The United States repeatedly tried to overthrow foreign governments during the Cold War. More often than not, U.S. leaders chose covert regime change rather than overt military intervention. Their persistence suggests that the story of the Cold War has as much to do with secret maneuvers as it does with nuclear strategy or conventional military force. Again and again, Washington opted for the dark arts, despite its rhetorical commitment to liberal norms. There was something irresistible about manipulating foreign politics without claiming credit.
Tag: regime change
Researching covert action is not easy. States pursue such operations to influence events without revealing their handiwork. Doing this successfully requires limiting the number of officials in the know, and enforcing secrecy measures to avoid leaving an incriminating paper trail. The documentary record is deliberately porous as a result, which complicates any effort to test theories about the logic of covert action. Nonetheless, creative and enterprising scholars have produced a number of excellent studies in the last few years, proposing new arguments about the causes of covert intervention, and the effects on international politics.
Using a cross-national data set covering the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the year 2000, Alexander Downes and Lindsey O’Rourke have produced a fascinating analysis of foreign-imposed regime change in international relations replete with new quantitative results. The question these two political scientists address is this: When a state tries to change the leadership and domestic institutions of target states does this policy of foreign-imposed regime change lead to more peaceful relations or more conflictual relations between the intervener and the target? Downes and O’Rourke argue that “overt and covert [foreign-imposed regime changes] do not improve relations between intervening and target states. Often, they become worse” (85). This essay examines this argument and raises questions about the statistical evidence supporting it.
No one is sure what effect Russia had on the 2016 presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community and private sector cybersecurity firms are confident that Russian intelligence agencies sponsored efforts to steal and release information from the Democratic National Committee, and from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. The stolen emails were mostly banal, but the Trump campaign used them as evidence that Clinton and her party were corrupt and untrustworthy. This may have had the effect of increasing support for Trump, or at least depressing the turnout among would-be Clinton voters. Even small shifts might have changed the result, given the razor-thin margins in key states. But the election was so peculiar in so many ways that it is difficult to attribute the outcome to a single cause. Alleged Russian ‘doxing’–the term for stealing and revealing private information–may or may not have been terribly important compared to other factors in a historically strange campaign.
Will the international community be able to build consolidated democratic regimes in Afghanistan or Iraq in the context of decade-long military interventions in those nations? In “Forced to be Free?” Alexander Downes and Jonathan Monten argue persuasively that if foreign nations intervene in a state simply to impose a new leader on that state, democracy is unlikely to flourish regardless of whether the intervening state is democratic or autocratic. Active efforts to impose democracy by force are unlikely to succeed unless they take place in the context of domestic conditions that facilitate democratization. Many scholars have made similar arguments in the past, but this effort stands out because it presents a novel data set of cases of foreign-imposed regime change that goes back to 1816. It also is one of the first studies of this issue that takes into account the problem of selection effects and which can offer an informed answer to the question of whether democracy promotion by force fails because of the intent and/or actions of the intervener or because interveners choose tough cases in which to try to build democratic regimes. While the article represents an excellent contribution to this important debate, a broader conception of foreign-imposed regime change might lead to somewhat different interpretations than those presented in this work.
The Clash of Ideas in World Politics is an excellent book. It possesses a persuasive, detailed argument and compelling case study evidence that spans 500 years of diplomatic history. It will be of enduring interest to analysts of international relations.
The book has numerous strengths, though three in particular stand out. First, the book reveals the shortcomings of realist theories of international relations by documenting the centrality of ideologies to leaders’ foreign policies. Specifically, Owen demonstrates that ideologies are frequently critical to how leaders’ understand the threats to their most important domestic and international interests. These threat perceptions, in turn, will tend to have major effects on states’ core security policies, including choices of allies and enemies and efforts to promote by force particular institutions and beliefs in other countries. This last set of choices is the primary focus of Owen’s analysis.