Naunihal Singh on the Myth of the Coup Contagion

Naunihal Singh

Naunihal Singh is associate professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and the author of Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups (2014). He recently wrote the article “The Myth of the Coup Contagion” in the Journal of Democracy.

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Sometimes I found people who I was talking to and their coup happened after an elected leader became less democratic. They could very convincingly tell me that their coup was in response to those actions. Then I’d find out that they started plotting the coup years in advance or entertaining it when the situation was very different.

Naunihal Singh

Key Highlights

  • Introduction – 0:43
  • Brief History of Coups – 3:11
  • Anti-Coup Norm – 10:33
  • Conditions for a Coup – 18:33
  • Reinforcing the Anti-Coup Norm – 35:53

Podcast Transcript

When I imagine what democratic breakdown looks like, my mind instinctively thinks of a military coup. Indeed, when many of us hear about the decline in democracy around the world, we assume this means a proliferation of military coups. However, that’s not the case. Military coups are far less common than they were during the Cold War. Still, they haven’t gone away completely either.

At the same time, many exaggerate the likelihood for coups to take place. Some imagined Bolsonaro might stage a coup after losing reelection in Brazil. Others have fantasized the military might oust Putin in Russia. A few even feared the American military might stage a coup in the United States to keep Trump in power. None of these have happened. 

But it raises questions about why coups happen and why they far more often do not. I reached out to Naunihal Singh for answers. He is an associate professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. However, his views are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or U.S. Government. He is also the author of the paper “The Myth of the Coup Contagion” in the recent Journal of Democracy. 

Naunihal has long studied coups. So, he helps explain the conditions that cause them to occur. But he also emphasizes those conditions make them unlikely to occur in many countries. However, he does warn it’s wrong to assume it’s never possible for a coup to take place in some countries. 

If you like this podcast and want to help it succeed, please give it a 5 star rating and review on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. You can also spread the word among your friends, colleagues, and on social media. Like always, there is a full transcript of the show at Here is my conversation with Naunihal Singh…


Naunihal Singh, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.

Naunihal Singh

Thank you for having me.


Well, Naunihal, your recent paper, “The Myth of the Coup Contagion,” starts with a brief account of the coup that happened in Burkina Faso on January 23rd of this year. It’s a coup that not a lot of people are probably familiar with. It didn’t get a lot of media attention. It kind of flew under the radar. Can you give a brief account of what happened?

Naunihal Singh

Yes, and fascinatingly. There’s been another coup in Burkina Faso after that. So, Burkina Faso has a number of security problems. They’ve got jihadists who had been fighting a war in Mali and are now fighting in Burkina Faso. There are big refugee flows as people flee all of this violence and there were protestors who were protesting the fact that they hadn’t felt safe and they felt the government was behaving ineffectually to protect them. It’s in this context that there was a coup by a French trained middle level army officer named Lieutenant Colonel Damiba who deposes the president and takes over. He had served in the Elite Guard under a previous leader and he seizes power. He then is overthrown much more recently by other military officers who also are dissatisfied with the way in which they say he’s failed to ensure the security of the nation and that he’s doing a bad job at fighting the jihadists.


So, let me get this straight. There is a coup in Burkina Faso. They shove aside the civilian government and put in place a military officer who is now in charge. And yet there is another coup to dislodge the military officer who was put in place through a coup. So, there’s a coup on top of a coup.

Naunihal Singh

Right and those two coups are eight months apart. The first one is January 24th, 2022. Then the second one is September 30th, 2022.


Well, the paper is called “The Myth of the Coup Contagion.” Obviously when there’s two coups on top of each other within the same year in the same country, it definitely sounds like there’s a proliferation of coups. Why don’t we start with the idea of the decline of coups? Because before we get to the idea that coups are proliferating, why not explain why it is that people felt that they were in decline for so long and for so many years?

Naunihal Singh

So, during the Cold War, coup attempts were hugely common. So, there were around 10 coups attempts a year. There are more coup attempts than there are elections in the world. So, if you want to know how it is that leaders are chosen, very often they’re chosen through military action. Now, not all of these coups lead to military government. Sometimes there’s a coup which deposes a president and then there’s an election. But the point is that military intervention in politics is hugely common. Around half of these coups are succeeding. It varies by region. So, you’re having around five successful coup attempts a year and that drops after the Cold War to, I think the average was 3.7.

