Reagan Doctrine: Wikis


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The Reagan Doctrine was a strategy orchestrated and implemented by the United States under the Reagan Administration to oppose the global influence of the Soviet Union during the final years of the Cold War. While the doctrine lasted less than a decade, it was the centerpiece of United States foreign policy from the early 1980s until the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. provided overt and covert aid to right-wing guerrillas and resistance movements in an effort to "rollback" Soviet-backed left-wing governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The doctrine was designed to serve the dual purposes of diminishing Soviet influence in these regions, while also potentially opening the door for capitalism (and sometimes liberal democracy) in nations that were largely being governed by Soviet-supported socialist governments.


History of U.S. Presidential "doctrines"

The Reagan Doctrine followed in the post-World War II tradition of U.S. Presidents developing foreign policy "doctrines," which were designed to reflect these Presidents' global challenges and proposed foreign policy solutions to them.

The tradition started with the 1947 Truman Doctrine, under which the U.S. provided support to Greece and Turkey as part of a Cold War strategy to keep these two European nations out of the Soviet sphere of influence. The Truman Doctrine was followed by the Eisenhower Doctrine, the Kennedy Doctrine, the Johnson Doctrine and the Nixon Doctrine, all of which defined the foreign policy approaches of these respective U.S. Presidents on some of the largest global challenges of their administrations.

Origins of the Reagan Doctrine

Carter administration and Afghanistan

At least one component of the Reagan Doctrine technically pre-dated the Reagan Presidency. Following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Carter administration began providing limited covert military assistance to Afghanistan's mujahideen, in an effort to drive the Soviets out of the nation, or at least raise the military and political cost of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The policy of aiding the mujahideen in their war against the Soviet occupation was originally proposed by Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and was implemented by U.S. intelligence services. It enjoyed broad bipartisan political support.

Although the CIA in general and Charlie Wilson, a Texas Congressman, have received most of the attention, the key architect of this strategy was Michael G. Vickers, a young Paramilitary Officer.[1]Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon official, implemented Reagan Doctrine initiatives including the Stinger missile decision. President Reagan's Covert Action program has been given credit for assisting in ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.[2][3]

Remains of Soviet military vehicles in Kandahar, Afghanistan following an attack by the U.S.-backed mujahideen.

Heritage Foundation initiatives

With the arrival of the Reagan administration, the Heritage Foundation and other conservative foreign policy think tanks saw a political opportunity to significantly expand Carter's Afghanistan policy into a more global "doctrine," including U.S. support to anti-communist resistance movements in Soviet-allied nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. According to the book Rollback, "it was the Heritage Foundation that translated theory into concrete policy. Heritage targeted nine nations for rollback: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, Nicaragua and Vietnam."[4]

Throughout the 1980s, the Heritage Foundation's foreign policy expert on the Third World, Michael Johns, the foundation's principal Reagan Doctrine advocate, visited with resistance movements in Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and other Soviet-supported nations and urged the Reagan administration to initiate or expand military and political support to them. Heritage Foundation foreign policy experts also endorsed the Reagan Doctrine in two of their Mandate for Leadership books, which provided comprehensive policy advice to Reagan administration officials.[5]

The result was that, in addition to Afghanistan, the Reagan Doctrine was rather quickly applied in Angola and Nicaragua, with the U.S. providing military support to the UNITA movement in Angola and the "contras" in Nicaragua, but without a declaration of war against either country. Speaking to the Heritage Foundation in October 1989, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi called the Heritage Foundation's efforts "a source of great support. No Angolan will forget your efforts. You have come to Jamba, and you have taken our message to Congress and the Administration."[6] U.S. aid to UNITA began to flow overtly after Congress repealed the Clark Amendment, a long-standing legislative prohibition on military aid to UNITA. Savimbi told the Heritage Foundation in 1989 that the amendment's repeal was "very much associated with your efforts. This foundation has been a source of great support."[6]

Following these victories, Johns and the Heritage Foundation urged further expanding the Reagan Doctrine to Ethiopia, where they argued that the Ethiopian famine was a product of the military and agricultural policies of Ethiopia's Soviet-supported Mengistu Haile Mariam government. Johns and Heritage also argued that Mengistu's decision to permit a Soviet naval and air presence on the Red Sea ports of Eritrea represented a strategic challenge to U.S. security interests in the Middle East and North Africa.[7]

