United States involvement in regime change has entailed both overt and covert actions aimed at altering, replacing, or preserving foreign governments. In the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. government undertook regime change actions mainly in Latin America and the southwest Pacific, and included the Mexican-American, Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars. At the onset of the 20th century the United States shaped or installed friendly governments in many countries including Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and theDominican Republic.
In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. government expanded the geographic scope of its regime change actions, as the country struggled with the Soviet Union for global leadership and influence within the context of the Cold War. Significant involvements included the 1950 Korean War, the1953 Iranian coup d'état, the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion targeting Cuba, the Vietnam War, and support for the Argentinian Dirty War, but included other operations throughout the world.
Also after World War II, the United States in 1945 ratified the UN Charter, the preeminent international law document, which legally bound the U.S. government to the Charter's provisions, including Article 2(4), which prohibits the threat or use of force in international relations, except in very limited circumstances. Therefore, any legal claim advanced to justify regime change by a foreign power carries a particularly heavy burden.
Following the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has led or supported wars to determine the governance of a number of countries. Stated U.S. aims in these conflicts have included fighting the War on Terror as in the 2001 Afghan war, or removing dictatorial and hostile regimes in the 2003 Iraq War and 2011 military intervention in Libya.
19th century interventions
- 1846 U.S.–Mexico War. The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States of America and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution.
American forces occupied New Mexico and California, then invaded parts of Northeastern Mexico and Northwestern Mexico; Another American army captured Mexico City, and the war ended in victory of the U.S.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo specified the major consequence of the war: the forced Mexican Cession of the territories of Alta Californiaand New Mexico to the U.S. in exchange for $18 million. In addition, the United States forgave debt owed by the Mexican government to U.S. citizens. Mexico accepted the loss of Texas and thereafter cited the Rio Grande as its national border.
- 1887 Samoa. The Samoan crisis was a confrontation between the United States, Germany and Great Britain from 1887–1889 over control of the Samoan Islands during the Samoan Civil War. The Samoan Civil War continued, involving Germany and the Americans, eventually resulting, via the Tripartite Convention of 1899, in the partition of the Samoan Islands intoAmerican Samoa and German Samoa.
- 1893 Hawaii. The overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii refers to an event of January 17, 1893, in which anti-monarchial elements within the Kingdom of Hawaii, composed largely of American citizens, engineered the overthrow of its native monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani. Hawaii was initially reconstituted as an independent republic, but the ultimate goal of the revolutionaries was the annexation of the islands to the United States, which was finally accomplished in 1898.
See also: Banana Wars
- 1898 Cuba and Puerto Rico, as part of the Spanish–American War, U.S. invaded and occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898. Cuba was occupied by the U.S. from 1898–1902 under military governor Leonard Wood, and again from 1906–1909, 1912 and 1917–1922; governed by the terms of the Platt Amendment through 1934.
The Puerto Rican Campaign was an American military sea and land operation on the island of Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War. The United States Navy attacked thearchipelago's capital, San Juan. Though the damage inflicted on the city was minimal, the Americans were able to establish a blockade in the city's harbor, San Juan Bay. The land offensive began on July 25 with 1,300 infantry soldiers.
All military actions in Puerto Rico were suspended on August 13, after U.S. President William McKinley and French Ambassador Jules Cambon, acting on behalf of the Spanish government, signed an armistice whereby Spain relinquished its sovereignty over the territories of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Guam.
- 1899 Philippines, the Philippine–American War was part of a series of conflicts in the Philippine struggle for independence against United States occupation. Fighting erupted between U.S. and Filipino revolutionary forces on February 4, 1899, and quickly escalated into the 1899 Battle of Manila. On June 2, 1899, the First Philippine Republic officially declared war against the United States. The war officially ended on July 4, 1902.
- 1900 China. The Boxer Rebellion was a proto-nationalist movement in China between 1898 and 1901. The US was part of an Eight-Nation Alliance that brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Chinese Army, and captured Beijing. The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 ended the uprising.