The question then becomes, what is it that’s changed between the Cold War and the post-Cold War period. In the post-Cold War period, people think coups are over. That they’re done for. In fact, part of the way I was able to do my research was at that time people felt that the era of coups was done. So, for me to ask questions was asking questions about something that was historically important rather than something which was sort of a live and dangerous issue. So, then the next question becomes, why is it that coups declined so much from one period to the other? This is actually a tricky problem. There are a number of answers. Some people say that it’s because superpowers stopped trying to stir coups up.

Others say that it’s because the rewards for coups have gone down and the penalties for coups have gone up. Once upon a time, you know, through the 1970s, engaging in coup making was not considered illegitimate. So, for there to be a military overthrow was acceptable. And what you see is through the eighties and nineties and early 2000s, the emergence of a new norm, which says no. Any coup is inherently illegitimate. In particular, any coup against an elected leader is illegitimate and it’s wrong. You start to see sanctions associated with coup making activity.

So, some young military officers in a faction, they come and they overthrow their government. Then the United States or France or England or the IMF or World Bank, whoever is giving them a good deal of financial support, says, ‘You know what. We’re going to stop all financial support until civilian government is restored or elected government is restored.’ This is often accompanied by diplomatic sanction. There would be criticism, perhaps at the UN or by partner nations. Sometimes your seat in a regional organization would be suspended until such a time as democracy was restored. It does seem that this had a deterrent effect. It’s not to say that military actors stopped being pushy, but two things happened. One is that perhaps they started being pushy in other ways rather than just taking over the government.

The other thing was that even when they did take over the government, they would say, this was not a coup. They say this was a legitimate action in defense of democracy. In fact, it was the president whose actions constituted a coup and we’re merely acting in defense of civilian or democratic rule. We promise to restore democracy very shortly. This is a big change in rhetoric. Before this, there were many military governments that would say, we think military governments are better. We think we’ll do a better job than democracies or they would openly say, ‘We’re going to have an extended period of military role before we transition back. This is going to be a prolonged transitionary period.’  Now the language which is used by coup makers very much reflects the norm.

So, this is one of the ways that we can see the norm in impact. We see the norm develop in terms of the people who are trying to build it. We do see a statistical decline later in the number of coups and we see that coups are less common, in particular in places where the norm is stronger, where other people have been criticized, and where funding is more likely to be cut off. So, we have an association there. But what I find really truly telling is the change in the language of the coup makers themselves. They show us that they are clearly trying to finesse the situation and work around the norm so that they don’t get criticized and they don’t get sanctioned. Those three things make it seem pretty plausible that there’s a norm here and that it’s doing at least some of the important work of decreasing the amount of coup activity that’s out there.


Is the norm just changing the rhetoric when somebody engages in a coup or is it actually changing the reasons why coups are sometimes taking place? In other words, when coup makers say that they’re doing it to reinstall democracy, are they sometimes honest about that or is it always kind of a mask just to justify what they’re doing?

Naunihal Singh

I personally have found motive a very tricky issue to get into. There are two reasons. One of them is that, of course, it’s hard to know what’s in someone’s heart and mind. But the other is that even if you could know, individual motivations change over time and you’re talking about a group of people and this group of people may have mixed motivations. So, sometimes I found people who I was talking to and their coup happened after an elected leader became less democratic. They could very convincingly tell me that their coup was in response to those actions. Then I’d find out that they started plotting the coup years in advance or entertaining it when the situation was very different.

Now, does that mean that they weren’t sincere later on or that their motives changed? I found this just very tricky to tease out. Similarly, if they say we engaged in a coup to restore democracy, then they stay in power for a long time, does that mean they were insincere originally or does it mean that they legitimately got there and said, ‘Wow, this place is a much bigger mess than we thought. We have to do a lot more work before we can hand over.’ Which is what they always say.

I’m not in a good position to evaluate these claims. I’ve tried and I found that the number of claims is large. They’re varied and so I can’t tell you what their motivations are. I can tell you what the associations are and whether they are more likely to engage in coup making activity when certain conditions are true or not. I realize that’s a little bit of a behavioralist explanation, but I come into it having seriously tried. Even with prolonged talking to people… I would interview people for around six hours and then I would interview other people who knew them. So, I had for a scholar, a pretty rich understanding of what was going on and it didn’t help me with that question.

