Collier sees the upside in political coups

Corporate Foreign Policy features Paul Collier’s bracingly pragmatic view on political coups:

For Collier, the unpalatable reality in many of the poorest countries is that military coups are the most effective check on the abuses of power.  Although the introduction of multi-party elections throughout Africa was meant to improve accountability in governance, Collier believes that far too often the ruling parties hold on to power using bribery, intimidation and fraud. Collier therefore suggests that the idea of a ‘good coup‘. The problem? Naturally, coups have been known to be “unguided missiles, indiscriminately replacing both corrupt and decent regimes“.

The solution, he believes, is to improve electoral accountability and to “provide coups with a guidance system“. He proposes a pact under which EU and US forces – with a rapid reaction capacity to deploy in Africa – would guarantee to protect any government that was judged credibly to have come to power through ‘free and fair’ elections.

That’s interesting.  CFP notes the hazards of encouraging coups, but points out that the African Union has failed to intervene in four coups in the last twelve months.

A contrarian view in the service of understanding an issue better is hardly a bad thing.  It’s difficult to imagine how such a solution would work, though.  The United Nations Security Council is probably damaged beyond repair for this sort of thing, and NATO has had jurisdictional issues with the recent rash of pirate attacks off the Somali coast.  Most sensitive, any program of intervention would be permanently neutered the first time forces intervened in one instance but not in another.  What happens when someone asks (at the UN, perhaps), “why Somalia and not Sudan?”; or worse, “why Africa and not Asia?”

It’s an initially elegant solution to an intractable problem, but the treatment could risk killing the patient.

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