- 1903 Panama. In 1903, Panama seceded from the Republic of Colombia, backed by the U.S. government, amidst the Thousand Days' War. The Panama Canal was under construction by then, and the Panama Canal Zone, under United States sovereignty, was then created. The zone was transferred to Panama in 2000.
- 1903 Honduras, where the United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company dominated the country's key banana export sector and associated land holdings and railways, saw insertion of American troops in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. Writer O. Henry coined the term "Banana republic" in 1904 to describe Honduras.
- 1912 Nicaragua, which, after intermittent landings and naval bombardments in the previous decades, was occupied by the U.S. almost continuously from 1912 through 1933.
- 1914 Mexico, US troops occupied Veracruz.
- 1915 Haiti. Haiti was occupied by the U.S. from 1915–1934, which led to the creation of a new Haitian constitution in 1917 that instituted changes that included an end to the prior ban on land ownership by non-Haitians. Including the First and Second Caco Wars.
- 1916 Dominican Republic, actions in 1903, 1904, and 1914; occupied by the U.S. from 1916–1924.
WWI and interwar period
- 1918 Russia. The Allies intervened in the Russian Civil War. About 250,000 foreign troops entered Russia during the Russian civil war fought by the White Army against the new Soviet government. Western and imperial Japan government forces included 13,000 American troops invading through Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok, whose mission after the end of World War I was to topple the Soviet government.
- 1941 Panama The United States government used its contacts in the Panama National Guard, which the U.S. had earlier trained, to have the government of Panama overthrown in a bloodless coup. The U.S. had requested that the government of Panama allow it to build over 130 new military installations inside and outside of the Panama Canal Zone, and the government of Panama refused this request at the price suggested by the U.S.
Cold War era
- South Korea 1945-1950 As the Empire of Japan surrendered in August 1945, under the leadership of Lyuh Woon-Hyung committees throughout Korea formed to coordinate transition to Korean independence. On August 28, 1945 these committees formed the temporary national government of Korea, naming it the People's Republic of Korea (PRK) a couple of weeks later. On September 8, 1945, the United States government landed forces in Korea and thereafter established the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGK) to govern Korea south of the 38th Parallel. The USAMGK staffed the governing administration with Japanese governors and many other Japanese officials who had been part of the brutal Japanese imperial colonial government and with Koreans who had collaborated with it, which made the government unpopular and engendered popular resistance. USAMGK refused to recognize the PRK government, which had been formed to self-govern the country, and the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, which had been based in China during WWII and had fought against the Japanese, and then the USAMGK by military decree outlawed the PRK government. In October 1948, USAMGK sent units to attack Koreans who were seeking Korean independence, and carried out several mass atrocities, including the killing hundreds of Korean civilians on Jeju Island who were suspected of supporting those in favor of independence.
- March 1949 Syrian coup d'état: The democratically elected government of Shukri al-Quwatli was overthrown by a junta led by the Syrian Army chief of staff at the time, Husni al-Za'im, who became President of Syria on 11 April 1949. The exact nature of US involvement in that coup is still highly controversial. However, it is well documented that the construction of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, which had been held up in the Syrian parliament, was approved by Za'im just over a month after the coup.
- 1953 Iranian coup d'état (known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup) was the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh on 19 August 1953, orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom (under the name 'Operation Boot') and the United States (under the name TPAJAX Project). The coup saw the transition of Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi from a constitutional monarch to an authoritarian one who relied heavily on United States government support to hold on to power until his own overthrow in February 1979.
- 1954 Guatemala In a CIA operation code named Operation PBSUCCESS, the U.S. government executed a coup d'état that was successful in overthrowing the democratically-elected government of President Jacobo Árbenz and installed the first of a line of brutal right-wing dictators in its place. The perceived success of the operation made it a model for future CIA operations because the CIA lied to the president of the United States when briefing him regarding the number of casualties.