The Heritage Foundation and the Reagan administration also sought to apply the Reagan Doctrine in Cambodia. The largest resistance movement fighting Cambodia's communist government was comprised largely of members of the former Khmer Rouge regime, whose human rights record was among the worst of the 20th century. Johns, however, returned from a visit inside Cambodia, urging the Reagan administration to support a smaller Cambodian resistance movement, a coalition of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, known as the KPNLF and then run by Son Sann, and the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, known as the CGDK and run by Norodom Sihanouk. One of the few Americans permitted access to the CGDK/KPNLF forces inside Cambodia, Johns argued that U.S. aid to the CGDK/KPNLF would strengthen the coalition as a non-communist, democratic political alternative in the country.[8]

Reagan administration advocates

The U.S.-supported Nicaraguan contras.

Within the Reagan administration, the doctrine was quickly embraced by nearly all of Reagan's top national security and foreign policy officials, including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and a series of Reagan National Security advisers including John Poindexter, Frank Carlucci and Colin Powell.

Reagan himself was a vocal proponent of the policy. Seeking to expand Congressional support for the doctrine in his February 1985 State of the Union Address, Reagan said: "We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives...on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua... to defy Soviet aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth. Support for freedom fighters is self-defense."

As part of his effort to gain Congressional support for the Nicaraguan contras, Reagan labeled the contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers," which was controversial because the contras had shown a disregard for human rights.[9] There also were allegations that some members of the contra leadership were involved in cocaine trafficking.[10]

Relative to the large-scale atrocities allegedly committed by communist regimes to which the Reagan administration was vehemently opposed, these losses were infinitesimally small. Yet considering that these particular claims of atrocity by Communist nations are almost entirely derived from incidents occurring within the Stalinist Soviet Union and Maoist China, it is dubious to justify the human rights violations executed by US/CIA-backed "freedom fighter" militias by drawing such comparison. Furthermore, It is equally inaccurate to claim that mass atrocities are somehow part-and-parcel with all Marxist states, while somehow all pro-capitalist states are happily free from such horrors, considering that the "pro-Soviet" or Socialist regimes these "freedom fighters" were fighting against (i.e entities in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Angola, Laos, Libya, Vietnam, and Cambodia) are not listed as commiters of said mass atrocities and so- called "democide". The only exception to this is Cambodia, however the mass atrocities committed by the Khmer Rogue in that country were not the entity the US-backed militias were fighting against, and in fact were no longer in power when the Reagan Doctrine began to exert its influence there.[11]

Reagan and other conservative advocates of the Reagan Doctrine advocates also argued that the doctrine served U.S. foreign policy and strategic objectives and was a moral imperative against the former Soviet Union, which Reagan, his advisers and supporters labeled an "evil empire."

Other advocates

Other early conservative advocates for the Reagan Doctrine included influential conservative activist Grover Norquist, who ultimately became a registered UNITA lobbyist and an economic adviser to Savimbi's UNITA movement in Angola,[12] and former Reagan speechwriter and current U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who made several secret visits with the mujahideen in Afghanistan and returned with glowing reports of their bravery against the Soviet occupation.[13] Rohrabacher was led to Afghanistan by his contact with the mujahideen, Jack Wheeler.[citation needed]

Phrase's origin

In 1985, as U.S. support was flowing to the mujahideen, Savimbi's UNITA, and the Nicaraguan contras, columnist Charles Krauthammer, in an essay for Time magazine, labeled the policy the "Reagan Doctrine," and the name stuck.[14]

"Rollback" replaces "containment"

U.S.-supported UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi.

The Reagan Doctrine was especially significant because it represented a substantial shift in the post-World War II foreign policy of the U.S. Prior to the Reagan Doctrine, U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War was rooted in "containment," as originally defined by George F. Kennan, John Foster Dulles and other post-World War II U.S. foreign policy experts.

Although a similar policy of "rollback" had been considered on a few occasions during the Cold War, the U.S. government, fearing an escalation of the Cold War and possible nuclear conflict, chose not to confront the Soviet Union directly. With the Reagan Doctrine, those fears were set aside and the U.S. began to openly confront Soviet-supported governments through support of rebel movements in the doctrine's targeted countries.

One perceived benefit of the Reagan Doctrine was the relatively low cost of supporting guerilla forces compared to the Soviet Union's expenses in propping up client states. Another benefit was the lack of direct involvement of American troops, which allowed the U.S. to confront Soviet allies without sustaining casualties.

