Saturday, July 16, 2016

SHTF Self-Education Series: From the Library: "Coup d'Etat - a Practical Handbook- a Brilliant Guide to Taking Over a Nation" - Tuesday Book Review of the Luttwak classic

 
 **REPOST: This post was originally published on January 19th, 2016.  Coup D'Etat is back in stock, and is also available as a Kindle E-book version.**
 
The Thirst for Knowledge to read the #Teaparty Leaves is STRONG .... Paperback Copies of "Coup D'Etat" are TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK !!


YOU - Faithful Readers - DID THIS!
You can still place your order, and will have priority for when the book is back in stock !!

As of 2 pm EST, "Temporarily Out of Stock" - Outstanding !!  YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!

 "Coup d'Etat - A Practical Handbook -   Brilliant Guide to Taking over a Nation" 
A PZ Tuesday "Must Have" Book Review
First off, I want to address all the "folks" out there that may be concerned about the title of this work.  I am not advocating or urging anything of the sort, although coup d'etat remains a more common means of installing a government than elections.  This is a book review. It is only that.


Put your tin foil hats, bags of Doritos and  "MoveOn.org" t-shirts, cups of hot cocoa and flannel jammies away before you embarrass yourself (any more than you already have, and you know who I am talking to).

This is the edition of Luttwak's classic on my shelf.  The cover price was seventy-five cents, as I bought it years ago.  It currently retails for an eye-popping $59.94, although there are less expensive editions out there.  I'm an old-school kind of guy, so you are getting a review of the first printing of the Fawcett paperback, circa October 1969. Since this book is in absolute cherry condition, all my markings and notations are in a less spendy and more recent edition.  My well loved original is kept pristine.  A good choice of your note taking edition would be:

Amazon Link to Purchase Coup D'Etat style=

Knowledge is power.  Reading is Fundamental to this knowledge and should be as high a priority as other "tasks". My advice is always to set aside some quiet reading time, where one can reflect on the information conveyed, synthesize it, make notes, and then apply that knowledge in everyday life.

In his 1967 classic, "Coup D'Etat", Luttwak states that although in retrospect coups look easy, it is the

 "crucial achievement passes unnoticed- the dangerous and elaborate process by which the armed forces and other means of coercion are neutralized and the political forces temporarily forced into passivity."   

Examples are provided of 3rd world coups that show mere tiny factions being an effective lever to move the mountain of regime.  The overall concept is considered a form of military and political judo. In this reading, it would appear that the art of the coup has much more in common with 4th generation warfare than any drill field or field exercise of massed troops ever will.


Jammu Army, Central Asia
The preface contains an interesting point of comparison to frame your reading of the book itself.  The author states "The modern state is therefore practically invulnerable to a direct assault.  Two alternatives remain:  guerrilla warfare and the coup d'etat.  The first works by a slow erosion of the human and physical infrastructure of the state, a long and bloody process.  The coup d'etat, on the other hand, relies on the use of precisely those parts of the state apparatus which guerrilla warfare seeks to destroy:  the armed forces, the police, and the security agencies."   Although oddly enough, I'd not considered this point... it becomes quite clear in this moment that the two are reciprocals of each other.  Perhaps a yin/yang, duality of man Jungian thing.

On to the book itself.  5 chapters and 3 appendices, 200 pages of crispness and pure, distilled information.  Diagrams, case studies and the mechanics of planning are meticulously laid out.  As the technique of the Coup d'Etat is a popular career move in 3rd world nations, the research that went into this book rings solid with contemporary examples. The figure on page 115, "The Formal Government and the Real One" is of note, particularly in the modern American context of "the Deep State" and the public Uniparty system. 

More insight from Luttwak continues, and is fairly littered throughout the text.  The core issue of separating the professional caste of bureaucrats and functionaries from the political leadership is again, an issue that one normally does not consider.  Administrations/regimes come and go, but many civil servants dwell in various positions for 20, 30 or more years.  They see them (the political administration) wax and wane, yet they remain a constant.  The wedge between bureaucracy and the political leadership is a dicey issue, given the vested interests and incestuous nature of appointments and "plum positions".  The bureaus are cogs and levers in a machine, the coup is merely a replacement of the hands on the levers of power.

