On Iran-US Crisis (Part II)

Co-Written by Ashish Kumar Singh & Abhijit Anand


In this part, we summarize another important research article focusing on Foreign Imposed Regime Change, noting the fact that the recent crisis is connected with the political events taking place in Iraq. We must also not forget that Iraq’s parliament has passed a resolution calling on the government to end all foreign troop presence in Iraq, which America has turned down.

Alexander B. Downes and Lindsey A. O’Rourke. (2016).You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Seldom Improves Interstate Relations. Quarterly Journal: International Security, vol. 41(2). (Fall 2016): 43–89.

Page no 43: Regime change (both covert and overt) is a common foreign policy tool used by various countries including United States to pursue their interests. More than 100 foreign leader were have been overthrown since 1816 in overt interventions by various states and during Cold War, United States alone made 63 covert FIRCs (Foreign-Imposed Regime Change) out of which 24 were successful in bringing new regimes to power.

Page no 44: In a study it has been found that that FIRC reduces the likelihood of conflict between interveners and targets and enables intervening states to install new leaders with similar policy preferences in target states. The new leaders promote intervener’s interest at local as well as international level and becomes a reliable client. Threats from neighboring state and anger of domestic actors resist in implementing the intervener’s desired policies by newly installed regimes.

Page no 45: There are three types of overt and covert FIRCs that succeed in replacing targeted leaders. First, ‘leadership FIRC’ where one foreign leader is replaced by another without building or bolstering political institution. The leaders installed during leadership FIRCs face the legitimacy problems. Second, ‘institutional FIRCs’ seek to build new political institutions in the target state in addition to removing leaders. It neither increase nor decrease the likelihood of intervener-target conflict.

Page no 46: Third, “restoration FIRCs” reinstate leaders who previously held power in the target state. These individuals already enjoyed some domestic legitimacy and good relations with the intervener. The regime change operations that are covert in nature generally fail but covert regime change increases the probability of militarized disputes between the states involved.

Page no 47: The effect of covert FIRCs, however, depends on whether or not they succeed in deposing the targeted leader. It has been found that successful covert leadership FIRCs apply no significant effect on the likelihood of a post-FIRC militarized interstate disputes (MID) whereas interstate dyads that experience an overt leadership FIRC are more than twice as likely subsequently to experience a MID . A failed covert FIRCs of any type, by contrast, strongly increase the probability of militarized conflict.

Page No. 48: The idea of replacing an unfavorable friend with favorable one is good move to improve interstate relations but sometimes the results are counter-productive. The replacement of a leader sometimes produces a possibility of renewed conflict. For example: case study of Rwanda’s ill-fated leadership FIRC in Zaire in 1997.

Page no 49: There are difference of opinions on fostering democratization after military intervention. Some find that foreign military interventions can make target states marginally more democratic. Other studies think that if foreign military interventions may result in democratization if interveners are willing to invest substantial resources in promoting democracy. A third group thinks that foreign military interventions can activate democracy only if the targeted state is already enjoying conditions favorable to democracy.

Page No 51: The probability of future conflict between two states gets reduced after states engage in FIRC reason being that if the operation is successful then newly installed regime will have same interests as intervening state has suggesting that the former will then act in the latter’s interests without having to be bribed or coerced into doing so. Even if there are specific source of dissent during interstate dispute, FIRC should have a positive effect on intervener-target relations. But at the same time it is also noticed that states’ interests never fully flop together and therefore some sort of interest divergence is there in international relations.

Page no 52: The prevailing view of FIRC has two problems: First, the interests never fully protrude. For instance, the divergence between United States and its NATO partners in the Bosnian conflict and capturing of Iraq in 2003. Second, interests are rarely those of individual leaders alone because leaders exert important influence on the direction and details of states’ foreign policies.

