"Regime change" is literally the replacement of one regime with another. While it is widely believed that the term was first coined by former US President Bill Clinton, use of the term dates to at least 1925.
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.
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 CIA
to work towards that goal.
Regime change can be used in a euphemistic sense to describe the unilateral imposition of one nation's will onto another through military force. In mass media the term is often associated with measures imposed by external forces rather than internal revolutions and coups.
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 (for example, see this article).
Regime change by a foreign power
Overthrow of unfriendly governments by the United States
can be found throughout the past 50 years . 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
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. The Second World War saw the destruction of Nazi Germany and its replacement by the modern Federal Republic of Germany, and the adoption of a pacifist constitution by Japan. Of course, the former was preceded by the imposition of Reich rule and puppet governments on many former European republics.
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 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
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.