(Universitat Pompeu Fabra – Barcelona) A state’s risk of a coup is negatively associated with its army’s degree of mechanization, understood as the extent to which militaries depend on tanks and armored vehicles in relation to personnel.
This is the main conclusion of a study involving Abel Escribà-Folch, a senior lecturer with the UPF Department of Political and Social Sciences, together with Ioannis Choulis from the University of Essex (United Kingdom), Marius Mehrl, from the University of Munich (Germany), and Tobias Böhmelt, also from the University of Essex.
“While we do not necessarily question the tenet that mechanization strengthens the military, we show that more powerful militaries do not necessarily represent a greater threat to incumbent governments,” the authors write.
The study, published in the journal Comparative Political Studies, is one of the first to theoretically and empirically link the structure of military forces with the way coups arise, as well as the degree of mechanization of the army with states’ civil-military relations.
According to the authors, in a coup d’état, the higher degree of mechanization of the armed forces increases their potential execution costs and hinders co-ordination, thus deterring potential conspirators.
Research challenging the logic of the ‘guardianship dilemma’
The cornerstone of civil-military relations is the so-called guardianship dilemma: dependence on the armed forces to protect from external and internal threats places militaries in a fundamental position that they can use to take power. The dilemma implies that a stronger army should pose a greater threat to a state. The paradox lies in the fact that the very institution created to protect the political system is given enough power to become a threat to the system itself.
Having abundant tanks, vehicles, and weaponry help keep militaries content with the status quo and reduce incentives for staging a coup.