coup cycles.”