So, I don’t know if it’s changed their motivations. It could be that, in fact, they have absorbed this norm. There is some scholarship which argues that there has been sincere norm transmission and that people are incorporating these norms inside. But we also find that even sincerely held norms can be broken and that people will find a reason to say, ‘Yes, we believe democracy is good, but in this case, our actions were just.’ So, unless a norm is extremely strong, like a taboo, it’s not going to be severely binding. But what we can see is their language and we do see a big shift in their language. That suggests at the very least that they are afraid of how other people are going to perceive them.

So, to the extent to which norms are intersubjective, that is to say norms of reality, not just because they live in my mind, in your mind, but I have expectations about how you are likely to behave as a result of this norm. You have expectations about how I’m likely to behave. That creates a reality between us. It binds us through our expectations. To that extent I think that the norm is having an effect and I think one of the indications is the fact that coup leaders in their moment of maximum strength are choosing different words to justify their actions. They could very well say the last government was a rotten mess and we are here to clean this up. But instead, they go out of their way to say, it’s not a coup and we’re supporting democracy. We won’t last long.

So, even if it is a convenient fiction… What’s the phrase about hypocrisy? Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. The arguments that people make to justify their actions, even if, or especially when, they’re in contravention of a norm, are extremely revealing.


Typically, when I think about a coup, I mean, I have very negative connotations. I never hear the word and think, ‘Oh, that’s a positive development.’ But it’s also with the assumption that a coup is overthrowing a democracy, but coups can also topple dictatorships as well. Are coups that topple dictators, should we be considering those good? Does the anti-coup norm actually work against democratization when it legitimizes, solidifies, or consolidates the rule of authoritarian governments?

Naunihal Singh

So, there are two ways to make sure that the norm does not do that. You want to make sure you don’t have a norm that protects incumbents alone. One of the reasons why you want to be careful about this is, like you said, that many revolutions are also coups. So, if you consider the revolution in Egypt in Tahrir Square, that was both a mass protest and a coup. The overthrow of the dictatorship in Tunisia, which starts the Arab Spring, is both a revolution and a coup. In fact, if you go back to prior waves of democratization, the people power movement in the Philippines is both a mass protest, a revolutionary event, and a coup.

So, oftentimes for protestors in the streets, the success of their movement, involves in part the unwillingness of the military to fire on them and the willingness of the military to push the leader out in favor of the protestors. You don’t want to penalize that with your norm. So, what you can do is you can create pro democratic norms. You can create norms which do not protect incumbents, but which protect democratic civilian incumbents where you say, we expect all incumbents to espouse certain values. Then you penalize them when they stay in power too long or they move from being a civilian democratically elected leader to becoming a civilian dictator.

Similarly, what you say after there’s been a coup is not that we want to restore the old dictator, but instead that you want to move expeditiously towards civilian and democratic rule. That, in fact, aid and diplomatic recognition will be restored when the new government is in line with the values of the donor countries or the regional organizations and in that way, you can make sure that you are not accidentally holding dictators in power. Now what I did do is I dodged another part of your question, which is can coups sometimes be good and there is a debate people have of good coups verse bad coups. I think that gets very tricky. Many of the democratic transitions that have occurred have occurred after a coup, but at the same time, the legacy of a coup can damage a democracy’s future.

So, this becomes a subtle and nuanced question. But what I do want to point out is that many times when we’re talking about democratic revolutions, there is a civil military aspect in there and the success of protestors in the streets has to do with there being a concurrent coup. So, there are a variety of different kinds of coups that exist out there and, in fact, the leaders who are most likely to be overthrown are dictators, in part, because dictators are far more common than democratic governments.


You’ve actually got three different conditions in the paper that you mention that kind of detail when a coup is much more likely to happen. So, I’d like to touch on those, because they were very revealing for me and they can help us understand why coups are not necessarily going to become more prevalent or why they happen in the first place. One of those comes back to a point that we’ve been dancing around which is the type of regimes that experience coups. You emphasize that consolidated democracies rarely, if ever, have successful coups. Consolidated, autocracies, rarely, if ever, experienced coups. What type of regimes are the ones that are most susceptible to coup attempts and successful coup attempts?

Naunihal Singh

The ones in the middle, the ones that are called anocracies, which is to say dictatorships or authoritarian governments, but without a good deal of legitimation, without a strong party structure, perhaps without a fully developed repressive apparatus. We don’t actually know why we observe this empirical regularity, but there are some theories. One of them is that perhaps that at either side you’ve got greater legitimacy. It could be that institutionalized authoritarian governments like China have developed an extensive apparatus to legitimate their role and at the same time longstanding democratic countries like the US or France also have a good deal of legitimacy.

