The United States and Revolutions

Patterns of Response


  • David T. Jervis



Revolutions are rare in human history. This study details and evaluates American policy toward five truly revolutionary situations in the post-World War II era: China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, and Nicaragua. American policy in these cases progressed through four relatively distinct phases: (1) American officials failed to recognize the seriousness of the threat to the incumbent pro-American regime. (2) Once policymakers became aware of the threatening situation, they encouraged the leader in the target state to initiate reforms. (3) Failure of the reform effort and a successful opposition movement led the U.S. to seek to guide the transition to a new regime. (4) While opposed to the regime which was eventually established, the U.S. still hoped to establish productive relations with it. The prevailing pattern in these cases is attributed to a misunderstanding of Third World realities and the processes of change there, and to exaggerated notions of American influence. The concluding portion of the article recommends ways to improve American perceptions and policy in such situations.