• How to Prevent Coups

    Counterbalancing and Regime Survival (Cornell University Press, 2020)

    Why are some rulers able to head off challenges to their rule from their own armed forces, while others are not? How to Prevent Coups d’état argues that part of the answer lies in the ways in which rulers organize and use their coercive institutions. Where rulers counterbalance the military with presidential guards, militarized police, and militia, efforts to oust them from power are less likely to succeed. At the same time, however, this strategy can generate resentment within the military that ends up provoking new coup attempts.


    Drawing on an original dataset of coercive institutions 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 whether and how rulers can make their regimes impervious to coups. It shows that while counterbalancing may prevent successful coup attempts, it is a risky strategy to pursue—and one that may weaken regimes in the long term. The results can help us predict when coups will occur, whether they will succeed, and whether they will turn violent.


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  • Reviews

    “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


    "Erica De Bruin’s How to Prevent Coups d’état: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival was a long-awaited release for a couple of reasons. ...the initial article this book is based on has been cited nearly 100 times in less than three years. Introducing a way to quantify a notoriously difficult to quantify concept changed the discussion in national security and civilian-military relations, and not just among coup scholars."

    —Emily VanMeter, The Strategy Bridge