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Why are some powers more effective than others at exporting institutions? The literature on foreign aid demonstrates that Western foreign powers have been ineffective at exporting institutions unless at least one of two conditions are met: (1) the recipient already has strong institutions, or (2) the recipient lacks strategic importance to the donor(s). However, some non-Western powers appear to have bucked this trend with successful institution-building regardless of the institutional strength or strategic importance of recipients. This paper builds an argument to explain the variation by demonstrating that foreign powers can succeed at exporting institutions when those institutions do not conflict with the recipient leaders’ strategies to survive politically. The argument is supported by evidence from the institution-building strategies employed by the United States and Iran in Iraq (post 2003) and by the United States and China in Afghanistan (post 2001).