Page no 53: FIRC also undergo from principal- agent divergence. The principal (intervening state) and agent (new leader) in the targeted state because the principal has limited sources of to check that agent is following principal’s demand rather than pursuing its own interests. The agent does so either because of political constraints preventing him or due to fear of being overthrown by domestic forces.

Page No. 54: It is also suggested that interveners can solve principal-agent problems by increasing monitoring such as by placing troops in the targeted state or full scale military occupation. But these measures are unlikely to solve problems because placing troops in the targeted state is very expensive and by full scale military occupation, the intervener supposes the governing the target state rather than appointing an agent.

Page no 55: There are possibilities that two states reach to an agreement where a weaker state surrender some of its capabilities to avoid FIRC, the strong state will demand some actions such as pursuing less aggressive foreign policy or relinquishing nuclear weapons which targeted state is unlikely to follow because that would substantially weakens the weaker state further. And if newly installed leaders comply with the demands of the intervener’s demand then he could face resistance from domestic actors. Either of these conditions could lead to renewed conflict between the target and the intervener.

Page no 56: Foreign imposed leaders who pursue the policies of intervener state increases the risk of angering domestic actors. When US backed overthrow of Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 then Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes permitted the United States to train Cuban exiles in Guatemala to overthrow Fidel Castro. The policy alienating the members of the Guatemalan officer corps launched an armed rebellion to oust Fuentes resulting a 30 year civil war. Former studies have shown that FIRC increases the probability that targeted states will experience civil war but these studies have neglected the nexus between civil conflict, regional instability and interstate conflict.

Page no 57: States launch FIRCs with various intentions in mind. Most FIRCs are targeted to replace a country’s political leader without intervening in its political institutions. Others are taken to restore a recently deposed foreign leader or sometimes an attempt to replace a country’s political institutions is made. It is to be noted that any sort of FIRC has its impact on subsequent relationship between intervener and target state.

Page no 58: It is also argued that leadership FIRCs increases the possibility of conflict between intervener and target state because newly installed leader lacks a strong domestic base of support and remain highly dependent on help from the intervener to maintain power whereas restoration FIRCs decrease conflict and institutional FIRCs have mixed effects.

Page no 59: Restoration FIRCs may have lesser chances of conflict as compared to leadership FIRCs because almost all restoration FIRCs, reinstalled leaders were previously aligned with the intervener due to which it mark a return to an acceptable international status quo for both parties rather than an attempt to change state preferences by imposing entirely new leaders accompanied with  the considerable amount of domestic legitimacy has been enjoyed by the regimes empowered by restoration FIRCs and in many cases where leaders were overturned by domestic rebellions rather than foreign powers, the rebels are very weak compared to the intervener.

Page no 60: The institutional FIRCs fall somewhere in the middle of leadership and restoration FIRCs. These are of two types that mitigate the Catch-22 faced by foreign-imposed leaders. First, it enhances the oppressive magnitude of the state which helps to implement the intervener’s preferred policies without the risk of being overthrown. Second type of institutional FIRCs promote democracy that make leaders more responsive to their electorates.

Page no 61: It has also been found that democracy promoting institutional FIRCs have very high chances of being successful wealthy, homogeneous countries that have previous experience with democracy. In a study it has been found that only five i.e. Japan (1945), West Germany (1945), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), and Haiti (1994) of thirteen attempts to democratize a foreign government via regime change were unsuccessful.

Page no 62: Covert FIRCs are more harmful to the two states relationship because of many reasons such unjustified hopes that covert action will protect from the negative consequences of the intervener’s actions,  lack of serious investment of resources in constructing stable political institutions abroad and execution of covert FIRCs in terms of tenure of the regime.

Page no 63: Sometimes failed attempts of covert FIRCs have equal damage on intervener-target relations as some successful FIRCs because intervening state has failed to force out an unfriendly regime and its actions suspicious actions are now clear to the government which further worsen the fraying relationship.

(Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia

Abhijit Anand teaches Law at the Glocal University, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India)




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