So, it could be that there’s greater legitimacy at either end. It could be that, on one side, democratic countries have legitimacy and, on the other side, countries with a highly developed professional repressive apparatus are very good at staying in power. It could actually be that, in fact, it’s true for both countries. One of the things we know about consolidated democracies, particularly the ones which are wealthy, which is what most of them are, is that they tend to be more institutionally effective.

So, it could be that you are less likely to have a coup in a country like the UK, not just because it is longstanding and legitimate, but also because you have an institutional apparatus which would likely catch any plots long before they bubble to the surface. Similarly, you know, in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, you’re not likely to get very far. You have both legitimacy and a highly developed repressive apparatus. We don’t know whether this is about legitimacy. We don’t know if it’s about institutional effectiveness. We don’t know what the reason is, but it does seem that it’s the countries in the middle, the countries which are elected, but not very democratic and fairly new or, on the other side, these are the countries which are the most vulnerable.

This is connected perhaps to another point, which is that there’s a coup trap. That countries which have coup attempts are more likely to have more coup attempts. So, it may also be that countries with stable institutional histories are also ones where they’ve been few coup attempts and few successful coups and that’s why they have a stable institutional history. So, these things coincide. Similarly, wealthier countries are less likely to have coups than poorer countries, but wealthier countries have greater stability and greater legitimacy. So, these three factors are related, but you can tease them apart statistically and all three of them seem to have an impact.

I don’t know why economic development has the impact that it does or regime type does. There are different arguments that have been put forward, but none of them is clearly head and shoulders above the rest. It’s possible that because stable institutionalization has a wide number of impacts and economic development has a wide number of impacts that in fact these are powerful forces that work in multiple different ways. The reason why I believe that your coup history has an impact is that when a coup begins, one question people have is, ‘Is it likely to succeed?’ Because whether or not you support the overthrow of the government, you’re running multiple calculations in your head. One of them is you don’t want to be on the losing side.

Another is what is it other people are likely to think?’ Are they going to back it or not? They’re also going to be thinking about what’s on the losing side. There’s something else as well, which is that military actors are really afraid of dragging the country into a civil war or prolonged fratricidal conflict. So, all of these decisions that you’re making are based on whether or not there have been previous coups. So, in countries where there are successful coups you say, ‘Oh, if this last coup succeeded, maybe this one will succeed and I should support it. If it succeeded, maybe other people will support it and then I should also support it.’ Coups are what we call coordination games and they’ve got self-fulfilling dynamics.

If the last coup succeeded, then we’re not likely to drag the country into a prolonged civil war. If you think about the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish Civil War happened because there was a coup that did not resolve. The Republicans and the Monarchists dragged the country into a prolonged and bloody battle. That’s something that haunts military officers. So, you’ll see them say from time to time, ‘I decided to back the side, which I thought was starting to win even though I would rather the other side won because I did not want to drag the country into deep chaos and bloodshed just to satisfy my own political desires. I thought stability was more important.’


So, you’ve just mentioned all three of the different reasons. One of them was the first one I brought up, which was regime type and it tends to be those regimes in the middle. The second reason is past coup attempts predict future coup attempts. So, the more often that there are coups, the more normalized coups become. The final one is to have low economic development among countries. The anti-coup norm seems to follow that those different conditions are disappearing, particularly low economic development countries are starting to become wealthier so they’re going to be less likely to have coup attempts. Europe is a perfect example of that. Nineteenth century France had lots of different coups. France in the 21st century, late 20th century has no chance for coup attempts to happen.

The second one is the past coup attempts. If you reduce the number of coup attempts in countries, you’re probably going to reduce future coup attempts in those same countries. So, as we kind of progress, we’re seeing this movement towards this anti-coup norm. However, the idea of the hybrid regimes gives me reason to pause because of two possible directions. One, if autocratic countries become slightly more democratic, if things get a little bit better, it seems that there’s an even more likely possibility of a coup. Kind of that Alexis de Tocqueville idea that revolutions happen when things get better, rather when things get worse.

At the same time, if democracies are backsliding around the world, they’re falling into that hybrid regime, that competitive authoritarian status. It’s going to be far more likely for democracies to kind of slip from being consolidated to being vulnerable to coup attempts. Is it possible that with the kind of push towards the middle of many different regimes that we could be seeing more coup attempts within countries?

