Link found between risk of military coup and degree of army mechanization

(ORDO NEWS) — The authors of the new study, they say, “challenge established views”: they showed that armed forces equipped with a large number of tanks and armored personnel carriers, by contrast, do not pose a significant threat to the current government if the military wants to overthrow it.

Scientists from the University of Essex (UK), the Institute of Political Science at the University of Munich (Germany) and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona (Spain) found out how the violent seizure of power in a state correlates with the degree of mechanization of its army – the ratio of tanks, armored personnel carriers and the number of personnel.

The study , published in the journal Comparative Political Studies , is one of the first to link the structure of the armed forces both theoretically and empirically to how coups are born.

In the 21st century, it would seem that civil strife should sink into oblivion, and their number has indeed significantly decreased over the past few decades.

Experts explain this by world and political transformations – the strengthening of international opponents of the seizure of power, the emergence of multi-party politics and regular elections in non-democratic countries.

However, such episodes still occur in many regions of the world. In the past decade alone, the military has overthrown governments in Egypt (2013), Zimbabwe (2017), Sudan (2019 and 2021), Mali (2020 and 2021), and Myanmar (2021), and unsuccessfully attempts in Burundi (2015), Burkina Faso (2015), Turkey (2016), Niger (2021) and Guinea-Bissau (2022).

Tanks and armored personnel carriers have become symbols of many such conflicts. So, in Zimbabwe in 2017, columns of armored vehicles entered the capital Harare and the military seized the state television company, the airport, and blocked roads to the main government buildings.

Similarly, in 2016 in Turkey, dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers took up positions in Ankara and Istanbul. Based on this, one would like to assume that more mechanized forces push for attempts to seize power, since they increase the chances of the armed forces to establish dominance.

The authors of the new work focused on the extent to which the military relies specifically on tanks and armored personnel carriers compared to manpower.

The scientists also tried to answer the question of whether the structure of the Armed Forces really makes them more dangerous for the current governments.

After all, relying on the army as a means of protection against external and internal threats puts its representatives in a central position, which they can use to seize power.

An international group of researchers makes arguments linking the mechanization of the army with the growth of its material and operational power and, consequently, the greater danger of coups. However, the bottom line is that a more mechanized military is less likely to attempt to seize power.

“This claim is based on two key mechanisms. Firstly, providing the military with “toys” (tanks, vehicles and weapons) helps them to remain content with the status quo and thus correlates mechanization with a lack of incentive to stage coups.

Since this argument can be challenged, we define a second mechanism focusing on execution costs and failures in coordination.

More specifically, mechanization increases the cost of potential fratricidal conflict between units as a result of poor coordination, which can deter officers and soldiers from attempting to intervene and participate in it, ”the scientists explained.

Using an updated set of data on the structure of armies and coups that took place in the world from 1979 to 2019, quantitative analysis and forecasting methods, the researchers confirmed the hypothesis that more mechanized forces mean less risk of power grab.

They have focused on ground combat, since in the vast majority of cases it is through them that coups are staged.

The conclusion is that, despite popular belief, the degree of mechanization is an important predictor of attempts to seize power. The higher it is, the lower the risk. As the results showed, the costs of a coup d’état in a highly mechanized army are growing, and coordination between the instigators is becoming more difficult.

“By demonstrating that a more powerful military may not always pose a greater threat to an incumbent, we are challenging conventional wisdom.

Mechanization, in fact, reduces the risk of a coup, as well as the effectiveness of the military in the fight against insurgents. Therefore, investments in mechanization mean that governments shift the risk from coups to insurgencies,” the authors of the work summed up.


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