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Seizing Power

, 264 pages

6 b&w illus.

May 2014



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Seizing Power

The Strategic Logic of Military Coups


While coups drive a majority of regime changes and are responsible for the overthrow of many democratic governments, there has been very little empirical work on the subject. Seizing Power develops a new theory of coup dynamics and outcomes, drawing on 300 hours of interviews with coup participants and an original dataset of 471 coup attempts worldwide from 1950 to 2000. Naunihal Singh delivers a concise and empirical evaluation, arguing that understanding the dynamics of military factions is essential to predicting the success or failure of coups.

Singh draws on an aspect of game theory known as a coordination game to explain coup dynamics. He finds a strong correlation between successful coups and the ability of military actors to project control and the inevitability of success. Examining Ghana’s multiple coups and the 1991 coup attempt in the USSR, Singh shows how military actors project an image of impending victory that is often more powerful than the reality on the ground.

In addition, Singh also identifies three distinct types of coup dynamics, each with a different probability of success, based on where within the organization each coup originated: coups from top military officers, coups from the middle ranks, and mutinous coups from low-level soldiers.

Naunihal Singh is an assistant professor of international security studies at the Air War College in Alabama.

"Singh’s book is an informative read—even if you’re not planning a coup."

"A powerful book on military coups. Singh's argument is convincing and straightforward.... Impressive. This reviewer would not be surprised if Seizing Power quickly establishes itself as a must-read for students of coups and military politics in the years to come."

"This is a truly insightful book on a subject—coups as means of seizing power—that has been little researched and written about. Naunihal Singh is a true pioneer in that regard, and we must commend him for making a unique contribution to military knowledge with this important, highly useful, and valuable book."

"Well-written and organized, Singh’s argument and evidence represent a substantive contribution to the study of military coups in particular and the study of political instability in developing countries more generally. He offers a parsimonious theory with a clear set of predictions about the dynamics and the outcomes of coups."

"Naunihal Singh spells out a simple, yet powerful insight: the best way to understand military coups is by focusing on their dynamics rather than their correlates. He then goes on to show that coup outcomes are best predicted through a coordination framework, rather than by analyzing them as military or popularity contests. Fascinating and comprehensive, Seizing Power is the best piece of social science research on military coups so far. It should be read by all those interested in the study of political violence."

"Naunihal Singh’s highly original analysis of military coups rightly puts the dynamics within the military front and center. With a combination of methods and evidence from all over the world, Singh shows how the credibility of the coup plotters in the eyes of other officers largely determines whether the military sides with the coup and allows it to succeed or not. His book will change how we think of coups."

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