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 book, How to Prevent Coups d’état: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival, was published by Cornell University Press in 2020. My research has been published in 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 also been mentioned in The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, Vox, Slate, and MSNBC, among other places.
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 spread of militarized policing internationally.
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
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
"Erica De Bruin's book offers the most comprehensive account to date of whether counterbalancing (or coup proofing) can deter coup attempts....[it] deserves to be read not only be academics and dictators, but by anyone interested in research on coups."
—Jerg Gutmann, University of Hamburg, Journal of Peace Research
"A captivating and informative exploration of how leaders structure their 'coercive institutions' to protect their regimes from their own armed forces....should be a staple in any course on civil-military relations and read alongside classics including Eric Nordlinger’s Soldiers in Politics, Samuel Finer’s The Man on Horseback, and Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State."
— Ricardo A. Crespo, Journal of the Middle East and Africa
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.
Media mentions & interviews (selected)
The Lily, Washington Post, "Female Professors Have Less Time to Research in the Pandemic. It Could Force Them Out of Academia, Experts Say," by Caroline Kitchener, April 5, 2021
Business Insider, “Trump Proved It’s Time for America To Learn From Other Countries About How Democracy Should Work,” by John Haltiwanger, January 21, 2021
Vox.com, "The F Word: The Debate Over Whether to Call Donald Trump a Fascist, and Why It Matters," by Dylan Matthews, January 14, 2021
Elite Daily, "Was What Happened at the Capitol a Coup? Here's What an Expert Says," by Lilli Peterson, January 12, 2021
Il Fatto Quotidiano, "The Donald Ora Pensa al Suo Impero dei Media" [The Donald Now Thinks of His Media Empire], by Sabrina Provenzani, January 10, 2021
New York Times, “It Wasn't Strictly a Coup. But it's Not Over, Either,” by Amanda Taub, January 7, 2021
New York Times, “Is this a Coup? Experts Say No, But Just As Dangerous,” by Amanda Taub, January 7, 2021
The Washington Post, “With Brazen Assault on Election, Trump Prompts Critics to Warn of a Coup,” by David Nakamura, January 5, 2021
The Washington Post, “It’s Not a Coup. It’s Not Even a Bad Coup,” by Daniel W. Drezner, December 8, 2020
MSNBC, “Trump's GSA Tells Biden the Transition Can Begin. But Let's Not Sugarcoat This Failed Coup,” by Marc Ambinder, November 24, 2020
Interview about How to Prevent Coups on the Departures Podcast with Robert Amsterdam, “What a Coup Expert Has to Say about the Situation in the United States,” November 20, 2020
ARC Digital, “Breaking Down Trump’s Plan to Steal the Election (And Why It’s Failing),” by Nicholas Grossman, November 15, 2020
Interview about How to Prevent Coups with Kathimerini [The Daily, Greece], “Ο Τραμπ και οι σύμμαχοί του παίζουν επικίνδυνο παιχνίδι” [Trump and His Allies Are Playing a Dangerous Game], by Pavlos Papadopoulos, November 15, 2020
The New Yorker, “The Long Term Consequences of Trump’s Antidemocratic Lies,” by John Cassidy, November 13, 2020
Slate, “Whatever Trump is Doing, It Isn’t a ‘Coup,’” by Joshua Keating, November 13, 2020
The Intercept, “Tantrum and Theater: Trump’s Desperation After Election Loss Isn’t Yet a Coup,” by Nick Turse, November 13, 2020
The GroundTruth Project, "Attempted Coup or Auto-Coup? Either Way, an Attack on the Guardrails of Democracy," by Kevin Douglas Grant, November 13, 2020
New York Times, The Interpreter Newsletter, “Are Potemkin Coups a Thing?,” by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, November 12, 2020
CNN's What Matters Newsletter, “The Virus Still Doesn’t Care about Politics,” by Zachary B. Wolf, November 11, 2020
Interview with Swedish Public Service Radio P3 Dystopia, “Statskupper (Coup),” September 30, 2020
The Conversation, “Dismantling the Police: Lessons From Three Places That Tried It,” by Daniel Odin Shaw, June 11, 2020
The Washington Post, “Five Myths About Coups,” by John Chin, May 8, 2020
War on the Rocks, “Learning from the Banality and Aftermath of Bolivia’s Coup,” by Drew Holland Kinney, February 26, 2020
BBC Mundo, “Evo Morales: ¿hubo un golpe de Estado en Bolivia? BBC Mundo consultó a 6 expertos,” by Noberto Paredes, November 13, 2019
Quartz, “Why It's So Hard to Tell if We're Seeing a Coup in Venezuela," by Ana Campoy, April 20, 2019
Security Assistance Monitor | Lobe Log, “U.S. Military Aid to Presidential Guards a Risky Venture,” by Alexis Kedo and Colby Goodman, October 7, 2015
Interview with 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