Book chapter (electronic)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Counterbalancing is a coup-proofing strategy in which rulers divide the state's coercive power among multiple, overlapping security forces to hedge against defection from the regular military. There is wide variation in the types of security forces that rulers use to counterbalance the military, including presidential guards, militarized police, and militias, as well as in the extent of counterbalancing rulers engage in. Since the late 1990s, scholars have made important strides in documenting the use of counterbalancing across countries and within them over time, and in understanding mechanisms through which it operates. Counterbalancing has become more common even as the risk of coup attempts has declined. It is most frequently employed by rulers in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and is least likely to be used in Latin America and Western Europe. While dictators are more likely to counterbalance their militaries than democratic rulers, counterweights have also been important to stabilizing many newly democratizing states. There is also important variation among authoritarian regimes in the extent and types of counterweights employed.Counterbalancing is thought to prevent coups by making it more difficult for potential coup plotters within the military to seize power. While coup attempts are underway, counterweights might impede coordination between security forces or create incentives for resistance to a coup. Statistical analyses of counterbalancing and coup outcomes suggests there is a strong, negative association between the use of counterweights and the success of coup attempts. However, there is less evidence that counterbalancing deters coup attempts. This may be because although counterbalancing makes coups more difficult to carry out successfully, it can also generate new grievances among soldiers who must compete with other security forces for funds, arms, and recruits. As a result, efforts to establish counterweights can provoke new coup attempts. Counterbalancing has also been associated with an increased risk of other forms of political violence including repression and civil war.