Discussion paper

DP16585 When Interventions Fail: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Latin America

On August 30, 2021, the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence in the country. During the intervention, the Americans had tried to improve the capacity of the Afghan state, maintain political stability, and end endemic political violence. While the U.S. intervention prevented violent extraconstitutional overthrows, it failed to improve Afghan state capacity or to end the war. The Afghan government fell to Taliban insurgents even before the Americans had fully departed. Afghanistan, however, was not the first American intervention that had these three aims. Over the first third of the 20th century, the U.S. intervened regularly across Latin America. We use this historical experience to test whether these earlier interventions produced similar outcomes and extract lessons. We find that U.S. interventions decreased state capacity but promoted political stability and peace --for only as long as American officials were present. The Afghan experience, despite the rapid fall of the regime, does not appear to be an outlier.


Arroyo Abad, L and N Maurer (2021), ‘DP16585 When Interventions Fail: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Latin America‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16585. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16585