Regime change

Regime change

"Regime change" is the replacement of one regime with another. Use of the term dates to at least 1925.[1]

Regime change can occur through conquest by a foreign power, revolution, coup d'état or reconstruction following the failure of a state. Regime change may replace all or part of the state's existing institutions, administrative apparatus, bureaucracy and other elements.


Popular use

The transition from one political regime to another, esp through concerted political or military action - most recently seen in the regime change undergone by Tunisia.

The term has been popularized by recent US Presidents. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush regularly used the term in reference to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Ronald Reagan had previously called for regime change in Libya, directing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to work towards that goal.[2]

The term regime change is sometimes erroneously used to describe a change in the government of the day.

The term regime change can also be applied to bodies other than nation states.[1]

Regime change by a foreign power


Overthrow of unfriendly governments by the United States can be found throughout the past 50 years.[3] Regime change in Iraq became a stated goal of United States foreign policy when Public Law 105-338 (the "Iraq Liberation Act") was signed into law by U.S. President Bill Clinton. The act directed that:

"It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."

This regime change has been brought about as a consequence of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Besides US-led regime changes there were numerous regime changes produced by the Soviet Union, such as in Outer Mongolia, in Tannu Tuva in 1921, in the independent republics in the Caucasus during the Russian civil war, in the Baltic states in 1940, and in all of the East European countries that fell under Soviet rule due to the Yalta agreements of 1943.

A reasonably large number of countries underwent regime change in the aftermath of the global conflicts of the twentieth century. The First World War saw the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman empires.[4] The Second World War saw the destruction of Nazi Germany and its replacement first by an occupation regime and then by the modern Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, the re-establishment of Austria as the parliamentarian Second republic and the adoption of a pacifist constitution by Japan. Of course, the former was preceded by Reich-induced regime change and puppet governments in many European states. After the second world war, Britain's granting of independence to various nations constituted a peaceful externally-imposed régime change.

One of the bloodiest regime change in Europe was due to the coup d'état of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in Spain in 1936, itself a reaction to the abolition of the kingdom and the establishment of a republican regime in 1931.

A lesser-known externally-imposed regime change was the Cambodian-Vietnamese War, resulting in the removal of the Khmer Rouge from power in Cambodia.

As US objectives

General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War advocated this policy, leading to his dismissal by President Harry Truman. Later, in the Vietnam War, many conservatives such as Barry Goldwater, also supported the concept, denouncing President Lyndon B. Johnson's goal of merely saving South Vietnam from being taken over by the Communist North as a "no-win" policy. The American-backed overthrow of the Maurice Bishop government in Grenada in 1983 can also be viewed in the same light, as can the U.S. support of the Contras insurgency in Nicaragua (leading to the Iran-Contra Affair) and the United States embargo against Cuba.


Foreign-imposed regime change (FIRC) after a war decreases the chances of a repeat interstate war.[citation needed] A review of one hundred FIRC cases came to the conclusion that installing a new leader after the FIRC significantly increases the chance of a civil war, whereas restoring a former leader does not.[5] In cases where FIRC is imposed by a democratic state there is a greater chance of more democratization in countries that are wealthy or ethnically homogeneous. There is an opposite effect on democratization in poor or heterogeneous countries.[6]

Internal regime change

Regime change can be precipitated by revolution or a coup d'état. The Russian Revolution, the 1962 Burmese coup and the 1990 collapse of communism in Eastern Europe are consummate examples.

Less violent examples of internally-driven regime change are the establishment of the French Fifth Republic and the Federation of Australia.

In academic use

In addition to the above uses, the term 'regime change' can also be used in a more general sense, particularly in academic work, to refer to a change in political institutions or laws that affect the nature of the system as a whole. For example, the end of the Bretton Woods system was a regime change in the international system, as was the repeal of the National Mandatory Speed Limit in the United States. Regime changes are often viewed as ideal opportunities for natural experiments by social scientists.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary,, September 2007 draft
  2. ^ Washington Post 20 Feb. 1987
  3. ^ Regime change |
  4. ^ Moore, Lyndon; Kaluzny, Jakub (2004). "Regime change and debt default: the case of Russia, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman empire following World War One". Explorations in Economic History 42 (2): 237. doi:10.1016/j.eeh.2004.06.003. 
  5. ^ Catastrophic Success: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Civil War, Alexander B. Downes

External links

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