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Authors: Bergin, Eleanor Reid
Advisors: Kapstein, Ethan
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: With the rise of global instability and the recent drawdown of American military forces, covert operations may once again become a focal point of US foreign policy. In this light, it is important to consider how the US can achieve foreign policy objectives through the manipulation of local political, economic and societal conditions without the deployment of the US military. Much attention in existing literature has been devoted to the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert action during the Cold War, especially regarding how the operation was conducted and the US Government’s motivations for intervening in a foreign country. My thesis seeks to answer a smaller sub-question that has yet to be explicitly addressed in existing literature, namely why the CIA designed covert regime change operations to target specific local political, economic and social conditions over others. Which conditions did the CIA believe were necessary to cause regime change successfully, with the role of the US Government remaining unknown? Through an in-depth analysis of three of the CIA’s most publicized operations – Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Cuba in 1961 – my thesis attempts to discern the CIA’s causal theory of regime change. Employing a comparative analysis of primary and archival sources that address both the available intelligence and the operations’ plans, my thesis finds that the CIA designed covert coup operations to target local conditions which were identified in intelligence reports as (i) necessary for the continuation of the incumbent regime, or (ii) able to increase instability in the country. These factors included unifying and strengthening the regime’s opposition, increasing public support for the opposition, destabilizing the incumbent regime, and gaining support of the indigenous military. The operations also organized paramilitary forces, led by former military officers in both Iran and Guatemala, to carry out actual coup d’état. Of these conditions, my thesis finds that gaining the support of the indigenous military was essential to the success of the operations in Iran and Guatemala and the absence of which was a primary cause of the failure of the operation in Cuba. In all three operations, the military was identified as a factor necessary to maintain the incumbent regime’s power, and as one which was powerful enough to overthrow the government if it chose to do so. Additionally, the public can perceive a coup carried out by the indigenous military with greater authority. My thesis further concludes that the operation that led to the Bay of Pigs failure in Cuba should have sought to gain support of the Cuban military as well. If the accumulation of support from the Cuban military was deemed unlikely, the operation should have been thwarted. My thesis concludes with questions for further research and the policy implications of my findings. First, I argue that gaining the support of the indigenous military should be a necessary prerequisite in the decision to conduct a covert regime change operation. Additionally, my thesis illuminates the importance of a close working relationship between intelligence analysts and covert operatives to design a successful regime change operation.
Extent: 115 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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