"Melissa Willard-Foster presents new and innovative theories that not only describe the causes but also predict the likelihood and nature of foreign-imposed regime change. Her book is a key work on an understudied yet vitally important topic, especially in the policy arena."—Dan Reiter, author of How Wars EndIn 2011, the United States launched its third regime-change attempt in a decade. Like earlier targets, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi had little hope of defeating the forces stacked against him. He seemed to recognize this when calling for a cease-fire just after the intervention began. But by then, the United States had determined it was better to oust him than negotiate and thus backed his opposition. The history of foreign-imposed regime change is replete with leaders like Qaddafi, overthrown after wars they seemed unlikely to win. From the British ouster of Afghanistan's Sher Ali in 1878 to the Soviet overthrow of Hungary's Imre Nagy in 1956, regime change has been imposed on the weak and the friendless.
In Toppling Foreign Governments, Melissa Willard-Foster explores the question of why stronger nations overthrow governments when they could attain their aims at the bargaining table. She identifies a central cause—the targeted leader's domestic political vulnerability—that not only gives the leader motive to resist a stronger nation's demands, making a bargain more difficult to attain, but also gives the stronger nation reason to believe that regime change will be comparatively cheap. As long as the targeted leader's domestic opposition is willing to collaborate with the foreign power, the latter is likely to conclude that ousting the leader is more cost effective than negotiating.
Willard-Foster analyzes 133 instances of regime change, ranging from covert operations to major military invasions, and spanning over two hundred years. She also conducts three in-depth case studies that support her contention that domestically and militarily weak leaders appear more costly to coerce than overthrow and, as long as they remain ubiquitous, foreign-imposed regime change is likely to endure.
Melissa Willard-Foster teaches political science at the University of Vermont.