The historical path of regimes appointing either tribal members or ethnic members to control the sensitive posts is as ancient as time.  The Manchu Dynasty, Han Chinese and various African political entities are examples.  How would such a system function in a "proposition nation" of great diversity, such as our own?  Perhaps through identification with common ideological points and concepts.  Strong defense?  Welfare state?  Subsidize a particular set of values through tax policy?  All of these may qualify for a latter day "tribe" mentality as it applies in this book.

Many readers will be conceptually familiar with the path of autodelegitimization that leads to the fall of a regime.  Luttwak boils it to its essence, in that "comes about when a long series of illegal seizures of power leads to a decay of the legal and political structures which are needed to produce new governments."  In this, governments actually have a key role in their own overthrow, they prepare the ground by sowing deeply the seeds of discontent.

Tea Party Protests overwhelmed the Capitol in 2009
Chapter 2 concerns the timing of coups: "When is a Coup d'Etat Possible?".  This is much more than a synchronization exercise between elements executing a coup.  It is the deep planning that deals with schedules around national events, holidays to the more esoteric public mood and popular grievances.  It is explicit that when a government becomes "politically inert", it becomes ripe for a coup.  Although I cannot quote at length, pages 19-20 of this edition paint with words what the environment of an incubator for coups looks like.  The reader can feel the grit, the pain and privation... and the drive to change it. In early recognition of the transnational corporation, Chapter 2 illustrates the role of powerful multinational companies in the politics of 3rd world nations.  Presciently, ARAMCO is defined as one of the most powerful tribes in Saudi Arabia.  Thinking in these terms makes a lot more sense than considering them mere businesses, as it reflects the actual role and not just the appearance of these business entities.

Chapter 3 is devoted to the strategy of coups. Coup plotters seek to seize power within a pre-existing system and can only stay in power as long as they impose a new status quo that is supported by those the previous regime sought to destroy.  I'll pause on that sentence for a few moments.  This is more than replacing "brand A" with "brand B".  This is providing a new vision and paradigm that allows a significant enough portion of the previously oppressed to overtly support you. This awkward phase, after the coup is known and before consolidation, requires utmost speed in moving to neutralize any opposition. The fence sitters in these situations actually help the coup succeed, as they "wait and see" while remaining inactive in any capacity, save drawing a paycheck.

The formation of a "party militia" is addressed.  The primordial ooze that fosters such party militias is of general political freedom while the state is largely ineffectual at enforcing any sense of law and order.  Contemporary examples would be the AUC in Colombia, the Phalange in Lebanon. These structures provide the teeth to political parties and enable coups.  Page 56 has an especially cogent section on the potency of small units as applied to coup strategy.

An interesting intersection between coup plot recruiting and counter-intelligence can be found on page 68.  The potential recruit, upon being "pitched", has some troubling decisions to make on the fly. The pitch can be from internal security forces hunting down the disloyal.  The pitch process is prone to being reported, but the person pitched has no idea if the person he reports the recruitment to is a coup supporter.  Such is the madness of the coup environment.

A global common denominator of regimes is to recruit numerous minority elements. This may seem paradoxical from a standpoint of unity, but consider that the minorities (look at Lebanon, or Syria for instance) become the staunchest supporters of the regime. This chapter is just a wealth of insight into the recruitment process. The points made can be applied across a range of human endeavor.

Chapter 4 covers the actual planning of the coup. The vivid example of the French coup attempt from Algeria is laid out in the first few pages to illustrate the vagaries of planning and that victory is a fleeting concept indeed.  Considerable time is devoted to mapping out the human terrain within the existing political structure, so as to best triangulate a solution. The concept of key terrain as made relevant through relative superiority is developed here.  Relative superiority is a term coined by Admiral McRaven in his seminal work "Spec Ops".  This term means that you do not have to be the 800 pound gorilla, you just have to have massed at a point in time and place of decision that your enemy cannot effectively respond to in time.

Page 132 of this chapter has an important bit of "inside baseball" on the politics as a coup unfolds.  It bears reading "certain political forces which must not be neutralized (apart from those groups which have agreed to support us).  These are those groups which are generally regarded as extremist but whose effective powers are limited.  By allowing them a certain freedom of action we will give them an opportunity to oppose us, and their opposition will have two favorable by-products;  

(a) we will be able to gain the support of those political forces which fear them more than us; 

(b) we will be able to step forward and fight other groups after having associated them with the extremists in question."

