Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Shulman, Stephen


Given the potential political, economic and reputational costs for violating international norms of sovereignty, we should expect to only rarely observe the adoption by states of risky foreign policies like destabilization (which is defined as the policy of changing the balance of power between a target government and its domestic opposition, with the aim of effecting the downfall of that target government.) Yet, history demonstrates that states regularly adopt destabilization as a foreign policy. My research addresses this puzzle: Why, given the high potential costs of violation of international norms, do policymakers opt to do so anyway? I argue that the answer lies in the breadth and intensity of conflicts of interest between destabilizing states and their targets. To illustrate my theoretical argument, I hypothesize the following: When policy makers perceive a broad and intense conflict of security, economic and ideological interests, they will adopt destabilization as a policy. In this dissertation, I look at US relations with Latin American states during the Cold War. To demonstrate my hypothesis, I perform three comparative case studies. Each comparison examines two cases which are similar in most ways except, notably, the breadth of conflict of interest perceived by the US. In each negative case, I demonstrate that two, but not three types of conflicts were present and the US did not destabilize the target government, but instead chose different policy options. In the affirmative case, I demonstrate that all three types of conflicts were present, and the US destabilized the target government. I then briefly explore South African policy toward its neighbors, to illustrate that my theoretical explanation is plausible outside of the context of US-Latin American relations. I conclude with a brief discussion on extension of the theory and implications of this study for foreign policy analysis.




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