- 1958 Lebanon crisis. The President of the United States, Eisenhower authorized Operation Blue Bat on July 15, 1958. This was the first application of the Eisenhower Doctrine under which the U.S. announced that it would intervene to protect regimes it considered threatened by international communism. The goal of the operation was to bolster the pro-Western Lebanese government of President Camille Chamoun against internal opposition and threats from Syria and Egypt.
- 1961 Cuba Bay of Pigs Invasion The CIA orchestrated a force composed of CIA-trained Cuban exiles to invade Cuba with support and encouragement from the US government, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was launched in April 1961, three months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in the United States. TheCuban armed forces, trained and equipped by Eastern Bloc nations, defeated the invading combatants within three days.
- 1960s. Operation MONGOOSE was a US government effort to overthrow the government of Cuba. The operation included economic warfare, including an embargo against Cuba, “to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba's economic needs,” a diplomatic initiative to isolate Cuba, and psychological operations “to turn the peoples' resentment increasingly against the regime.” The economic warfare prong of the operation also included the infiltration by the CIA of operatives to carry out many acts of sabotage against civilian targets, such as a railway bridge, a molasses storage facilities, an electric power plant, and the sugar harvest, notwithstanding Cuba’s repeated requests to the United States government to cease its terrorist operations. In addition, the CIA orchestrated a number of assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, head of government of Cuba, including attempts that entailed CIA collaboration with the American mafia.
- 1965 Dominican Republic. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, convinced of the defeat of the Loyalist forces and fearing the creation of "a second Cuba" on America's doorstep, ordered U.S. forces to restore order. The decision to intervene militarily in the Dominican Republic was Lyndon Johnson's personal decision. All civilian advisers had recommended against immediate intervention hoping that the Loyalist side could bring an end to the civil war.
President Johnson took the advice of his Ambassador in Santo Domingo, W. Tapley Bennett, who suggested that the US interpose its forces between the rebels and those of the junta, thereby effecting a cease-fire. Chief of Staff General Wheeler told a subordinate: "Your unannounced mission is to prevent the Dominican Republic from going Communist." A fleet of 41 vessels was sent to blockade the island, and an invasion was launched. Ultimately, 42,000 soldiers and marines were ordered to the Dominican Republic.
- 1973 Chilean coup d'état was the overthrow of democratically elected President Salvador Allende by the Chilean armed forces and national police. This followed an extended period of social and political unrest between the right dominated Congress of Chile and Allende, as well as economic warfare ordered by US President Richard Nixon. The regime of Augusto Pinochet that followed is notable for having, by conservative estimates, disappeared some 3200 political dissidents, imprisoned 30,000 (many of whom were tortured), and forced some 200,000 Chileans into exile. The CIA, through Project FUBELT (also known as Track II), worked to secretly engineer the conditions for the coup. The US initially denied any involvement, and though many relevant documents have been declassified in the decades since, a US president has yet to issue any apology for the incident.
As a prelude, see the 1970 assassination of the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, Rene Schneider.
- 1979-1989 Afghanistan. In what was known as "Operation Cyclone," the U.S. government secretly provided weapons and funding for the Mujahadin Islamic guerillas of Afghanistan fighting to overthrow the Afghan government and the Soviet military forces that supported it. Supplies were channeled through the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. Although Operation Cyclone officially ended in 1989 with the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, U.S. government funding for the Mujahadin continued through 1992.
- Destabilizing Nicaragua 1982-1989. The U.S. government attempted to topple the government of Nicaragua by secretly arming, training and funding the Contras, a terrorist group based in Honduras that was created to sabotage Nicaragua and to destabilize the Nicaraguan government. As part of the training, the CIA distributed a detailed "terror manual" entitled "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla War," which instructed the Contras, among other things, on how to blow up public buildings, to assassinate judges, to create martyrs, and to blackmail ordinary citizens. In addition to orchestrating the Contras, the U.S. government also blew up bridges and mined Corinto harbor, causing the sinking of several civilian Nicaraguan and foreign ships and many civilian deaths. After the Boland Amendment made it illegal for the U.S. government to provide funding for Contra activities, the administration of President Reagan secretly sold arms to the Iranian government to fund a secret U.S. government apparatus that continued illegally to fund the Contras, in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair. The U.S. continued to arm and train the Contras even after the Sandanista government of Nicaragua won the elections of 1984.
