University of Hamburg
Erica De Bruin's book offers the most comprehensive account to date of whether counterbalancing (or coup proofing) can deter coup attempts and lower the risk of coups being successful. A major accomplishment of the book is that it offers a quantitative analysis based on an impressive dataset collected by the author. Detailed case studies illustrate the difficulties in designing coercive institutions and the risk of coups escalating into civil war. Writing a book involves many trade-offs and even this book's high readability comes at a price. Although the theoretical arguments are explained well, some readers (myself included) would have appreciated a more game-theoretic approach with clearly defined actors and formal notation to summarize the costs, benefits, and probabilities involved. Whether this would have maximized book sales is, of course, a different question. Another desideratum is a more extensive empirical analysis based on the author's novel dataset. To give just one example, it would have been very interesting to see how new and old measures of counterbalancing compare to each other and where they produce similar or different results. My own research (e.g. Gassebner et al. 2016 in Public Choice) has left me unimpressed with the ability of counterbalancing to prevent coups, consistent with De Bruin's findings. Yet, it would be interesting to see how exactly the results for coup success change with different counterbalancing indicators. Erica De Bruin's book deserves to be read not only by academics and dictators, but by anyone interested in research on coups.