Regime change in the interest of a people


One of the most interesting subjects of discussion in international relation is the issue of aregime change. This matter has generated different notions and perceptions of many groups whether to support or to oppose to its realization. In this paper, two questions are raised.
  1. Should regime change be conceptualized in International Law (what is the advantage and disadvantage)?
  2. What if regime change is done by single power (e.g. the invasion of the US in Grenada, Panama, and the latest one, in Iraq)?
Definition of regime change

"Regime change" is the substitution of one regime with another. The use of the term dates back at least 1925 although it is widely believed that this term was coined by former US President Bill Clinton. In practice, regime change can take place through occupation by a foreign power, revolution, coup d’état or reconstruction following the failure of a state. It is very often that regime change replaces all or part of the state’s existing institutions, officialdom, and system of government. The term has been used and popularized by recent US Presidents. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush used the term repeatedly referring to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Before that, Ronald Reagan called for regime change in Libya. The term can be used in a euphemistic sense to describe the unilateral imposition of one nation’s will on another through military force. The term is often used in association with measures imposed by external forces than internal revolutions and coups (, accessed on 20 Nov. 2009). Other source states that regime change can include two aspects: (1) government overthrow, that is the forcible overthrow of another nation's government by outside intervention, especially when the targeted nation is regarded as politically unstable,  and (2) leadership change, that is  a change in leadership ( change.html, accessed on 19 Nov. 2009).
Regime change: should it be conceptualized in international law?

Chapter VII of the UN Charter (articles no. 39, 41, 42 and 51) has clear guidance for the UN Security Council's authority. This chapter sets out the UN Security Council's power to maintain peace.  It allows the UN Security Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and non-military action to "restore international peace and security". Furthermore, Chapter VII also gives the Military Staff Committee responsibility for strategic coordination of forces placed at the disposal of the UN Security Council. It is made up of the chiefs of staff of the five permanent members of the Council.

With regard to the regime change, particularly to a question whether or not it should be conceptualized in International Law, I think Chapter VII of the UN Charter is enough to also include regime change for the purpose of maintaining international peace. So there is no need to create new International Law pertaining to regime change.
One of the advantages of this position is efficiency. We do not need to create new law and can use the available one. Any regime change made as long as meet the condition set by this Chapter and under the supervision of the UN Security Council is legal from the perspective of international law. Before coming to a decision to do regime change the UN Security Council should take into consideration that as members of the UN all states enjoy sovereign equality regardless differences in social, political and economic or other nature. Thus, regime change can only be done if one specific country convincingly contradicts to what have been set out in the Chapter VII concerning the breach of the peace.
However, there might also be some disadvantages belong to this position. If one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council vetoes the decision to change a regime in one specific country, because of certain interest, the action cannot be taken, unless it will be considered illegal. As long as this rule is complied by the UN Security Council there will no problematic issue concerning regime change.
Problems and difficulties when regime change is done by single power

In my opinion, regime change which is done by single power can create dilemma. Invasion which was done by the US in Grenada and Panama in the past and invasion in Iraq recently can produce controversy. I want to see this issue from two different angels. Firstly, seen from the perspective of the interest to keep peace and promoting democracy the action is problematic. On one side, those who want to see democracy applied in those respective countries will consider the action of invading and toppling leaders of these countries is right because it can create possibility for democracy to grow up and give more freedom for the citizen to express their opinion. On the other side, however, the kind of democracy (i.e. liberal democracy) which was brought and imposed by the US to these countries is questioned if it fitted or not with the context and situation in the respective countries. Every country has different type and level of democracy which is not the same between one with another. People in Southern America and Middle East have their own concept and understanding of democracy which may differ from that of people in the US. One type of democracy which is imposed into a country with different character and culture will not work well. Secondly, seen from the perspective of reciprocity principle the action of changing regime by single power (like what was done by the US) will cause chaotic situation. If one country can change the regime of its neighboring country for example, the same thing also applies to this neighboring country. In turn, it will change the regime in another country for certain reasons and interests. Regime change by single super power without mandate from the UN Security Council is illegal from the perspective of international law. If there is a country led by a dictator proved to breach peace convincingly and therefore it is necessary to do regime change to restore the peace it must be done with consent or mandate from the UN Security Council.

  • Regime change is the removing of one regime from power in a country and replaced with another, which includes government overthrow and leadership change.
  • With regard to change a regime of dictator which convincingly threatens to the international peace, I think it is enough to use Chapter VII of the UN Charter as its legal basis, which gives authority to the UN Security Council to keep the peace.
  • Regime change which is done by single power is, in my opinion, dangerous because it can create chaotic situation. Seen from the reciprocity principle every country then will claim to have the same right to change regime in another country based on its own interest.
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