THE attempt last week to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, was at once surprising and familiar. Few had thought that the armed forces, however disgruntled, would dare to remove an elected leader who enjoys widespread support. But it was only a short while ago that Turkey suffered a coup every ten years or so, on average. The same can be said for coups around the world. They are almost always unexpected: by their nature, they aim to catch the government unawares. Yet they occur often enough. The past three years have seen successful coups in Egypt and Thailand, along with several botched attempts in other countries.
This regularity has yielded a body of research about the causes and consequences of coups, with much of it focused on their economic dimensions. There are no iron laws. Each coup is unique, laced through with political and social complexities. Still, there are certain patterns.
Start with the basic numbers. Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne of the University of Kentucky have built a data set of all coup attempts between 1950 and 2010. By their count, there were 457. Over that time, plotters…Continue reading