Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Some Facts on Coups

Some Facts on Coups
by Konstantinos Travlos

With the failed coup d’etat attempt in Turkey, there is a lot of analysis going on, but little of it is of social scientific value. Already voices talk of an “orchestrated” coup citing both its failure and seemingly amateur character (for an example see here . In general the American neo-conservatives are lamenting the failure of thecoup ). But let us look at some facts.

1) Coups Fail more than they Succeed. Using the Center for Systemic Peace (known for the important Polity Dataset) COUP D’ÉTAT EVENTS, 1946-2014 Dataset we can discern a basic truth. Of 841 coup and potential coup observations in the 1946-2014 period,  549 are certain coup attempts. Of those 549 cases, 40% succeeded (224) and 60% failed (325). That means that on average the likelihood of a coup succeeding is less than 50% of the time. Coups tend to fail, and while we tend to remember the successes, it is good to keep in mind that brutal fact. While we do not have coup data in the 19th century, my anecdotal evidence leads me to hypothesize a similar ratio, if not worse for success.

Greek officers, members of the failed 1935 coup, being publicly stripped of their military ranks.

2) Turkey has a history of coups, not all of them successful. Many pundits, tend to point to the success of Turkish coups, and ask how this failed.  They especially focus on the 1980 coup, and the brutal dictatorship that followed it. However between 1946 and 2014 Turkey had 7 coup observations. Of these five were substantiated occurrences. Of those five, three succeeded (1960,1971,1980). But two failed. This is the 1962 Ankara War College Cadets movement, and the 1963 Colonel Aydemir attempt. If we go further back to the Early Republican Era (1923-1946) or even the Ottoman Empire after the Tanzimat period, the success of coups is a mixed bag. In another name, while coups in Turkey have historically had a better success rate then the global average, failures is not unknown.
Col. Talat Aydemir, leader of failed Coup in Turkey

3) Amateurish coups are not that rare. Many commentators are caught up in making comparisons to the 1980 Coup. In comparison to that, this coup attempt feels badly planned and badly executed. The amateurish character has raised questions of “false flag” operations. While the jury is out on that, please keep in mind that amateurish coups may very well not be rare. Most coups fail, and most coups that fail were probably deficient in some way. Consider the career of one Louis Napoleon, later Emperor Napoleon III of France.  Louis Napoleon tried to overthrow the Orleanist Monarchy twice in 1836 and 1840. In both cases his coups were easily quashed. The 1840 attempts was so badly planned, that he was arrested by customs agents, not even troops. Quite the amateur. 

Failed, Epic Failed, and then Succeeded

Greek history includes other examples of failed coup attempts, beset by almost amateurish failure. The Venizelist Coup attempt of 1935 against  the 2nd Republic, and the republican coup attempt of 1938 against the  4th of August Regime. Both were badly planned and failed. No one would accuse of their organizers and perpetrators of being creatures of the regime they targeted. Japan also gives us examples of failed coups , with the February 26 Incident probably having many similarities with what happened in Turkey.

Simply put there is a selection effect in coup success. Successful coups are less likely to have the characteristics of failed coups, and failed coups tend to fail because of them. And amateurism is one of those. Desperation is another.

4) Desperate coups tend to be amateurish. We do not have enough good info yet on why the Turkish coup happened. Bust some stories and rumors I hear might indicate at desperation among the coup organizers. I would not be surprised. Coups tend more often to be the acts of desperate political factions, that see in violence salvation from inevitable defeat. Such desperate measures are less likely to be well planned, thus more amateurish, and thus doomed to failure. Perhaps no coup attempt in history bears this mark more than the desperate attempt of Japanese hardliners in 1945 to avert a Japanese capitulation.  This is known as the Kyujo Incident and saw members of the Japanese Army and even the Imperial Guard trying to kidnap the Emperor of Japan in order to forestall surrender. What happened was tragic, but also very amateurish. Desperation leads to blind optimism, and a massive over estimation of the potential support for a coup. The belief is that if they move, others will follow. Sometimes that works. Most of the times it does not. But desperate people make for desperate measures.

Desperate men, February 28th Incident

1 comment:

  1. the 1971 coup in Turkey can also
    be considered as a counter coup to avert another coup. We may say that it consists of two
    coup observations one failed and one succesful.