Regime change

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Regime change is the partly forcible or coercive replacement of one government regime with another. Regime change may replace all or part of the state's most critical leadership system, administrative apparatus, or bureaucracy. Regime change may occur through domestic processes, such as revolution, coup, or reconstruction of government following state failure or civil war.[1] It can also be imposed on a country by foreign actors through invasion, overt or covert interventions, or coercive diplomacy.[2][3] Regime change may entail the construction of new institutions, the restoration of old institutions, and the promotion of new ideologies.[2]

According to a dataset by Alexander Downes, 120 leaders were removed through foreign-imposed regime change between 1816 and 2011.[2]


Internal regime change[edit]

Regime change can be precipitated by revolution or a coup d'état. For example, the 1917 Russian Revolution, the 1962 Burmese coup, and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Foreign-imposed regime change[edit]

Foreign-imposed regime change is the deposing of a regime by a foreign state, which can be achieved through covert means or by direct military action. Interstate war can also culminate into a foreign-imposed regime change for the losers, as occurred for the Axis Powers in 1945.[additional citation(s) needed] Foreign-imposed regime change is sometimes used by states as a foreign policy tool.[4] According to a dataset by Alexander Downes, 120 leaders have been successfully removed through foreign-imposed regime change between 1816 and 2011.[2]

During the Cold War, the United States frequently intervened in elections and engaged in attempts at regime change, both covertly and overtly.[5][6][7] According to Michael Poznansky, covert regime change became more common when non-intervention was codified into international law, leading states that wanted to engage in regime change to do so covertly and conceal their violations of international law.[8]

Regime promotion[edit]

According to John Owen IV, there are four historical waves of forcible regime promotion:[9]

  1. Catholicism vs Protestantism: From the 1520s to the early 18th century
  2. Republicanism vs Constitutional monarchy vs Absolute monarchy: From the 1770s to the late 19th century
  3. Communism vs Liberalism vs Fascism: From the late 1910s to the 1980s
  4. Secular government vs Islamism: post-1990


Studies by Alexander Downes, Lindsey O'Rourke and Jonathan Monten indicate that foreign-imposed regime change seldom reduces the likelihood of civil war,[2] violent removal of the newly imposed leader,[2] and the probability of conflict between the intervening state and its adversaries,[10][2] as well as does not increase the likelihood of democratization (unless regime change comes with pro-democratic institutional changes in countries with favorable conditions for democracy).[11] Downes argues,[2]

The strategic impulse to forcibly oust antagonistic or non-compliant regimes overlooks two key facts. First, the act of overthrowing a foreign government sometimes causes its military to disintegrate, sending thousands of armed men into the countryside where they often wage an insurgency against the intervener. Second, externally-imposed leaders face a domestic audience in addition to an external one, and the two typically want different things. These divergent preferences place imposed leaders in a quandary: taking actions that please one invariably alienates the other. Regime change thus drives a wedge between external patrons and their domestic protégés or between protégés and their people.

Research by Nigel Lo, Barry Hashimoto, and Dan Reiter has contrasting findings, as they find that interstate "peace following wars last longer when the war ends in foreign-imposed regime change."[12] However, research by Reiter and Goran Peic finds that foreign-imposed regime change can raise the probability of civil war.[13]

By country[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hale, Henry E. (2013-05-10). "Regime Change Cascades: What We Have Learned from the 1848 Revolutions to the 2011 Arab Uprisings". Annual Review of Political Science. 16 (1): 331–353. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-032211-212204. ISSN 1094-2939.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Downes, Alexander B. (2021). Catastrophic Success: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Goes Wrong. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-6115-7.
  3. ^ Levin, Dov; Lutmar, Carmela (2020). "Violent Regime Change: Causes and Consequences". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.1954. ISBN 978-0-19-022863-7.
  4. ^ Peic, Goran (July 2011). "Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, State Power and Civil War Onset, 1920-2004". British Journal of Political Science. 41 (3): 453–475. doi:10.1017/s0007123410000426. S2CID 154222973 – via JSTOR.
  5. ^ Levin, Dov H. (2019-01-01). "Partisan electoral interventions by the great powers: Introducing the PEIG Dataset". Conflict Management and Peace Science. 36 (1): 88–106. doi:10.1177/0738894216661190. ISSN 0738-8942. S2CID 157114479.
  6. ^ O’Rourke, Lindsey A. (2019-11-29). "The Strategic Logic of Covert Regime Change: US-Backed Regime Change Campaigns during the Cold War". Security Studies. 29: 92–127. doi:10.1080/09636412.2020.1693620. ISSN 0963-6412. S2CID 213588712.
  7. ^ Levin, Dov H. (2016-06-01). "When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power Electoral Interventions on Election Results". International Studies Quarterly. 60 (2): 189–202. doi:10.1093/isq/sqv016. ISSN 0020-8833.
  8. ^ Poznansky, Michael (2020). In the Shadow of International Law: Secrecy and Regime Change in the Postwar World. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-009661-8.
  9. ^ IV, John M. Owen (2010). The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change, 1510-2010. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-3676-5.
  10. ^ Downes, Alexander B.; O'Rourke, Lindsey A. (2016). "You Can't Always Get What You Want: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Seldom Improves Interstate Relations". International Security. 41 (2): 43–89. doi:10.1162/ISEC_a_00256. ISSN 0162-2889. S2CID 52994000.
  11. ^ Downes, Alexander B.; Monten, Jonathan (2013). "Forced to Be Free? Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization". International Security. 37 (4): 90–131. doi:10.1162/ISEC_a_00117. ISSN 0162-2889. JSTOR 24480621. S2CID 3640183.
  12. ^ Lo, Nigel; Hashimoto, Barry; Reiter, Dan (2008). "Ensuring Peace: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Postwar Peace Duration, 1914–2001". International Organization. 62 (4): 717–736. doi:10.1017/S0020818308080259. ISSN 1531-5088. S2CID 154513807.
  13. ^ Peic, Goran; Reiter, Dan (2011). "Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, State Power and Civil War Onset, 1920–2004". British Journal of Political Science. 41 (3): 453–475. doi:10.1017/S0007123410000426. ISSN 1469-2112. S2CID 154222973.

Further reading[edit]

  • Downes, Alexander B. (2021). Catastrophic Success: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Goes Wrong. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-6115-7.

External links[edit]