The Global Context of Regime Change in Southeast Asia

I recently finished a draft chapter for an edited volume on Southeast Asian democratization, organized by Bill Case. My task was to write about the global context of democratization, by which I mean the ways in which international politics has shaped regime survival and breakdown in Southeast Asia. The first draft is available here.

The tricky part of this essay was clarifying what I am not arguing: that domestic political factors are some how irrelevant, or secondary, or of diminished importance in understanding regime change in Southeast Asia. I’ve done that by linking my perspective to John Smail’s plea for an “autonomous history” of Southeast Asia. Whether or not that is successful is for others to judge, but what I want to avoid is the problem of viewing, say, the coup against Ngô Đình Diệm and the transition to the Second Republic of Vietnam purely in terms of US machinations, while preserving the insight that, yes, great power politics and the CIA and the legacy of French rule all really matter for understanding that instance of regime change.

Our goal shouldn’t be to develop mono-causal accounts of regime change, but rather to emphasize the variety of different ways in which global politics may shape political dynamics. A problem, of course, which is all too pressing in light of current events in Egypt. As Max Fisher put it this morning: