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Title: The Overthrow Option: The Strategic Choices of Interstate Conflict and Foreign-Imposed Regime Change
Authors: McKoy, Michael Kevin
Advisors: Ikenberry, G. John
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: international strategy
regime change
Subjects: Political Science
International relations
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Since the US overthrow of regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, foreign-imposed regime change has received a great deal of attention and analysis. Regime change is an absolute means of resolving an interstate conflict or commitment problem. Given this, why do states seek less decisive aims when confronting hostile regimes? I argue that the ability to select a reliable successor regime prior to imposing regime change greatly affects its concomitant costs and the decision-making regarding regime change. Regime change costs include the overthrow operation, post-conflict governance, and future enforcement. If the foreign imposer selects a reliable successor regime prior to regime change, then the foreign imposer can delegate the responsibilities of regime change to the successor regime. If, however, the foreign imposer cannot select a reliable successor regime, then it must decide whether the target regime is too threatening to remain in power. If the foreign imposer considers the target regime to be an existential threat, then the foreign imposer will opt for direct regime change and bear the concomitant costs. However, if the foreign imposer considers the target regime to be a manageable threat, then the foreign imposer will seek more limited aims against the target regime. Successor selection creates agency problems, the severity of which is greatly shaped by the prior relationship between the imposing and target countries. If the imposing and target countries historically had an amicable relationship, then the foreign imposer has close connections to target country constituencies who can compose a reliable successor regime with domestic legitimacy and to whom the foreign imposer can delegate regime change responsibilities. If, however, the imposing and target countries historically had an adversarial relationship, then the foreign imposer has weak connections to target country constituencies, and the imposed regime will be viewed as a traitorous puppet. In addition, the target regime can deter regime change attempts by eliminating internal rivals who could compose a reliable successor regime, which restricts the foreign imposer's options for delegated regime change. I test the theory through case study analysis of Allied regime change policies in the defeated Axis countries following World War II and paired-comparisons of US policies toward Iran in 1951-3 and 1978-9 and US policies towards Iraq during the Persian Gulf Crisis of 1990-1 and in the subsequent years, culminating in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. These cases illustrate the hypotheses and mechanisms presented in the theory and further highlight other related factors such as the importance of learning over time and the dilemmas of foreign-imposed democracy and domestic ideological transformations.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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