• State Security Forces Dataset

    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.


    An article introducing the dataset is now forthcoming at the Journal of Peace Research; for a copy of the dataset, and article, please email me.

  • Descriptive statistics and trends

    Forms of counterbalancing

    Rulers use a wide variety of security forces to counterbalance the military. Presidential guards and secret police are the most likely of all types of security forces to be organized outside of military control, and deployed with access to the centers of political power that are the targets of coups, giving them the potential to counterbalance the military.

    Variation over time in security sector fragmentation

    States have increasingly fragmented their security sectors over time. The rapid increase in the average number of security forces per country in the 1960s and 1970s was driven in part by decolonization in Africa and Asia where rulers in newly independent states rapidly confronted the problem of how to prevent domestic challenges to their rule; a common way in which they responded was by establishing new security forces. While the total number of security forces in the dataset remained relatively stable from the 1980s on, the number of independent states in the international system increased following the end of the Cold War, bringing the average per state down. At the same time, many states in Eastern Europe consolidated their security sectors over the course of the 1990s and 2000s as they democratized.

    Diverging trends in coup-proofing

    The dataset also shows that coup-proofing practices have changed over time. While the average number of counterweights per state in the dataset has steadily increased since 1960, the average number with political, ethnic, or personal ties to the executive declined about by about 50% between the late 1980s and 2010. This change reflects, in part, the collapse of single-party regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which typically required party membership for service in the security forces.

    Variation in coup-proofing by regime type

    The incidence and form of coup proofing also vary by regime type. Democracies tend to counterbalance less than authoritarian regimes. However, it also highlights variation among autocracies: the average number of counterweights is highest among personalist dictators and lowest among military regimes, with monarchies and single-party regimes in the middle. This may reflect concerted efforts on the part of military regimes to eliminate competitors. The average number of affiliated forces is highest in single-party and personal regimes, while democracies employ the fewest.