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Should states use force to bring about regime change? International law recognizes no such grounds. This paper seeks to provide guidance from moral theory. The aim of this paper is to identify the moral grounds for the use of armed force by one state or a group of states, against another state, when the intention of the intervening states is to achieve a fundamental change in the character of the political and legal institutions of the other state. Lawyers tend to place the argument for regime change intervention within putative humanitarian intervention doctrines. The moral justification for humanitarian intervention is in a moral principle I call the Human Rights Principle, which provides that states may intervene militarily to stop egregious violations of basic human rights or prevent such violations when they are imminent. The Human Rights Principle does not support regime change intervention. I argue that an alternative moral principle, the Self Governance Principle, provides the moral justification for regime change intervention. Under the Self Governance Principle, legitimate states (and legitimate states only) have a collective obligation to intervene to assist citizens in an illegitimate state to bring about regime change only if a substantial likelihood exists that the citizens of the illegitimate state will form a new government in a manner meeting the conditions for national self determination, which includes the conversion of the state into a legitimate state, and post-conflict reform will a bring about a legal system meeting the conditions for the law to have practical authority to the state's population. States may comply with their collective obligation by providing just and efficacious institutions to support regime change. If the conditions in the Self Governance Principle are not met, then states must refrain from using force for regime change purposes. The conditions in the Self Governance Principle are strict and rarely met. The Iraq invasion, for example, does not meet them. Though this paper is not directly about international law, it elucidates moral principles that can inform international law. More broadly, the paper is in the tradition of conceptualizing legal and moral principles around normative reasoning and the claims to obedience these principles make on states and persons. It does not deal with causal questions whether states actually obey these principles, which, at least in the way I do philosophy here, are questions for the social sciences. This is a first draft of the paper and comments are welcome.

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Journal of Social Philosophy