Dr Payam Ghalehdar

Alumni Visiting Fellow

Research Project at the Centre

Origins of Overthrow—Emotional Frustration and US-Imposed Regime Change

Why has regime change, defined as military intervention aimed at forcibly transforming a target state's domestic political authority structure, been a long-standing practice in US foreign policy? Extant theories fail to provide sound answers. Realist approaches, for example, under-predict the recurrence of regime change if great powers should have no reason to intervene in weaker states. Similarly, democracy promotion arguments overstate the causal importance of the US desire to expand liberty globally.

This book project presents a novel explanation. It argues that the practice of regime change is predicated upon what I call 'emotional frustration', an anger-arousing emotional state that is brought about by a foreign leader's obstructive behavior perceived to be rooted in implacable hatred. While obstruction is ubiquitous in interstate interactions, I claim that the combination of hegemonic expectations towards a target state and the perception of hatred shape the extent to which a foreign leader's conduct evokes an emotional response on the part of foreign policy elites. Regime change becomes an attractive foreign policy instrument to decision-makers who seek to discharge their emotional frustration.

To illustrate its emotion-based argument, the project features four historical case studies based on a wealth of primary sources and declassified archival material. I demonstrate how US-imposed regime changes in Cuba (1906), Nicaragua (1909–12), the Dominican Republic (1965) and Iraq (2003) reveal heretofore overlooked patterns of emotional frustration that have time and again animated US regime change decisions.


April – August 2017