Covert implementation

As the Reagan administration set about implementing the Heritage Foundation plan in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua, it first attempted to do so covertly, not as part of official policy. "The Reagan government's initial implementation of the Heritage plan was done covertly," according to the book Rollback, "following the longstanding custom that containment can be overt but rollback should be covert."[15] Ultimately, however, the administration supported the policy more openly.

Congressional votes

While the doctrine benefited from strong support from the Reagan administration, the Heritage Foundation and several influential Members of Congress, many votes on critical funding for resistance movements, especially the Nicaraguan contras, were extremely close, making the Reagan Doctrine one of the more contentious American political issues of the late 1980s.[16]

Reagan Doctrine and the Cold War's end

As arms flowed to the contras, Savimbi's UNITA and the mujahideen, the Reagan Doctrine's advocates argued that the doctrine was yielding constructive results for U.S. interests and global democracy.

In Nicaragua, pressure from the Contras swayed the majority of Nicaraguan voters against the Sandinistas in the 1990 election. In Afghanistan, the mujahideen bled the Soviet Union's military, fostered discontent among the families of Soviet soldiers sent to fight the long-running war, and stirred up nationalist feeling in the Islamic-populated Republics of the Soviet Union. In Angola, Savimbi's resistance ultimately led to a decision by the Soviet Union and Cuba to bring their troops and military advisors home from Angola as part of a negotiated settlement.

All of these developments were Reagan Doctrine victories, the doctrine's advocates argue, laying the ground for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.[17]

Soviet troops withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1988.

Thatcher's view

Among others, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, has credited the Reagan Doctrine with aiding the end of the Cold War. In December 1997, Thatcher said that the Reagan Doctrine "proclaimed that the truce with communism was over. The West would henceforth regard no area of the world as destined to forego its liberty simply because the Soviets claimed it to be within their sphere of influence. We would fight a battle of ideas against communism, and we would give material support to those who fought to recover their nations from tyranny."[18]

Death of Savimbi and Contra leaders

While resistance movement leaders in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua were strengthened considerably by U.S. military support, their role as leaders of these anti-communist movements also made them understandable enemies of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-allied governments they were fighting. The result was that these resistance movement leaders faced repeated assassination attempts, and were prime military targets in the wars in their respective countries.

In February 1991, following a ceasefire and while negotiations were taking place for possible elections in Nicaragua between the Sandinista government and the contras, the contras' top military commander, Enrique Bermúdez, was shot and killed by an assassin in Managua. Bermúdez' murder briefly ended the Nicaraguan ceasefire, as contra fighters resumed fighting.

In February 2002, UNITA's Jonas Savimbi was killed by Angolan military forces in an ambush in eastern Angola. Savimbi was succeeded by a series of UNITA leaders, but the movement was so closely associated with Savimbi that it never recovered the political and military clout it held at the height of its influence in the late 1980s.

End of Reagan Doctrine

The Reagan Doctrine, while closely associated with the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan and his administration, continued into the administration of Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, who assumed the U.S. Presidency in January 1989. But Bush's Presidency featured the final year of the Cold War and the Gulf War, and the Reagan Doctrine soon faded from U.S. policy as the Cold War began to end.[19] Bush also noted a peace dividend to the end of the Cold War with economic benefits of a decrease in defense spending. After the presidency of Bill Clinton, a change in United States foreign policy was introduced with the presidency of his son George W. Bush and the new Bush Doctrine, who increased military spending from the former presidency of Bill Clinton.

In Nicaragua, the Contra War ended after the Sandinista government, facing military and political pressure, agreed to new elections, in which the contras' political wing participated, in 1990. In Angola, an agreement in 1989 met Savimbi's demand for the removal of Soviet, Cuban and other military troops and advisers from Angola. Also in 1989, in relation to Afghanistan, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev labeled the war against the U.S.-supported mujahideen a "bleeding wound" and ended the Soviet occupation of the country.[20]


U.S. role in atrocities and terrorism in Central America

Historian Greg Grandin described a disjuncture between official ideals preached by the U.S. and actual U.S. support for terrorism. “Nicaragua, where the United States backed not a counter insurgent state but anti-communist mercenaries, likewise represented a disjuncture between the idealism used to justify U.S. policy and its support for political terrorism... The corollary to the idealism embraced by the Republicans in the realm of diplomatic public policy debate was thus political terror. In the dirtiest of Latin America’s dirty wars, their faith in America’s mission justified atrocities in the name of liberty.” [21] Grandin examined the behaviour of the U.S. backed-contras and found evidence that it was particularly inhumane and vicious: "In Nicaragua, the U.S.-backed Contras decapitated, castrated, and otherwise mutilated civilians and foreign aid workers. Some earned a reputation for using spoons to gorge their victims eye’s out. In one raid, Contras cut the breasts of a civilian defender to pieces and ripped the flesh off the bones of another.” [22]

