Thrifty Authoritarians: U.S. Regime Change 1945-Present

By Daniel J. Savickas
Clocks and Clouds
2016, Vol. 6 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

It is important to note, however, that four nations did not have sufficient data to be input into the economics test (Libya 2011, Syria 1949, Fiji 1987, British Guiana 1964). Therefore, these nations could not be included in the subsequent chi-square test. Figures 8 and 9 show the actual values and expected values for the amount of nations who would experience growth and decline in both areas given they had no impact on each other.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Figure 8


Figure 9


The values were almost identical across both tables and indicate that how the US affects a nation with regards to its democracy has no impact on how successful the US is in altering the economic future of that nation. The p-value was over .9, indicating there would be over a 90 percent chance of obtaining these results given there was no impact and is not nearly significant enough data to imply any sort of correlation.

There is the aforementioned theory that permeates through much of academia that United States interventions are especially doomed to failure in the Muslim world, as the imposition of American values and interests run counter to those of Muslim nations. In Figures 10 and 11, the results of a chi-squared goodness-of-fit test are shown with the results of regime changes democratically in the Muslim world and the expected values based on statistical formulae. The results show no statistically significant evidence to reject the null hypothesis that US interventions are equally as effective in other parts of the world as they are in nations that have a population that is comprised of a majority of people of Muslim faith.

Figure 10

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 11

Likewise, when a similar chi-squared test was run with regards to economic results in Muslim countries, similar results were achieved. Figures 12 and 13 show the actual and expected values for economic growth or decline and there is, again, no statistically significant data to show that the United States intervening has any more or less of an effect in Muslim countries than it would elsewhere. This would seem to fly in the face of the notion that the US is, more or less, clueless when it comes to regime change in the Muslim world. If one looks at the outcomes in that area, they would see the results one would expect and that are achieved are very much similar.

Figure 12

Figure 12

Figure 13

Figure 13

Another one-sample t-test was performed on the same data. The same test used earlier with changes in the Polity democracy score was performed, but the data was split into groups based on whether or not the nation is a Muslim majority country. The results achieved, shown in Figure 14, show statistically insignificant data, consistent with those achieved in the chi-squared tests above, on both ends to reject the null hypothesis that US intervention has no effect on a nation democratically. This result is true both in and out of the Muslim world.

Hypothesis test results:
Group by: Muslim Maj
μ : Mean of DemScore Change
HO : μ = 0
HA : μ < 0

Figure 14

Figure 14

The United States, therefore, tends to create more economically viable nations that have murky futures when it comes to democracy. This is the only narrative that can be substantiated by the cases of US intervention since the conclusion of WWII. Any claims that the United States routinely installs radical, US-friendly authoritarians or sets the financial future of these "poor" nations back for years are not based in statistics. It is likely only the narrative of "spreading democracy" that is promoted by the government and seized upon by critics to make generalized claims that the US is unsuccessful in its stated democratic goals, and then jump to the conclusion that they are also failures economically, and spread their own narrative about US policy. As with most phenomena in life, facts often ruin perfectly good narratives. The United States policy of intervention is not an overall failure by any means, especially when it comes to finances, where it is especially efficient at promoting economic success. Neither, however, is it particularly effective at establishing democracies.


The United States has indeed had a mixed record when it comes to its foreign policy pursuits. Certain countries have been left in worse condition than when they started their efforts, and some efforts have absolutely sapped the Americans of key, vital resources militarily and monetarily. Many scholars in the aforementioned skeptics' camp take these data points to try and establish that the US is almost unilaterally a failure when it intervenes abroad.

However, this study, looking at success in terms of the increase in democratic mechanisms, as defined by Polity IV, show that, in the short term, there is no basis to say that the US causes significant harm. The statistics also failed to provide data to suggest that nations suffer democratically. It cannot be said that the US is either an omnipotent force to bring prosperity, nor can it be said it brings turmoil, according to the data.

An assessment of US foreign policy, however, also includes an economic component. That economic component paints a lighter picture of the US's capabilities. These data show that the US is successful when it comes to building stronger economies as it relates to GDP per capita growth, indicating a higher standard of living and greater economic output.

It can be seen that there are, statistically, no definitive failures in the US regime change data set after World War II in the short term. Therefore, the data is suggestive of Abrahamian's hypothesis on a larger scale. The US can be successful in the short term, but the driving force behind the perception of failure is that there are long-term considerations that are not addressed. Therefore, the results found would recommend that policy makers consider their willingness to dedicate structural support for many more than ten years after intervention to foster democratic and economic success into the future. It also suggests that the mere event of regime change initiation is not what drives failure, but rather the lack of institutional infrastructure, so skeptics should look beyond the overthrow of regimes for the cause of perceived instability.


Daniel J. Savickas is a student of Political Science. He graduates in December of 2017. School of Public Affairs, American University.


Abrahamian, Ervand. "Structural Causes of the Iranian Revolution," in MERIP Reports, No. 87, (May, 1980), pp. 21-26

Blum, William. "Overthrowing Other People's Governments: The Master List of U.S. "Regime Changes"" Global Research: Centre for Research on Globalization. September 10, 2014. Accessed November 5, 2015.

Fukuyama, Francis. Nation-building: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Kinacioglu, Muge. "Forcing Democracy: Is Military Intervention for Regime Change Permissible?" All Azimuth 1, no. 1 (2012): 28-48.

Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. New York, NY: Times Books/Henry Holt, 2006.

Kristol, Irving. Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. New York: Free Press, 1995 Litwak, Robert. "Regime Change 2.0." The Wilson Quarterly 32, no. 4 (2008): 22-27.

Maddison, Angus. "Maddison Project." Groningen Growth and Development Centre. 2014. Accessed November 5, 2015.

Meernik, J. "United States Military Intervention And The Promotion Of Democracy." Journal of Peace Research 33, no. 4 (1996): 391-402. "Polity IV Project: Country Reports 2013."

Polity IV. 2013. Accessed November 5, 2015.

Schulte, Gregory. "Regime Change Without Military Force: Lessons from Overthrowing Milosevic." Prism: A Journal of the Center for Complex Operations 4, no. 2 (2013): 45-56.

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