Foreign-imposed regime change is a policy tool that a number of countries—most frequently the United States—have used to establish friendly regimes and align interests in regions around the world. With the ongoing unrest in Iran and the war in Ukraine, foreign-imposed regime change is in the news once again.

But conversations around foreign-imposed regime change often occur without reference to the whole historical record. Hindsight might suggest that foreign-imposed regime change can be done but that it just needs to be done better, that we just need more resources or better strategy. 

To evaluate the efficacy of foreign-imposed regime change in a systematic way, Lawfare associate editor Hyemin Han spoke with Alexander Downes, professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University, who wrote a book about it called “Catastrophic Success: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Goes Wrong.” With his data set, he draws out the lessons we can learn from attempts of foreign-imposed regime change over time. Ultimately, he argues that even when foreign-imposed regime change works, its successes don't last very long, and the downsides of regime change are actually built into the process of trying to achieve it in the first place.

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