Naunihal Singh

Yeah, that’s a distinct worry. We are in a period of prolonged democratic decline and this is likely to have an impact. I think these factors work together though. So, if what you have is democratic decline that follows an extended period of democracy or democratic decline that follows a very long period without a coup, I think making a coup is still much harder. So, if countries are anocratic in regime type, that is to say they’re nondemocratic and they’re still not consolidated democracies, but they are wealthier than they had been and the period without a coup has continued to extend, hopefully what we will see is that while there’s a democratic slide, we won’t necessarily see a return to coup making.

But we don’t really know. This is the first chance we’ve had to test some of these things. If you look at Latin America, there’s some suggestions which are instructive. Argentina was one of the most highly coup prone countries in the world and they did go through some institutional instability. They’re still democratic, but they did that without the risk of coup making. We did not see a coup attempt in Brazil. Bolsonaro lost and people were worried about this. So, that is suggestive. It may be that what we see is that some countries may have decreased their chances of coup making a good deal enough so that if they slide into a less democratic state, they do so in a civilian way with the military wanting to stay out of it.

If that’s the case, then it may be that in some regions like Latin America where coup activity has gone down considerably, it’ll only be a few countries, the Venezuelas of the world where coup making remains likely. In other countries we might see democratic backsliding without that. Similarly, in Asia, if you’re talking about Thailand or Cambodia, the risk of coup making persists, but elsewhere you might see more or less democracy without coup making.

One of the things about democratic consolidation is we don’t actually understand how and why it works. People made a lot of statements, very strong statements, about democratic consolidation and then the Trump Administration happened. We saw that there was a good deal of deviation from what people thought was possible in a highly institutionalized democracy. We had violations of norms. We had institutional behavior that people thought was impossible. Then we had January 6th. So, we always want to be cautious about putting too much weight into institutionalization. At the same time, you also saw a good deal of pushback against all of these attempts to change the nature of the American state, a good deal of which came from within the state.

Some of the people who are least interested in there being anything that would vaguely resemble a coup in America are actually the uniformed military. One of the reasons why January 6th was an insurrection is precisely because the military wanted no part of any attempt to keep somebody in power if they lost an election. They just were not interested. So, we do see some impacts here, but I think we’re going to understand a good deal more about how much this period of democratization and development and low coup activity, the sort of 30 years after the end of the Cold War, what the lasting impacts of that are and aren’t. Unfortunately, as we go forward, we’ve never had it before, so we’re kind of fumbling around and we’re guessing.

I am hopeful that this has positive effects, but if you ask me what I’m worried about, there are two things I’m worried about. One of them is that, in fact, we’re in a period of extended democratic decline and you see that quite painfully across the board. The other is that because of emerging great power competition, I think that our commitment to these norms has gotten a good deal weaker than was earlier. Now the US is less committed to sanctioning countries that engage in ways that break the norm if it’s inconvenient. So, if there’s a coup that we don’t like, it’s easy enough to sanction. If there’s a coup in a country that’s unimportant, that’s easy enough. But what happens when there are coups we do like or they are in countries which are hugely consequential like Egypt, Pakistan.

The answer there is we’re not likely to do anything. We very clearly establish that these norms are luxuries and I worry about the consequence of that, particularly because great power competition now means that regimes have other options. So, if you’re the military junta in Burkina Faso and you no longer have military cooperation from the European Union, once upon a time that would have given the junta leaders pause. Instead, they brought in the Wagner group. The Chinese government has made it pretty clear that they’re not interested in enforcing democratic norms. They aren’t providing military support, but they are providing economic support which they’ve done in Myanmar even though they were very close to the previous government.

They want to make it clear that they’ll deal with any government that’s around. This is opening up space for military juntas to think that they can last in power and that reduces the deterrent effect of some of these norms. So, both the decrease in commitment by norm holding countries – the West is a lot less interested in enforcing pro-democratic norms, regional organizations are having trouble doing this – and the fact that countries that do not hold democratic values are also reducing the deterrent effect. So, if you combine that with democratic backsliding, I think the bottom line here would be that countries that have escaped coup making for a while may backslide without coups, but countries where they have a history of coup making may continue to do so and the coup activity may even speed up as the deterrent effect decreases over time.


But based on your analysis, one of the areas where it sounds like coups will not happen are in some of America’s and the West’s greatest rivals such as Russia and China. Russia, in particular, is a country where people have postulated the possibility of Vladimir Putin being overthrown by a coup. People have hypothesized it. People have fantasized about it. I just want to confirm with you, is there any possibility that Vladimir Putin could be overthrown by a coup due to the state of what’s going on in the Ukrainian war?

