Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Civil War

March 29, 2011, 8:13 p.m.

Alexander B. Downes, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Duke University, analyses the impact of Foreign-imposed regime change (FIRC) in his paper, Catastrophic Success: Foreign-Imposed Regime Change and Civil War.  He presents the idea that a civil war is more likely to happen if a new leader is appointed versus restoring a previous leader to power.  He uses a dataset between the years of 1816 and 2008 with the dependent variable being a civil war and multiple independent variables.  He poses questions regarding the efficacy of FIRC, whether it brings about the desired results or in contrast acts to decrease the growth of democracy.

Restorations that return leaders ousted by domestic forces, however, are still less disruptive than new leader FIRC. Leaders who have previously held power in a country have their own power base and political networks independent of the support provided by the intervening state. Much of the bureaucracy and institutions of governance of the old regime, including the police and the army, often remain in place. Thus, even though the leader is reinstalled by foreign forces, he is less likely to be viewed as illegitimate or as a puppet of the intervener. Moreover, revolutionary forces responsible for overthrowing the leader are usually no match for the invading state’s forces. Most revolutions that have preceded restoration FIRCs were urban phenomena staged by nationalist intellectuals and the nascent bourgeoisie. Such forces tend to be few in number, poorly armed, and ill-disciplined, perhaps able to topple weak monarchies but unable to offer much resistance to the disciplined troops of a great power. Restoration FIRC, in short, rather than tearing down the existing governmental edifice and starting from scratch, has an institutional foundation on which to build. This type of FIRC also faces weak opposition and supplements the target’s coercive forces with significant external firepower. It thus generates fewer resentments and does not destroy state power.

New leader FIRC, by contrast, weakens the state more than restoration FIRC and is also a more potent generator of grievances. New leaders brought to power at the point of foreign bayonets face an array of difficulties exerting authority and control. Civil servants and government bureaucrats may abandon their posts, bringing the machinery of government to a halt. Externally-imposed leaders must also ascertain the loyalties of the military and other security services, which may be filled with acolytes of the deposed regime. The new ruler will have to decide who to keep and who to cashier, and also how to integrate his own armed followers into the existing forces. In the extreme, as in Iraq, the army and police may simply melt away, leaving anarchy on the streets, allowing people to loot government buildings and potential insurgents to arm themselves from government arsenals. The arrival of a military occupation force does little to solve these problems, since foreign troops often lack orders to protect government institutions and provide domestic law enforcement. They also face tremendous identification difficulties both in distinguishing friend from foe and in simply finding their way. When Tanzanian troops arrived in Kampala in pursuit of the remnants of Idi Amin’s regime, they lacked maps and had to rely on directions from a confused Ugandan school teacher (Avirgan and Honey 1982, 135-36). In short, new leader FIRC is more debilitating to state power than restoration FIRC, leaving the new ruler with many dilemmas to confront and potential rebels with manifold opportunities to employ violence.

comments powered by Disqus