- 1983 Grenada. In what the U.S. government called Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. military invaded the tiny island nation of Grenada to remove the Marxist government of Grenada that the Reagan Administration found objectionable. The United Nations General Assembly called the U.S. invasion "a flagrant violation of international law" but a similar resolution widely supported in the United Nations Security Council was vetoed by the U.S.
- 1989 Panama In December 1989, in a military operation code-named Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invaded Panama. President George H. W. Bush launched the war ten years after the Torrijos–Carter Treaties were ratified to transfer control of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama by the year 2000.
The U.S. deposed de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega and brought him to the United States, president-elect Guillermo Endara was sworn into office, and thePanamanian Defense Force was dissolved.
After the dissolution of the USSR
- 1991 Kuwait - The Persian Gulf War (2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991), codenamed Operation Desert Storm (17 January 1991 – 28 February 1991) commonly referred to as simply theGulf War, was a war waged by a UN-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait. The U.S. led coalition repelled the Iraqi forces from Kuwait and returned the emir into power.
- 1991 Haiti. Eight months after what was widely reckoned as the first honest election held in Haiti, the newly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed by the Haitian army. It is alleged by some that the CIA "paid key members of the coup regime forces, identified as drug traffickers, for information from the mid-1980s at least until the coup." Coup leaders Cédras and François had received military training in the United States.
Iraq (orthographic projection)
- 1991-2003 Iraq Following the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. government successfully advocated that the pre-war sanctions be made more comprehensive, which the UN Security Council did in April 1991 by adopting Resolution 687. After the UN imposed the tougher sanctions, select U.S. officials stated in May 1991—when it was widely expected that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein faced imminent collapse—that the sanctions would not be lifted until after Saddam's ouster. However, numerous U.S. officials subsequently clarified that the sanctions could be lifted if Iraq complied with all of the UN resolutions it was violating, but not just with UN weapons inspections. Studies dispute the number of people who died in south and central Iraq during the years of the sanctions. However, an oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.
- 1994-2003 Iraq. The CIA launched DBACHILLES, a coup d'état operation against the Iraqi government, recruiting Ayad Allawi, who headed the Iraqi National Accord, a network of Iraqis who opposed the Saddam Hussein government, as part of the operation. The network included Iraqi military and intelligence officers but was penetrated by people loyal to the Iraqi government. Also using Ayad Allawi and his network, the CIA directed a government sabotage and bombing campaign in Baghdad between 1992 and 1995, against targets that—according to the Iraqi government at the time—killed many civilians including people in a crowded movie theater. The CIA bombing campaign may have been merely a test of the operational capacity of the CIA's network of assets on the ground and not intended to be the launch of the coup strike itself. The coup was unsuccessful, but Ayad Allawi was later installed as prime minister of Iraq by the Iraq Interim Governing Council, which had been created by the U.S.-led coalition following the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 1998 the U.S. enacted the "Iraq Liberation Act," which states, in part, that "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," and appropriated funds for U.S. aid "to the Iraqi democratic opposition organizations."
Iran (orthographic projection)
- Iran After 2003, news outlets reported that the U.S. was supporting Iranian opposition groups. However, a later study of Iran–United States relations argued that while Israeli officials had proposed such "extreme measures," "Washington completely rejected these schemes."
