Coup-proofing: Its Practice and Consequences in the Middle East
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Coup-proofing James T. Quinlivan Its Practice and Consequences in the Middle East In the aftermath of the U.S.-led coalition’s defeat of Iraq in the Gulf War, many observers believed that Saddam Hussein would eventually be toppled in a military coup. After years of dashed hopes, however, few expect that the Iraqi military is likely to undertake such action. Many analysts claim that the Iraqi regime is, in fact, coup-proof. Saddam Hussein’s staying power should cause any similarly led U.S. coalition to rethink not just the possibilities of both coups and coupproo ªng but how it would ªght and defeat a coup-proof regime. In this article, I analyze how states become coup-proof, focusing speciªcally on the policies that Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria have adopted to achieve this goal. These policies include reliance on groups with special loyalties to the regime and the creation of parallel military organizations and multiple internal security agencies. The United States has a particular interest in how these countries have made their regimes coup-proof. Saudi Arabia is an important U.S. ally, Iraq is a hostile state, and Syria is somewhere in between. Conºict between the United States and either Iraq or Syria, however, pits a superpower with a short attention span against regimes that have accepted serious constraints on their ability to exercise their full military potential. Both states have developed heavily politicized militaries that are incapable of realizing this potential as long as their leaderships continue to divert resources to protect their regimes. At the same time, they have created a militarized politics that is surprisingly resilient in the face of defeat. If a U.S-led coalition decides that it wants to overthrow a coup-proofed regime through military action, it will have to devote serious attention to the regime’s true underpinnings. Field commanders will need more extensive means of understanding their opponent’s political-military situation and greater insight into the coalition’s political intentions. Moreover, the coordination of political-military operations will require greater political involvement International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 131–165© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 131 The author is a Senior Analyst at the RAND Corporation. The opinions expressed are solely the author’s and do not represent those of RAND or any of its sponsors. The author is grateful for comments from Daniel Byman, Russell Glenn, Thomas McNaugher, Bruce Nardulli, Kenneth Pollack, Thomas Szayna, Barry Watts, and two anonymous reviewers on an earlier version of this article. in the direction of ground operations than both military and political authorities have come to expect. I develop my arguments about coup-proof states in ªve parts. The ªrst section offers a brief discussion of coups and coup-prooªng. The second section analyzes the elements of coup-prooªng and how Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria have used this strategy to preserve their regimes. The third section considers how such efforts reduce the military power of a state’s armed forces. Drawing on the experience of the U.S.-led coalition after the Gulf War, I then discuss how a similar coalition might defeat a coup-proof state such as Iraq and overthrow its regime. I close with some observations. Coups and Coup-prooªng in Theory and Practice Edward Luttwak’s book, Coup D’Etat: A Practical Handbook, offers readers a guide on how to conduct a coup. The book has profoundly inºuenced nearly everyone’s thinking about coups.1 Its how-to style provides detailed and practical information on coups that many reviewers thought would be better left unwritten.2 According to Luttwak, “A coup consists of the inªltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.”3 The aim of a coup is not only to remove the existing government, but to seize power for the perpetrators. In this focus on the seizure of power, a coup is much more ambitious than the assassination of a regime’s leader. As Luttwak...