The causes and outcomes of coup during civil war

Curtis Bell, Jun Koga Sudduth

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Though approximately one in four coup attempts takes place during an ongoing civil war, scholars have not yet analyzed how the incidence of civil war affects coup attempts and outcomes. We conduct the first empirical analysis of the relationship between ongoing civil war and coup activity, finding (1) war increases the risk of a coup attempt, though (2) war-time coup attempts are significantly less likely to be successful, and (3) the risk of war-time coup is much higher when states face stronger rebel groups that pose greater threats to the political survival of the incumbent government. We attribute these findings to the pernicious effect of ongoing war on the welfare of the military elites and soldiers who have the greatest capacity to execute a coup attempt. As war diminishes their welfare and creates uncertainty about the future of the state, potential plotters become more willing to accept riskier coup attempts than they might plot during peace-time. Coup motivations are greatest when incumbents are more likely to lose their wars, and this causes coup plotters to attempt more and riskier coups when rebels are relatively strong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1432-1455
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number7
Early online date22 Sep 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Sep 2015


  • coup
  • civil war
  • political survival
  • leader survival
  • regime stability


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