Erica De Bruin
My work focuses on civil-military relations and civil war. I am interested in particular in the dynamics of military coups, the spread of militarized policing, and the ways in which armed groups build legitimacy. My first book, How to Prevent Coups d’état: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival, was published with Cornell University Press in 2020. My research has also been published in the Journal of Peace Research and Journal of Conflict Resolution, as well as Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post, and Political Violence at a Glance. It has been mentioned in The New Yorker, New York Times, Slate.com, and CNN's What Matters Newsletter.
I am currently working on a National Science Foundation-funded project on the determinants of civilian support for criminal and political armed groups in Colombia, as well as a project on the rise of militarized policing internationally supported by the American Political Science Association's Centennial Center.
I received a PhD from the Department of Political Science at Yale University in 2014, and a BA from Columbia University in 2004. I worked previously as a Research Associate in U.S. Foreign Policy and International Law at the Council on Foreign Relations and as a Research Associate in the Fellows Program at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.
At Hamilton, I serve as the Director of the Justice and Security Program at the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center, and organize the Women in Political Science lecture series. I teach courses on international security, civil-military relations, civil wars, and U.S. foreign policy.
Erica De Bruin
Assistant Professor of Government
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
Office: Kirner-Johnson Room 120
Office phone: (315) 859-4526
Book: How to Prevent Coups d'etat
Counterbalancing and Regime Survival (Cornell University Press, 2020)
In this lively and provocative book, Erica De Bruin looks at the threats that rulers face from their own armed forces. Can they make their regimes impervious to coups?
How to Prevent Coups d’état shows that how rulers organize their coercive institutions has a profound effect on the survival of their regimes. Where rulers use presidential guards, militarized police, and militia to counterbalance the regular military, efforts to oust them from power via coups d’état are less likely to succeed. Even as counterbalancing helps to prevent successful interventions, however, the resentment that it generates within the regular military can provoke new coup attempts. And because counterbalancing changes how soldiers and police perceive the costs and benefits of a successful coup, it can create incentives for protracted fighting that result in the escalation of coups into full-blown civil war.
Drawing on an original dataset of state security forces in 110 countries over a span of fifty years, as well as case studies of coup attempts in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, the book sheds light on how counterbalancing affects regime survival. Understanding the dynamics of counterbalancing, the book shows, can help analysts predict when coups will occur, whether they will succeed, and how violent they are likely to be. The arguments and evidence in this book suggest that while counterbalancing may prevent successful coups, it is a risky strategy to pursue—and one that may weaken regimes in the long term.
“Erica De Bruin has brought the study of coups into the twenty-first century. Cogent and compellingly argued, her book shows us how a common tactic employed by autocrats—establishing multiple, competitive security forces—may help prevent, but may also at times encourage, conspiracies against the government. How to Prevent Coups d'État is a major contribution to scholarship on comparative politics and civil-military relations.”
—Risa Brooks, Marquette University, author of Shaping Strategy
“De Bruin has meticulously collected a vast swath of original, reliable, global data and leveraged the data through an excellent research design to finally resolve debates about the design of coercive institutions and the impact on regime survival.”
—Caitlin Talmadge, Georgetown University, author of The Dictator's Army
“Erica De Bruin’s excellent book is an important contribution to the scholarship on civil-military relations. She has identified a real lacuna in the literature, as those of us who have thought about coups rarely considered the role of counterbalancing institutions explicitly, let alone viewed them through a theoretical lens.”
—Zoltan Barany, University of Texas, author of How Armies Respond to Revolutions and Why
Data on state security forces
Highest number of security forces in operation, 1960-2010
How rulers organize and use their security forces has important implications for regime survival, repression, and military effectiveness. Yet efforts to understand systematic patterns have been hampered by a lack of reliable data that can be compared across states and within them over time. The State Security Forces (SSF) dataset, which includes 375 security forces in 110 countries, 1960-2010, tracks how each security force is commanded, staffed, equipped, and deployed, as well as the number of security forces and potential counterweights in each state’s security sector as a whole.
The dataset draws upon 2,200 primary and secondary sources including academic works on military institutions and civil-military relations in each state, historical news sources, annual defense publications, government websites, and reports from non-governmental organizations. I am grateful to the International Peace Research Association Foundation for funding to support data collection.
De Bruin, Erica. 2020. "Mapping Coercive Institutions: A New Data Set of State Security Forces, 1960-2010." Journal of Peace Research. doi: 10.1177/0022343320913089. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022343320913089
Security force data:
Here's a dropbox folder containing the article, appendix, and dataset.
Commentary & media
2020. "No, Trump is Not Attempting a 'Coup.' Here's Why the Distinction Matters." Washington Post, PostEverything/The Monkey Cage, November 11 | Outlook, B2, November 15
2020. "International Trends in Militarized Policing: New Data and Puzzles." Political Violence at a Glance, July 23
2019. "Coups, Protests, and Violence: What to Expect in Bolivia." Political Violence at a Glance, November 25
2019. "Why Does the United States Still Believe the Myth of the 'Good Coup'?" Op-Ed, Washington Post, November 13
2019. "Trump Wants Venezuela's Military to Remove its President. But Maduro Has Made that Difficult." The Monkey Cage, Washington Post, May 2
2014. "Coup-Proofing for Dummies: The Benefits of Following the Maliki Playbook." Foreign Affairs Snapshot, July 27
Media mentions & interviews
Departures Podcast with Robert Amsterdam, "What a Coup Expert Has to Say about the Situation in the United States," November 20, 2020
The New Yorker, “The Long Term Consequences of Trump’s Antidemocratic Lies,” November 13, 2020
ARC Digital, “Breaking Down Trump’s Plan to Steal the Election (And Why It’s Failing),” November 15
Slate, “Whatever Trump is Doing, It Isn’t a ‘Coup,’” November 13, 2020
The Intercept, “Tantrum and Theater: Trump’s Desperation After Election Loss Isn’t Yet a Coup,” November 13, 2020
New York Times, The Interpreter Newsletter, “Are Potemkin Coups a Thing?,” November 12, 2020
CNN What Matters Newsletter, “The Virus Still Doesn’t Care about Politics,” November 11, 2020
Swedish Public Service Radio P3 Dystopia, “Statskupper (Coup),” September 30, 2020
BBC Mundo, "Evo Morales: ¿hubo un golpe de Estado en Bolivia? BBC Mundo consultó a 6 expertos," November 13, 2019
Quartz, "Why It's So Hard to Tell if We're Seeing a Coup in Venezuela," April 20, 2019
Monacle 24 Radio, “The Coup in Burundi,” May 14, 2015
Foreign Affairs, “Ready for War With ISIS? Foreign Affairs’ Brain Trust Weights In,” December 14, 2014
Teaching & mentoring
Courses at Hamilton
Introduction to International Relations
U.S. Foreign Policy
Senior Seminar: Conflict and Violence
Women in Political Science
I organize the Women in Political Science lecture series at Hamilton College, which brings senior scholars in political science to campus to mentor junior faculty in the social sciences. In addition to giving research talks, scholars in the series present oral autobiographies of their careers to junior faculty women in the social sciences. The autobiographies focus on the career choices scholars have made, challenges they have faced along the way, and advice for junior faculty navigating the tenure track. The goal of the speaker series is to help foster a supportive campus climate for female faculty. It was inspired by the autobiography lunches at Journeys in World Politics.
Speakers in the series have included:
Eva Bellin, Brandeis University
Kelly Greenhill, Tufts University/Harvard
Mary Gallagher, University of Michigan
Vesla Weaver, Johns Hopkins University