[By Ivan Perkins:] The coup-free zone

June 18

In Tuesday’s post I left readers with a question: Which countries belong to the “coup-free zone”?  By this I mean, which countries have passed the last 50 years as independent nations without a single coup d’état, coup attempt or armed revolution?

Today we find out the answer.  The following two maps illustrate the explosive growth of the coup-free zone over the 20th and early 21st centuries.  (These maps are drawn from my recent book, Vanishing Coup, published by Rowman & Littlefield.)

Here is a map of the “coup-free zone” — pictured in black — as it existed in 1960.


Note that in this map, there is a lot of white space.  That’s because much of the world was either not yet independent in 1960, or had gone through a period of non-independence between 1901 and 1960.  (The Nazis, of course, were responsible for some non-independence in Europe during these years.)  Still, we can see that the independent countries all experienced coups — except for Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.

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.

Now for a more recent view of the coup-free zone: this is how it looked by the end of 2010.


I think we have some clear good news here: History is moving in the right direction.  For the first six centuries, the coup-free zone grew at a glacial pace, encompassing a tiny handful of states like the Venetian Republic, Britain, the United States, Sweden and Switzerland.  But over the past 50 years, it has proliferated.  (To see a longer map series presenting the rise of the coup-free zone since 1310, click here.)

But the pace of growth suggested by these maps may not be sustainable.  The past 50 years have harvested low-hanging fruit like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and it will be difficult for crucial nations like Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria or Russia to enter long-term stability any time soon.  Also, just because a state is currently deemed “coup-free” does not necessarily insulate it from future instability.  Obviously, 50 years is an arbitrary cut-off.  Today, Mexico, Costa Rica and South Africa are the “coup-free states,” which are most likely to revert to coups.

Still, the coup-free zone is continuing its great expansion.  France joined in 2011 (half a century after the coup attempt by generals based in Algeria), and today, more nations are on the immediate horizon: Singapore will arrive in 2015, as will Botswana in 2016, and Italy in 2020.  Also, the global coup rate is dropping.  The world now sees about six coups and coup attempts per year, which is less than half the rate of the 1970s.

A band of thoroughly civilized political life spans the globe, and it is growing steadily.  If we can avoid nuclear wars, biological terrors, runaway nanobots, malicious artificial intelligence, large asteroids and slow-cooking by carbon dioxide, there is no reason we can’t have a coup-free world by 2200.

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Randy Barnett | June 18