Professor Frederick H. Gareau has written that the Contras "attacked bridges, electric generators, but also state-owned agricultural cooperatives, rural health clinics, villages and non-combatants." U.S. agents were directly involved in the fighting. "CIA commandos launched a series of sabotage raids on Nicaraguan port facilities. They mined the country's major ports and set fire to its largest oil storage facilities." In 1984 the U.S. Congress ordered this intervention to be stopped, however it was later shown that the CIA illegally continued (See Iran-Contra affair). Gareau has characterized these acts as "wholesale terrorism" by the United States.[23]

A CIA manual for training the Nicaraguan Contras in psychological operations, leaked to the media in 1984, entitled "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla War".[24] recommended “selective use of violence for propagandistic effects” and to “neutralize” government officials. Nicaraguan Contras were taught to lead:

...selective use of armed force for PSYOP psychological operations effect.... Carefully selected, planned targets  — judges, police officials, tax collectors, etc.  — may be removed for PSYOP effect in a UWOA unconventional warfare operations area, but extensive precautions must insure that the people “concur” in such an act by thorough explanatory canvassing among the affected populace before and after conduct of the mission.
James Bovard, Freedom Daily[25]

In a similar vein, former U.S. State Department official William Blum has written that "American pilots were flying diverse kinds of combat missions against Nicaraguan troops and carrying supplies to contras inside Nicaraguan territory. Several were shot down and killed. Some flew in civilian clothes, after having been told that they would be disavowed by the Pentagon if captured. Some contras told American congressmen that they were ordered to claim responsibility for a bombing raid organized by the CIA and flown by Agency mercenaries."[26] Similalry, former diplomat Clara Nieto, in her book "Masters of War", charged that "the CIA launched a series of terrorist actions from the “mothership” off Nicaragua’s coast. In September 1983, she charged the agency attacked Puerto Sandino with rockets. The following month, frogmen blew up the underwater oil pipeline in the same port- the only one in the country. In October there was an attack on Pierto Corinto, Nicaragua’s largest port, with mortars, rockets and grenades, blowing up five large oil and gasoline storage tanks. More than a hundred people were wounded, and the fierce fire, which could not be brought under control for two days, forced the evacuation of 23,000 people.” [27]

Overextending U.S. foreign policy

Also, while the Reagan Doctrine enjoyed strong support from conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, the libertarian-oriented Cato Institute opposed the Reagan Doctrine, arguing in 1986 that "most Third World struggles take place in arenas and involve issues far removed from legitimate American security needs. U.S. involvement in such conflicts expands the republic's already overextended commitments without achieving any significant prospective gains. Instead of draining Soviet military and financial resources, we end up dissipating our own."

Even Cato, however, conceded that the Reagan Doctrine had "fired the enthusiasm of the conservative movement in the United States as no foreign policy issue has done in decades." While opposing the Reagan Doctrine as an official governmental policy, Cato instead urged Congress to remove the legal barriers prohibiting private organizations and citizens from supporting these resistance movements.[28]


Especially since the September 11 attacks, some Reagan Doctrine critics have argued that, by facilitating the transfer of large amounts of weapons to various areas of the world and by training military leaders in these regions, the Reagan Doctrine actually contributed to "blowback" by strengthening some political and military movements that ultimately developed hostility toward the United States, such as al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.[29]

Drug allegations

Finally, there was criticism by Reagan Doctrine opponents that, because some of the resistance movements supported by the Reagan Doctrine were allegedly involved in drug trafficking and human rights abuses, that they did not hold the moral or ethical values that warranted U.S. support. The Progressive Review and other contra opponents alleged, for instance, that the Nicaraguan contra leadership was involved in the trafficking of cocaine.[30]

One of the CIA's longest and most expensive covert operations was the supplying of billions of dollars in arms to the Afghan mujahideen militants.[31] The largest recipient of US funding for the mujahideen was the Hizb party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who received more than a half a billion dollars of American funding funneled through the Pakistani ISI.[32] [33] [34] The CIA allegedly also gave Hekmatyar immunity for his illegal drug trade activities.[35]

See also

Reagan Doctrine and Reagan foreign policy

Reagan Doctrine criticism

Reagan Doctrine in popular culture

See also

Further Reading

  • Meiertöns, Heiko (2010): The Doctrines of US Security Policy - An Evaluation under International Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-13: 9780521766487.


