Grist to the mill of subversion: strikes and coups in counterinsurgencies

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Why are acts of organized resistance associated with coups? Inspired by the Arab Spring, a large literature suggests that militaries confronted with civil resistance tend to side with protesters and oust their government. In the historically most coup-prone environment of insurgencies, however, alliances between the military and protesters are implausible because soldiers suspect insurgents behind social dissent. Disentangling different types of resistance, this article analyzes whether and how strikes, demonstrations, riots, and guerrilla attacks affect the military’s disposition and ability to stage a coup during counterinsurgencies. We argue that only strikes trigger coup attempts. Soldiers interpret strikes as manifestations of a strengthening subversive enemy that threatens their victory over insurgents, while economic elites support a coup in the hope that the military will terminate costly walkouts. This interest alignment fosters military takeovers. We provide case-study evidence from Cold War Argentina and Venezuela to show our suggested mechanism at work. Demonstrating the scope of our argument, we quantitatively analyze coup attempts in counterinsurgency worldwide (1950–2005). Results show that strikes increase wartime coup risk, whereas demonstrations, riots, and guerrilla attacks do not. The findings highlight the backfiring potential of nonviolent resistance with important implications for post-coup political orders and democratization prospects.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1032-1060
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2020

    Research areas

  • Politics - Argentina, bureaucratic authoritarianism, elite collusion, Military coup, nonviolent resistance, Venezuela