The Army could easily seize control of a country and the power of the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches is only in paper.

  1. What are the mechanisms a civilian Government use to control the Military power?
  2. How/When did the rule of the society moved from a military government to a civilian government?
  3. Do Armies have internal protocols to intervene a Government if they consider that Government represent a threat to the country?

Note: This is about the internal military power and not external threats like invaders.

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    You forget that governments evolved from armies (guy with the biggest stick). Modern armies are highly specialised and act as a branch of a much larger complex socioeconomic system; as such a coup d'état would be less appealing and less effective - the mandarins would still be in power. Ultimately an explicit coup isn't required anyway, the lines simply get blurred to the point that executive branch requires the military to function. – LateralFractal Nov 14 '14 at 11:54
  • Or put another way, nowadays you can't run a playground by threatening to smash all the toys. They might actually give you the rope to hang yourself with anyway. – LateralFractal Nov 14 '14 at 11:56
  • Interestingly, I read an article that observed that the prevalence of military-controlled governments is an artefact of the Cold War as the USA and USSR threw gobs of money at various militaries - which undermined the usual control a civilian government has over the purse strings of its army. – LateralFractal Nov 14 '14 at 13:33
  • @LateralFractal - clearest counter-example: Ataturk's Turkey. – user4012 Nov 17 '14 at 14:26
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    @DVK Ataturk isn't a counter-example as he was from the Army and lived prior to the Cold War; his secularist reforms actually aligned with military revitalisation. Cold War Turkey had at least three military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. Even one military coup means your level of civilian control was inadequate. Indeed this characteristic is persistent as there was a failed military coup in 2000s (since it failed, the intended 'go' date is unclear). Amusingly your choice of Turkey strengthens the link between coups and Cold War money as Turkey sought precisely that money. – LateralFractal Nov 17 '14 at 21:58
  • Oaths of Office. For a simple example, compare two Virginians: General Robert E. Lee, who fought for the Confederacy, and General George H. Thomas, who fought for the Union. The existence of General Lee proves that oaths can be broken, and that military personnel can disregard the Constitution. At the same time, somebody is bound to care about what is on paper, as we see in the case of General Thomas. It's risky to ask military personnel to disregard their oaths; whether you're successful or not, many of them will subsequently disregard you.

  • Resources. Although the President is the Constitutionally delegated Commander in Chief (Article II Section II Clause I), Congress is responsible for the very existence of the U.S. dollar (Article I Section VIII Clause V) as well as its taxation (I.VIII.Clause I). After dissolving the Constitution and the Congress, the military would need a way to pay for itself. Even if it could operate as its own IRS and collect currency from the American people, the U.S. dollar is worthless without the U.S. Congress. (With this in mind, I strongly suspect most coups occur when currencies are nearly worthless, and / or when the military has another source of funding)

  • Division of Power. Military personnel have highly specialized jobs and often work together without knowing anything about who they're working with. Even infantries rely on many other fields for logistical and positional assistance, and can't just put together a squadron to invade Washington DC with no questions asked.

  • People and Culture. Military personnel used to be civilians. They went to school with civilians. They have civilian friends. They (usually) married civilians and/or have civilian children. They signed up to defend civilians. In fact, most military personnel are reservists with civilian jobs or attending school. America's military and civilian culture tend to be fairly close-knit. Few military personnel would embrace the idea of seizing money and power from civilian government and trying to run this nation on their own.

  • The answer is good overall, but I'm a bit unsure about using Lee as an example. If your country is in political cecessionist rebellion, and you choose one of the political sides, you aren't realistically a good example of military obeying/disobeying political office. Lee and the Confederate military were NOT the ones who started the War of Northern Aggression ...errr... Civil War :) - it was the confederate states' politicians. – user4012 Nov 17 '14 at 15:40
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    I don't buy this. The first three points are formally true in many countries that did experience military coups and therefore do not explain anything. The second one seems particularly questionable. If (part of) the military is in position to take power, what the constitution says is moot, it can seize whatever resources the government has. Coups usually happen in countries were taxation is not very effective to begin with but suspending a parliament does not make money and institutions evaporate. – Relaxed Nov 17 '14 at 18:54
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    All that leave us with the last point, which seems certainly true of the US and many other countries, but is mostly circular. Why does it work that way in some countries but not others? – Relaxed Nov 17 '14 at 18:57
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    Relaxed - We're not here to answer why it's "theoretically impossible" for the military to instigate a coup - obviously it's happened to other countries, it's been attempted multiple times with ours (Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, Jeff Davis, etc), and it CAN happen to the USA. So "circular" is absolutely right. Human psychology is circular. Sociology and history are circular. I am observing the subjective and messy reasons why it's improbable - the difficulties that could be overcome by the military but would be more difficult than a mechanical invasion. – user3765080 Nov 17 '14 at 23:45
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    @user3765080 But a good answer would go beyond this circularity and explain why it happens in some places and not in others, what institutions are in place to prevent it, etc. I do happen to know a thing or two about psychology and I can tell you than simply invoking “human psychology” does not count as an “explanation”. – Relaxed Nov 18 '14 at 6:59

I'm going to assume you're talking about the US since you mention the executive, judicial and legislative branches. As a non-US citizen this might be slightly off and most of my knowledge is gained from watching episodes of Stargate, but I think I've gained an understanding of how it works over the years as well. Someone else will probably come along with a better answer, but if they don't, you have this.

Primarily the people are the ones who stop a military coup from happening- the second amendment was put in place for that very reason, so the people could wrest control from the government if the military took over and the people objected. But in practice, I think the military personnel would have a problem with it as well. For ongoing military control, there are civilian oversight committees that report to the people that control the budget, so if they see anything they don't like, either it gets changed or they can't afford to do it anymore.

In the US, the government isn't accountable to the military, it's accountable to the people. They're the ones who can change things if they don't like where they're going. If the government as a whole became so corrupt something drastic had to be done, well, I imagine that as well would be an issue for the people to resolve.

Other countries have their own methods of dealing with this. The UK, where I live, has a monarch that isn't really part of the government as such and controls the military- the government acts with her permission so if they refused to step down she'd use the military to force them down. She has control over the other Commonwealth militaries as well, so she could do the same for Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc.

So in general it's about money/resources, which is generated by the civilians. Their representatives fund the military if they're good, and if they're not, hire someone else and give them the money/resources instead.

  • Do you mean "the second amendment was put in place for that very reason." If not, how does the first amendment help wrest control from the military? – lazarusL Nov 14 '14 at 16:14
  • If I was American that would be really embarrassing. Fixed. – PointlessSpike Nov 14 '14 at 16:20
  • Note that's but one interpretation of the second amendment. – user1530 Nov 18 '14 at 1:25

I believe that it was explicitly one of the goals of conscription (beyond providing cheap cannon fodder obviously), e.g. in France. The idea being that soldiers who do not form a separate community but come from the society at large and don't stay in the army too long would put the interests of the nation before those of the army itself and would be less likely to take part in a coup. It's frequently cited as one factor behind the failure of the 1961 Algiers putsch.

In a completely different context, it was the function of political commissars in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a dictatorship but, somewhat unusually compared to many past and present dictatorial regimes in Europe, South America or Africa, power was concentrated in the party, not the military.

Apart from these admittedly limited cases, it's tempting to invoke “culture” which certainly rings true but does not really explain anything. So I don't really know (I am sure there is some research on this topic however).

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