  1. ^ Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. Atlantic Monthly Press, page 246, 285 and 302
  2. ^
  3. ^ Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Paperback) by Peter Schweizer, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994 page 213
  4. ^ Rollback: Right-wing Power in U.S. Foreign Policy, South End Press, 1989.
  5. ^ "Think tank fosters bloodshed, terrorism," The Daily Cougar, August 25, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "The Coming Winds of Democracy in Angola," by Jonas Savimbi, Heritage Foundation Lecture #217, October 5, 1989.
  7. ^ "A U.S. Strategy to Foster Human Rights in Ethiopia, by Michael Johns, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #692, February 23, 1989.
  8. ^ "Cambodia at a Crossroads," by Michael Johns, The World and I magazine, February 1988.
  9. ^ "In Reagan's Footsteps," Jewish World Review, November 14, 2003.
  10. ^ [ "Selections from the Senate Committee Report on Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy."]
  11. ^ "How Many Did Communist Regimes Murder," "Democratic Peace Blog," November 1993.
  12. ^ "Savimbi's Shell Game,", March 1998
  13. ^ "Profile: Dana Rohrabacher," Cooperative History Research Commons, September 17, 2001.
  14. ^ "The Reagan Doctrine", by Charles Krauthammer, Time magazine, April 1, 1985.
  15. ^ .Rollback: Right-wing Power in U.S. Foreign Policy, South End Press, 1989.
  16. ^ A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990, Robert Kagan, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
  17. ^ "It Was Reagan Who Tore Down That Wall," Dinesh D'Souza, Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2004.
  18. ^ "The Principles of Conservatism," by Margaret Thatcher, Lecture to the Heritage Foundation, December 10, 1997.
  19. ^ Excerpted from The Reagan Doctrine: Third World Rollack, End Press, 1989.
  20. ^ "The Soviet Decision to Withdraw, 1986-1988" U.S. Library of Congress.
  21. ^ Grandin, Greg. Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, The United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism, Henry Holt & Company 2007, 89
  22. ^ Grandin, Greg. Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, The United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism, Henry Holt & Company 2007, 90
  23. ^ Gareau, Frederick H. (2004). State Terrorism and the United States. London: Zed Books. pp. 16 & 166. ISBN 1-84277-535-9. 
  24. ^ Blum, William (2003). Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II. Noida, India: Zed Books. pp. 290. ISBN 1-84277-369-0. 
  25. ^ Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named FFF; see Help:Cite error.
  26. ^ Blum 293.
  27. ^ Nieto, Clara. Masters of War: Latin America and United States Aggression from the Cuban Revolution Through the Clinton Years, Seven Stories Press, 2003, 343-345
  28. ^ "U.S. Aid to Anti-Communist Rebels: The 'Reagan Doctrine' and Its Pitfalls," Cato Institute, June 24, 1986.
  29. ^ "Think Tank Fosters Bloodshed, Terrorism," The Cougar, August 25, 2008.
  30. ^ "The Contras and Cocaine," Progressive Review, testimony to U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing on the Allegations of CIA Ties to Nicaraguan Contra Rebels and Crack Cocaine in American Cities, October 23, 1996.
  31. ^ Time Magazine, 13 May, 2003, "The Oily Americans,",9171,450997-2,00.html
  32. ^ Yousaf, Mohammad; Adkin, Mark (1992). Afghanistan, the bear trap: defeat of a superpower. Casemate. pp. 104. ISBN 0-9711709-2-4. 
  33. ^ Kaplan, Robert, Soldiers of God : With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, New York : Vintage Departures, 2001, Kaplan, Soldiers of God (2001), p.69
  34. ^ Bergen, Peter L., Holy war, Inc. : inside the secret world of Osama bin Laden, New York : Free Press, c2001., p.69
  35. ^ Alfred McCoy, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, Interview with Alfred Mc Coy, 9 November 1991 by Paul DeRienzo

External links

Reagan Doctrine descriptions and history

Reagan Doctrine books

Reagan Doctrine support

Reagan Doctrine criticism

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