Supporter of stability or agent of agitation? The effect of us foreign policy on coups in Latin America, 1960-99

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69 Scopus citations


This article takes a two-step approach to improving our understanding of how US foreign policy signals affect the likelihood of coups in Latin America. First, a large body of qualitative literature has developed a 'conventional wisdom' on this subject, suggesting that pressure from the USA plays a key role in stabilizing favored leaders and destabilizing unfavored leaders. Meanwhile, quantitative scholarship analyzing coups focuses almost exclusively on intrastate factors. The first step brings these two bodies of work together by providing quantitative evidence that hostile US signals increase the likelihood of coups, while supportive signals have a stabilizing effect. The second step moves beyond the conventional wisdom by (1) reconsidering theoretical assumptions within the conventional argument and (2) identifying anomalies within the preliminary empirical analyses. These efforts reveal several factors that are likely to impact how coup plotters respond to US signals. Among these factors, empirical analyses indicate that US signals are particularly important when economic dependence on the USA increases, during the middle of a US president's term in office, when they have moderate levels of consistency, and when they specifically mention the military. Overall, the first stage of this article provides a robust confirmation of the conventional wisdom, while the second stage moves the literature down a path that is largely unexplored by previous work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-461
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Coups d'état
  • Latin America
  • Signals
  • US foreign policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


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