- 2005 Iran According to U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources, beginning in 2005 the U.S. government secretly encouraged and advised a Pakistani Balochi militant group named Jundullah that is responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran. Jundullah, led by Abd el Malik Regi, sometimes known as "Regi," was suspected of being associated with al Qaida, a charge that the group has denied. ABC News learned from tribal sources that money for Jundullah was routed to the group through Iranian exiles. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture," according to Professor Vali Nasr. U.S. intelligence sources later claimed that the orchestration of Jundallah operations was, in actuality, an Israeli Mossad false flag operation that Israeli agents disguised to make it appear to be the work of American intelligence.
- 2011 Libya. The US was part of a multi-state coalition that began a military intervention in Libya to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which was taken in response to events during the Libyan Civil War, and military operations began, with US and British naval forces firing over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles, the French and British Air Forcesundertaking sorties across Libya and a naval blockade by Coalition forces. Air strikes against Libyan Army tanks and vehicles by French jets were since confirmed.
Occupied Palestinian Territories
- 2006-2007 Palestinian territories. In the Fatah-Hamas conflict, the U.S. government pressured the Fatah faction of the Palestinian leadership to topple the Hamas government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The Bush Administration was displeased with the government that the majority of the Palestinian people elected in the January Palestinian legislative election of 2006. The U.S. government set up a secret training and armaments program that received tens of millions of dollars in Congressional funding, but also, like in theIran-contra scandal, a more secret Congress-circumventing source of funding for Fatah to launch a bloody war against the Haniyeh government. The war was brutal, with many casualties and with Fatah kidnapping and torturing civilian leaders of Hamas, sometimes in front of their own families, and setting fire to a university in Gaza. When the government of Saudi Arabia attempted to negotiate a truce between the sides so as to avoid a wide-scale Palestinian civil war, the U.S. government pressured Fatah to reject the Saudi plan and to continue the effort to topple the Faniyeh government. Ultimately, the Faniyeh government was prevented from ruling over all of the Palestinian territories, with Hamas retreating to the Gaza strip and Fatah retreating to the West Bank.
- 2005-present Syria Starting in 2005, the US government launched a policy of regime change against the Syrian government by funding Syrian opposition groups working to topple the Syrian government, attempting to block foreign direct investment in Syria, attempting to frustrate Syrian government efforts at economic reform and prosperity and thus legitimacy for the regime, and getting other governments diplomatically to isolate Syria. The Obama administration starting in 2009 continued such policies while taking steps toward diplomatic engagement with the Syrian government and denying that it was engaging in regime change. After the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the U.S. government called on Syrian PresidentBashar Al Assad to “step aside” and imposed an oil embargo against the Syrian government to bring it to its knees. Starting in 2013, the U.S. also provided training, weapons and cash to Syrian Islamic and secular insurgents fighting to topple the Syrian government.
On the 30th March 2017, Ambassador Nikki Haley told a group of reporters that the US's priority in Syria was no longer on "getting Assad out." Earlier that day at a news conference inAnkara, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said that the "longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people."
However, on 4 April 2017, the U.S. and other countries accused Bashar Al-Assad of being responsible for a chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun. The Syrian government denied this and efforts to launch United Nations investigations into the attack later failed due to disagreement in the security council although an OPCW investigation did begin. Two days later, Rex Tillersonsaid that Assad should have no role in Syria, signalling a shift in policy, only days after the US said that their priority was no longer on "getting Assad out." On 7 April 2017, the US launched a missile strike on a Syrian air force base where the chemical weapons attack was alleged to have originated from, which was the US's first direct military action against the Syrian government. At least six people were reported to have been killed by the strike. On the orders of President Donald Trump, two destroyers which were stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat airfield at around 04:40 Syrian time. According to the Pentagon, they targeted aircraft, aircraft shelters, storage areas, ammunition supply bunkers and air defence systems. Russia condemned the strike, calling it "an act of aggression against a sovereign nation", while allies of the US, including the United Kingdom, France,Germany, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Canada, supported the attack.
During the modern era, Americans were involved in numerous covert regime change efforts. During the Cold War in particular, the U.S. government secretly supported military coups that overthrew democratically elected governments in Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973.