In the wake of the Cold War, a new term entered the lexicon of international politics: “regime change.” It replaced an older, more familiar one: “revolution.” Revolution had roughly the same meaning as regime change, but it had a very different connotation and had outlived its usefulness.
Both terms refer to a change (usually by force) not only of a specific government but also of the kind of government. Revolution, however, with its origins in the great French upheaval of 1789, came to be associated in the 20th century with the goals of the global left. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and of orthodox Communism virtually everywhere, the word, as commonly understood, lost its relevance. While revolution was presumed to come about through the uprising of the oppressed masses, moreover, what came to be called regime change in the late-20th and early-21st centuries occurred through the exertions of the armed forces of the United States. Most important, for most of the 20th century, successful revolutions led to governments dominated by Communist parties, as in the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The American exercises in regime change, by contrast, had as their goal the installation of stable, decent, peaceful democracies.
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