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Regime Change Rarely Succeeds. When Will the U.S. Learn?

Cato Recent Op Eds - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 16:25

Benjamin Denison

Even after watching the chaos produced in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya following regime change, some in Washington have continued to advocate similar policies toward VenezuelaIranNorth Korea and elsewhere. The belief that removing a foreign government can quickly and easily promote U.S. interests by force still resonates, as we have most recently seen in the response to the escalating tensions with Iran. And that is far from the only example.

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The recently released Afghanistan Papers highlight how, for years, overly optimistic policymakers misled the public about the prospects of building a viable Afghan state. Implicit in most of the documents is a feeling that, with the correct strategy or more investment, the war in Afghanistan could have succeeded.

Yet the Afghanistan war was not exceptional. It simply continued the trend of regime change leading to adverse outcomes rather than greater U.S. security.

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Regime change operations are a roll of the dice that are unlikely to produce a winner.

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Forcible regime change, or using military force to overthrow a foreign government, can be enticing when a regime appears to be threatening U.S. security. The logic is that when a regime continues to work against U.S. interests, replacing the regime can be a quick and easy way to change this pattern rather than sustained military action or diplomatic negotiation.

The problem, however, is that a resounding amount of research has shown that regime change rarely succeeds. Regardless of the goal, regime change mostly fails to produce better economic conditions, build lasting democracy or promote more stable relations to advance U.S. interests. From Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the 1910s, to South Vietnam in the 1960s, to Iraq in the 2000s, the United States failed to achieve these goals over 110 years of regime-change missions.

And when regime change does not achieve these goals, it can provoke a civil war — as it did in Congo following the regime change mission in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) in 1960 to oust Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba — degrade respect for human rights and create more instability. Worse, rather than being a quick and easy policy success, the instability created after a regime is deposed often leads to lengthy nation-building projects that policymakers never intended.

There have been some successful cases of regime change, such as in Germany and Japan after World War II. Some argue that regime change succeeded in these cases because of sustained and substantial economic investment, such as the Marshall Plan, or because of the correct state-building strategy. These earlier successes had more to do with the preconditions in both countries, such as previous experience with democracy, a robust existing government bureaucracy or high economic modernization. Rather than prototypical cases of regime change, they are exceptions that prove the rule: Even with the best conditions present, regime change is difficult and requires massive investment.

Unfortunately, proponents of forcible regime change continue to claim that it can be quick and cheap and will not expand into the lengthy and costly missions that have taken place in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Instead of admitting that they do not know what local conditions will look like after a change of regime, policymakers often ask local opposition movements, who tell them what they want to hear rather than an unbiased picture of what is most likely to happen. This encourages over-optimistic assumptions and biased thinking about how the mission will go, and less consideration of the costs if it turns out differently.

To avoid future quagmires, policymakers need to recognize that regime change operations are a roll of the dice that are unlikely to produce a winner. Given the human, economic and security costs that accompany these poor odds, policymakers must instead ask whether regime change would still be worth it if it is not the quick mission they envision.

Following the mission to oust Moammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, President Barack Obama resisted calls to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, in part, because there was no credible guarantee it would not devolve into the same chaos as found in Libya or Iraq. Similarly, instead of focusing on how desirable regime change in a particular country might be, policymakers need to ask whether the small chance of success is worth the high probability that regime change will produce a dysfunctional state that still poses a security threat.

As the fallout from the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani continues to unfold, regime-change advocates will once again argue this is the first step toward removing the current regime in Tehran. But a key lesson to take from the Afghanistan Papers and more than a century of history is that a better strategy for regime change will not improve the chances that it will succeed. Instead, only by avoiding regime change altogether can the United States avoid future Afghanistan-like quagmires.

Benjamin Denison is a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and the author of the just released Cato Policy Analysis &ldquoThe More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The Failure of Regime-Change Operations.”

How to Take the Shackles Off African Businesses

Cato Recent Op Eds - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 14:32

Tanja Porčnik

Though African nations have enhanced economic freedom since the beginning of the new millennium, most have a long way to go before fully embracing the rule of law and economic liberalisation, which would unquestionably spur economic growth and prosperity.

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The Fraser Institute’s annual Economic Freedom of the World report measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries support economic freedom. Essentially, the report measures economic freedom through a lens of personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to enter markets and compete, and security of the person and privately owned property.

The 2019 report, which ranks 162 countries and territories, finds stark differences among African countries, with Mauritius being the freest at ninth place and Libya the least free at 161. Despite its immense wealth in mineral and natural resources, Africa is the most economically unfree continent. Indeed, seven out of 47 African countries that are included in the report are among the bottom 10 when it comes to economic freedom, and more than half of them rank in the lowest quartile. Why should these findings worry Africans?

Economic freedom matters. According to more than 1,000 researchers in top peer-reviewed academic journals, people living in countries with high levels of economic freedom have higher levels of income, experience more rapid economic growth, have lower poverty rates, enjoy more political rights and civil liberties, and see lower gender and income inequalities. For example, countries in the top quartile of economic freedom had an average per capita GDP of $36,770 in 2017, compared with $6,140 for bottom quartile nations.

Unfortunately, 28 out of 47 scored African nations fall into this bottom quartile. In the top quartile, the average income of the poorest 10% is eight times higher than in the bottom quartile. Unsurprisingly, in the top quartile only 2% of the population live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, compared with 27% in the lowest quartile.

Indisputably, development in Africa is contingent upon the promotion of economic freedom. To achieve this end African countries need strong rule of law and secure property rights, lower and simpler regulation, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), openness to foreign direct investment, stable currencies and good governance.

Africa has a unique problem: its informal economy accounts for as much as 80% of the region’s GDP and as much as 80% of employment. Research consistently shows that for business owners in Africa among the main factors pushing people out of the formal economy are overzealous regulatory mandates, high taxes, bureaucracy, corruption and weak rule of law. All of them are a reflection of low levels of economic freedom.

Here is the reality: African economies will keep underperforming until businesses that today operate outside the legal framework opt to transfer into the formal economy. Why is this important? The path to unlocking prosperity in Africa is paved with the building blocks that formalise the economy. Registered businesses create more jobs, record higher investment, enjoy legal protection against fraud, and have access to credit and capital, which creates opportunities for higher productivity and growth.

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Africa is the most economically unfree continent and that is what keeps it poor

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To attract businesses into the formal economy, African governments must increase economic freedom by doing two things: establish secure property rights and strengthen the rule of law, and scale back on regulatory mandates and taxes.

First, with private property protections it is crucial to emphasise that formal land titles not only tackle widespread property fraud but are also a prerequisite for Africans to be able to leverage their assets to engage in economic activities such as borrowing money, starting a business or assuring their business.

Importantly, establishing secure property rights for assets that are informally held would, as the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto estimates, unlock $10-trillion of “dead capital” across the developing world, much of it in Africa. To unshackle this wealth, governments in Africa need to foster a more robust rule of law.

Second, high taxes and onerous regulations, such as lengthy and costly registration requirements, licensing and inspection requirements, are discouraging entrepreneurs in African nations from starting businesses and expanding them, or even pushing them into the informal economy.

Though economic freedom in Africa is higher than ever before, the continent has a long way to go before fully embracing free and open markets. Crucially, Africans need to muster the determination to stand up to their ruling elites, who generally oppose reforms towards economic liberalism. For better or worse, with these choices the future is in the hands of Africans themselves.

Tanja Porčnik is a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute specializing in economic and human freedom studies.

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