This lengthy quote is quite astonishing in that it really opens the eyes to what goes on behind closed doors in mahogany panelled rooms.

Chapter 5 is the denouement of the work, it details timelines of coups and the execution thereof.  All of this is predicated upon the successful plotting and planning as laid out by Luttwak in the previous chapters.  Coups are not like wars, in that they are not iterative.  Coups are binary - they succeed or fail in a very short time line. I direct your attention if you have a copy of this work to page 155, figure 6, "Operational Sequence and Timing".  It shows a conceptual model of multiple teams working on the same time line, and the interrelations between their objectives to the success of the whole enterprise.  Figure 7 on page 158 is close to my own heart, "Intelligence "Noise" and Analysis". The reader is drawn into a sense of the multidimensional and temporal nature of coups, how fraught with tension and danger they are. Not just the text, but the graphs show the relative possibilities in time. The final chapter closes out with a section on post-coup announcements and styles and diplomatic recognition. This fine level of detail one would not find elsewhere, and is a hallmark of the classical educational background of the author, Edward Luttwak (London School of Economics, Johns-Hopkins, Georgetown).

On page 188, there is a terse little graph titled, "Fig. 10 POLITICAL SURVIVAL LIMIT ON TAXATION".  On page 189, the following graph is "Fig. 11 THE DUVALIER FORMULA", with the subtitle "Political security - maximum economic development = zero".

These two graphs and the interconnecting paragraphs are expertly distilled wisdom. To articulate this concept so effortlessly, Luttwak should have been up for a literary prize. The Duvalier formula... one may creditably wonder if this same formula has been applied here in the United States, as domestic repression (both official and unofficial) skyrocket, development is charitably said to be stagnant and the policies never really change.  Ask yourself, "Cui Bono?".  It probably is not you or me "bono", that is for sure.

You can read other books on coups as well for a greater understanding of the obstacles and typical timeline. One I would recommend is "Technique of the Coup d'Etat", by Curzio Malaparte (1931).  At $744 on Amazon (English language edition), you may want to find this at your local library or professional military education lending library reading list.  The affordable editions that I have found available for sale are all in French, so it looks like I have something else to save up for!

Amazon Link to Kindle E-Book English Language Version of Malaparte Technique style=

While Luttwak is not without his detractors and critics, it is not reasonable to dismiss this work as a work of satire. The logical progression of topics and deep knowledge required to produce such a work, as well as the author's professional life do not lend this theory any credence. If you have not yet read this work, time is short and you will definitely learn from it.


The author suggests further reading on the topic.  His recommendations are:

The Role of the Military in Underdeveloped Countries, edited by J.J. Johnson

 Buy The Role of the Military (1967) Edition HERE


The Man on Horseback, by S.E. Finer

 The Man on Horseback by Samuel Finer HERE


Modernization and Structure of Societies (the chapter on armed forces organization) by Marion J. Levy, Jr.

 Modernization and Structure of Societies (1966 Edition) HERE




You may also enjoy reading some of the other previously published SHTF self-education series Tuesday Book Reviews.  An ongoing list with links to the original review can be found HERE. Many of the books reviewed are available in Kindle (E-book) format.

Tuesday Book Review Written by StopShoutingBlog contributor and #FAB50 Blog Award Winner Partyzantski, coolest cat on teh inner webs, retired Mustang, former FID embedded military Advisor, SASO trainer and scenario developer, Electronic Warfare Aviator, PME instructor, certified Force Protection and Anti-terrorism officer and combat seasoned USMC (0202) field grade intelligence officer. 

When not blogging or maintaining weapons proficiency at the range, he enjoys cat herding and travel to off-the-beaten-track locales. You can follow him on Twitter @Partyzantski  

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2 comments:

ElkHunter said...

I've really enjoyed the two book review posts you've published so far, and have added to my personal collection.

It is clear you enjoy educating and informing ... would you consider doing a seminar-type podcast, where after reading the book, we could call in with answers/comments/advice?

Thanks for all you do, Semper Fi.

Partyzantski said...

ElkHunter,
That is an interesting idea. I am not averse to it, but as I am somewhat new to some of the technical aspects of that, I have to do some research on the mechanics of it.