18 June 2014

Real History Is Messy

A Washington Post blogger's map by Ivan Perkins of independent countries that didn't have a coup from 1961-2010 is made up of countries with a British legal tradition, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland), Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Costa Rica and Mexico.  Japan, Costa Rica and Mexico are the only countries on the list where a Germanic language isn't spoken by a substantial portion of the population.

A companion map for 1901 to 1960 includes only the United States, Britain, Sweden and Switzerland (although many countries were excluded because they not independent for that entire period - the modal year in which European colonies gained independence was 1960).

This WASPy characterization of the last 110 years of political history, however, involves some very questionable interpretations of the political history of many of the nations treated as having, or as not having coups.  Seven countries described as being independent for the entire period from 1961 to 2010 and as not having had coups from 1961 to 2010, and one or two of the countries described as not having had coups from 1901 to 1960 aren't a good fit to the broad definition of coup the author adopts and applies strictly to other countries.

However, there are definitely some judgment calls that go into how to code those political transitions, and the term "coup" was not used here in the conventional manner.  Also, a very expansive definition of coup is used in this case:
I define “coup” broadly, to mean any forceful seizure of central government power. A coup is a disorderly, unpredictable transfer of power, accomplished through physical force or intimidation. The term encompasses military coups, violent palace intrigue and street revolutions. The effort to seize power need not succeed; serious but failed attempts still count. Finally, the term “coup” embraces an “executive coup,” whereby a constitutional leader radically and forcefully extends his scope of power or term of service, as in Chancellor Hitler’s 1933 hijacking of Germany with Nazi thugs.
This definition, for example, very questionably includes failed by serious efforts to unlawfully seize power, and many assassinations where succession still proceeded in an orderly fashion.

False Negatives (16)

I don't see what the relevant blogger is interpreting as a coup in a number of countries from 1960 to 2010 that he lists as having had coups:

* Bulgaria made a peaceful transition from Communism to a Western style constitution through the normal legal process in 1990 and 1991.  It was independent prior to 1961.
* Cuba faced a laughable U.S. sponsored (and hence international) Bay of Pigs invasion in 1962, but the regime's stability was never seriously threatened.
* In France, he is presumably referring to De Gaulle's resignation from office in 1969 in the wake of street protests and nationwide strikes after he lost a nationwide referendum on constitutional reform a year earlier, which again, hardly seems like a coup to me.
* In Hungary, the reference is presumably to the post-Cold War dissolution of the Communist Party in 1989, despite the fact that this took place through normal parliamentary procedures and did not involve violence.  The events in Hungary of 1956 may have qualified for this definition of a coup, but the events of 1989 don't obvious fit.
* In India, he is presumably referring to the State of Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975 (despite the fact that an election was held and Gandhi's party peacefully turned over power to the winners in 1977) as an "executive coup", and to her assassination by her bodyguards in 1984 as "violent palace intrigue".  These do fit his broad definition of a coup, but not a more conventional definition that requires a successful regime change or executive branch action that prevents the electoral process from making a regime change possible.
* Israel was engaged in international wars in 1967 and 1973, but the electoral process continued there in a series of uninterrupted lawful successions since 1948.  Is the issue that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot in 1995, or the PLO terrorist attacks from 1961 to 2010?
* Italy had political violence in the 1970s and 1980s, but it never led to a regime change or even to serious political reforms.  Former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was killed later being held hostage for a week in 1978, but no acting head of state was killed and the hostage takers were not successful.  Prime Minister Berlusconi resigned as a result of a scandal in 2011, but that is outside the relevant time period and was not a coup either.  Similarly, the 1970 coup attempt in Italy was laughable.  The wag summary is that it was called off before it even started (because of rain) and the plotters then went out for spaghetti.  Very few civilians realized that anything was amiss and the plotters weren't arrested until four months later because newspaper reports embarrassed the government.  American Open Carry and Tea Party events are more menacing.
* The Kingdom of Jordan gained independence in 1948 and has never had a coup.  It did lose territory to Israel in the international 1967 war, but this did not at all disturb the orderly succession of government.  And, how can an absolute monarchy be responsible for an "executive coup"?
* Liechtenstein was independent and did not have a coup at any time from 1961 to 2010.
* The Principality of Monaco was independent and did not have a coup at any time from 1961 to 2010.
* In Mongolia, as in Hungary, the transition from a Communist regime to a more Western style constitution in 1992, was not a "street revolution", did not involve violence or the threat of violence, and occurred through existing legislative channels.
* The Kingdom of Morocco did not have any coups from 1961 to 2010, a time period during which it was always independent and has been a constitutional monarchy with a an elected legislature (but not executive branch) since 1997.  There were terrorist attacks in one city in 2004 and in 2007, but neither seriously shook the regime.
* North Korea has had uninterrupted legitimate succession since 1950 and has been independent in that time frame  No "place violence" has impacted the succession to the leadership, and the power of the supreme leader has not been materially expanded since 1961.
* The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not have any coups or serious terrorist attempts at regime change from 1961 to 2010 and was independent in that time period.
* San Marino did not have any coups or serious terrorist attempts at regime change from 1961 to 2010 and was independent in that time period.

False Positives (8)

By his expansive measure, however, it is arguable that at least eight of the nations which are listed a coup-free, actually experienced coups between 1961 and 2010 by this broad definition (even excluding attempted assassinations by mentally ill individuals, such as the attempt on President Ford in 1975 and President Reagan in 1981, for reasons that were definitely not political):

* President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in Buffalo, New York in 1901.
* There was an attempt by an anarchist to assassinate President elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.
* A Puerto Rican nationalist attempted to assassinate President Truman in 1950.
* President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 for motives that are still disputed.
* Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd of South Africa was stabbed to death in parliament in 1966.
* While Japan's sovereignty over its main islands was restored after U.S. occupation in 1952, it did not have its sovereignty over all of its territory restored until 1972 when the U.S. occupation of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands among others was replaced with an agreement to allow a U.S. military base to be maintained in Okinawa.
* Canada did not fully sever its legislative ties with the United Kingdom until 1982.
* The Irish Republican Army unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with a bomb that killed a member of parliament in Brighton, England in 1984.  Britain also took actions seemingly within the scope of an "executive coup" in Northern Ireland in much of the relevant time period which was part of the United Kingdom.
* Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated in 1986.
* Street revolution force the resignation of President Erich Honecker of East Germany in 1989 followed by a regime change for both parts of Germany when West Germany and East Germany merged in 1990.  The Germany that existed in 2010 did not exist in 1961.
* A Mexican incumbent PRI party Presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta was assassinated by Zapatista rebels in 1994.
* Popular Revolutionary Army rebels in Mexico launched coordinated attacks on government targets in an arguably coup attempt in 1996.
* The Bush v. Gore decision in 2000 Presidential election in the U.S. arguably amounted to a judicial coup.
* The United States was the target of terrorist attacks in 2001 including attacks directed at Congress (which failed) and at the Pentagon (which succeeded).
* A Mexican civil war with drug cartels has killed more than 47,500 people in Mexico from December 2006 to September 2012, even though regime change doesn't seem to have been a core motive of the conflict.
* The 2009 installation of a center-left government in Iceland after political unrest in the wake of failed sovereign debt bailout austerity measures was arguably a "street revolution."
* There was an attempt to assassinate Dutch Queen Beatrix in 2009.

Also, a number of British colonies declared independence unilaterally in the time period from 1901-2010, an event that surely would have been counted as a coup in other countries listed.

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