External threats and political survival: Can dispute involvement deter coup attempts?
Diversionary war theory holds that insecure leaders are more likely to pursue aggressive foreign policies than their more secure counterparts. This hypothesis rests on the premise that interstate dispute involvement helps leaders deter potential challenges against their rule. We offer strong support for this premise by looking at coup attempts. Cross-national time-series evidence from interstate dispute participation over the period 1960–2000 indicates that a country in a militarized confrontation with another state is about 60% less likely to experience a coup attempt in the subsequent year. Consistent with our hypothesis, we establish that it is mainly militarized involvement in disputes, rather than non-militarized involvement, that is associated with lower coup likelihood. The results are robust to controlling for a wide set of potential correlates of coups and remain qualitatively intact when we focus entirely on within-country variations in coup attempts and interstate disputes.