Military purges and the recurrence of civil conflict

Braithwaite, Jessica Maves and Sudduth, Jun Koga (2016) Military purges and the recurrence of civil conflict. Research and Politics, 3 (1). pp. 1-6. (

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Literature on coup-proofing often suggests that such activities reduce military effectiveness, which could provide an environment ripe for civil conflict. However, if coupproofing is so dangerous, why do we observe leaders engaging in these strategies? We argue that a specific type of coup-proofing–purges–deters domestic unrest by demonstrating the strength of the regime via the removal of powerful but undesirable individuals from office. The strategic and intentional nature of purges signals to opposition forces that the regime is capable of not only identifying its enemies but also eliminating these threats. Furthermore, the removal of high-profile officers often leads to their elimination from forums in which they could join existing rebel groups or mount new resistance to the regime, additionally decreasing the risk of renewed fighting. We use original data on military purges in non-democracies from 1969-2003 to assess quantitatively how this type of coup-proofing activity affects the likelihood of civil conflict recurrence. We find support for our expectation that military purges of high-ranking officials do in fact help the regime to avoid further civil conflict. Purges appear to provide real benefits to dictators seeking to preserve stability, at least in post-conflict environments.


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