You Can't Always Get What You Want: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Seldom Improves Interstate Relations

December 12, 2016

Alexander B. Downes and Lindsey A. O'Rourke. "You Can't Always Get What You Want: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Seldom Improves Interstate Relations." International Security 41, no. 2 (Fall 2016): 43–89.

States frequently employ overt and covert foreign-imposed regime change (FIRC) to pursue their foreign policy interests. Yet there is little scholarship on the question of whether FIRCs improve relations between the states involved. In fact, most FIRCs either fail to reduce—or increase—the likelihood of militarized disputes between interveners and targets. Fundamentally, FIRC entails a principal-agent problem: foreign-imposed leaders rule over states with interests different from those of the intervener. Whereas the intervening state wants the new leader to pursue policies that reflect its interests, once in power, such leaders are focused on ensuring their political survival, a task that is often undermined by implementing the intervener’s agenda. Foreign-imposed leaders who carry out the intervener’s desired policies attract the ire of domestic actors. These domestic opponents can force the regime to reverse course or may even remove it from power in favor of leaders hostile to the intervener; in both cases, the result can be renewed conflict with the intervener. Rwanda’s replacement of Mobutu Sese Seko with Laurent-Désiré Kabila in Zaire illustrates this problem.