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"Forced to Be Free? Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization"

Sergeant John Stanley of the US marines of the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Batallion sprays a Saddam picture on 6 April 2003 near Thamir, a suburb of Baghdad.
AP Photo/Maurizio Gambarini

"Forced to Be Free? Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 37, issue 4, page 90–131

Spring 2013

Authors: Jonathan Monten, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2006–2007, Alexander B. Downes, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2007–2008

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security



Is military intervention effective in spreading democracy? Existing studies disagree. Optimists point to successful cases, such as the transformation of West Germany and Japan into consolidated democracies after World War II. Pessimists view these successes as outliers from a broader pattern of failure typified by cases such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Those in between agree that, in general, democratic military intervention has little liberalizing effect in target states, but contend that democracies can induce democratization when they explicitly pursue this objective and invest substantial effort and resources. Existing studies, however, often employ overly broad definitions of intervention, fail to grapple with possible selection effects in countries where democracies choose to intervene, and stress interveners' actions while neglecting conditions in targets. Astatistical examination of seventy instances of foreign-imposed regime change (FIRC) in the twentieth century shows that implementing prodemocratic institutional reforms, such as sponsoring elections, is not enough to induce democratization; interveners will meet with little success unless conditions in the target state—in the form of high levels of economic development and societal homogeneity, and previous experience with representative governance—are favorable to democracy. Given that prospective regime change operations are likely to target regimes in poor, diverse countries, policymakers should scale back their expectations that democracy will flourish after FIRC.


Read the full article at MIT Press.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Jonathan Monten and Alexander B. Downes. "Forced to Be Free? Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization." International Security 37, no. 4 (Spring 2013): 90–131.

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