Naunihal Singh

There’s always a possibility and in particular as he starts to threaten military leaders more and more, they may want to overthrow him. Similarly, they may want to overthrow him not to support democracy, but actually because they become concerned that he’s losing them the war. So, he may be threatened both by democratic and anti-democratic forces. He also is a former KGB man who is extremely paranoid and who saw the two failed coups in 1991 and 1993 in Russia and the damage that they brought and is doing his best to make sure that his hold on power is secure. He does that on a number of different levels. When might the risk go up? The risk of a coup might go up if his health suffers and everyone knows his health suffers. Because then they’ll be jockeying for control as to what happens next.

We saw this in Zimbabwe. As Mugabe got older and weaker and it became very clear that his time and power was coming to an end, a coup became a lot more likely. We saw it in Egypt under Mubarak as well. So, Putin is not young and he is constantly demonstrating his health in public. That makes me suspicious that his health may not be so good and if in fact he starts to look old and frail, I think that will considerably raise the odds of a coup. Is there likely to be a coup just because he’s failing at the war? I don’t know. I think it will increase people’s motivations, particularly when they’re necks are on the line. But at the same time, he will also be extremely attuned to this.

It’s not clear that they will be able to engage in the steps necessary to make the coup. So, there is always a risk. I mean, one of the things about coups is that you never want to say never. But there are countries where it’s less likely and more likely. So, I think the odds that there is a coup in Canada anytime soon are vanishingly small and the odds that Burkina Faso has another coup attempt are pretty large. But in between, it’s all shades of gray. Even my point about Canada or Iceland or Costa Rica is just that the odds are vanishingly small, not that there zero.


So, as we try to reinforce the anti-coup norm, as we try to avoid a coup contagion, which you’ve emphasized is not happening at this moment, what can be done by international actors to try to limit the proliferation of coup attempts?

Naunihal Singh

It’s tricky. I think ideally, we would reinforce the norm which is to say we would make it very clear, transparent, and automatic that countries that overthrow their leaders will get sanctioned particularly if you’re talking about overthrowing a democratic leader also if the overthrow does not lead towards a Democratic government. So, if we get very serious about this and we bind our hands and we make it almost automatic, then I think that could be very credible. Particularly if the wealthy countries all do this.

And if we could even get the Chinese to start sanctioning some coups. They’re unlikely to the more that we are trying to draw the world into two blocks, ours and theirs. They’re making it very clear in countries like Fiji that they don’t care about coups. But I do think there might be times when it’s in the self-interest of the Chinese government to try to create more stability.

So, even if they aren’t interested in democratic norms, they may be interested in authoritarian stability and we might be able to get them on the same page. But even if we can’t perhaps the West and the pro-democratic countries, the wealthy countries, need to be a lot more serious about this. We also need to be more serious about democratic norms in general. During the War on Terror, our commitment to democratic norms went down. Now with great power competition, it’s gone down. So, the Egypts and the Saudi Arabias and the Pakistans of the world are elevated out of these concerns. I think that’s a mistake because at the end of the day, there comes a time when we are no longer as concerned with some countries in some regions and then we have to deal with a mess that exists there.

So, there are good self-interested reasons for the United States to engage in long term support for democracy, liberalization, or even just rule following in these countries as well as governing international behavior. It was very bad for international norms when a Saudi American journalist was hacked up in an embassy. That was a bad on a number of different fronts. The fact that we’ve kind of shrugged and said, ‘Well, nothing’s going to interfere with our relationship in Saudi Arabia has sent a message and it’s empowered the Prince and changed dynamics in that country. I think this is bad for us both in a normative way as members of democratic politics and in a self-interested way.

So, I do think that there are good reasons to recommit to these norms. But I also think that right now it’s looking less and less likely. I think the world is becoming much more us and them and I think we will have to deal with the consequences of that later on.


Well, Naunihal Singh, thank you so much for joining me today. I want to plug the article one more time, “The Myth of the Coup Contagion.” It’s in the most recent issue of Journal of Democracy. Thank you so much for writing it. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Key Links

The Myth of the Coup Contagion” by Naunihal Singh in the Journal of Democracy

Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups by Naunihal Singh

Learn more about Naunihal Singh

Democracy Paradox Podcast

Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way on the Durable Authoritarianism of Revolutionary Regimes

Michael Miller on the Unexpected Paths to Democratization

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