The Cold War and U.S. Diplomacy

The Cold War was the dominant conflict of the Twentieth Century. More than any other event, it defined the roles that virtually all nations played for almost 50 years. It was a truly World- Wide War, a content between two rival superpowers between the U.S. and the Soviet Union which for many years held the entire planet hostage to the threat of nuclear annihilation. By the time it was over, its players had spent the staggering sum of $15 Trillion (Windle, 2011). Regan Doctrine was not a label coined by President Reagan or his administration. It was a term used later by his critics to define his foreign policy strategy for countries around the world. The Reagan Doctrine was a strategy to aid anti-communist, or more specifically, anti-Soviet insurgencies in the Third World during Reagan’s two terms as president form 1981-1989. The primary goal was to overthrow Maxist regimes and prevent Marxist regimes from becoming established. Handelman referred Maixism as “Another of communism’s appeals was its centralized, state control of the economy. A command economy, first established in the Soviet Union, has two central features. First, the state largely owns and manages the means of production.

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That includes factories, banks, major trade and commercial institutions, retail establishments, and, frequently, farms. While all communist nations have allowed some private economic activity, the private sector has been quite limited, aside from nations such as China and Vietnam, which largely abandoned Marxist economics in recent years.  Second, in a command economy, state planners, rather than market forces, shape basic decisions governing production (including the quantity and price of goods produced) (Handelman, 2011, p.278). Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. provided overt and covert aid to anti-communist guerrillas and resistance movements in an effort to “roll back” Soviet backed communist government in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The doctrine was designed to diminish Soviet influence in these regions as part of the administration’s overall Cold War strategy. Reagan wasted no time getting started in the implementation of his foreign policy.

The Administration’s first comprehensive “U.S. National Security Strategy.” Which was a document approved by the President in May of 1982, stated the objective to “contain and reverse the expansion of Soviet control and military presence throughout the world, and to increase the costs of Soviet support and use of proxy, terrorist and subversive forces.” (Presidential Studies, 2006) Reagan made staunch calls for public support in his efforts. In the State of the Union Address in 1985, for example, he stated that the U.S. must “not break faith with those who are risking their lives—on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua—to defy Soviet-supported aggression.” One year later he boldly remarked that “America will support with moral and material assistance your right not just to fight and die for freedom, but to fight and win freedom…in Afghanistan, in Angola, in Cambodia, and in Nicaragua.” (Political Science Quarterly, 2007) In most of these nations, the aggressive policies and actions of Reagan caused severe damage. In Nicaragua for example, the economy was decimated by U.S. sanctions and manipulation of its banking institutions. The Administration, supported by Congress, funded a war against the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de LiberaciónNacional, or FSLN).

It was a war fought by various Nicaraguan rebel groups, labeled the Contras, which sought to overthrow the Sandinistas, who came to power after the revolution in 1979. “The development of Contra forces began in 1981 when Reagan authorized $19.5 million in funding for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to construct a paramilitary force of 500 Nicaraguan exiles from deposed President Anastasio Somoza’s National Guard.” (International Security, 1990) Along with congressionally funded aid, members of the Reagan Administration attained additional funds through the illicit sales of arms to Iran. Funds from these sales were funneled to the Contras. When this illegal activity was revealed in the “Iran-Contra Affair” in November of 1986, it led to the indictment and conviction of many of Reagan’s staff. Reagan policy in Nicaragua was failure in many respects. The Contra war was ill-conceived and did not enjoy support of the people of Nicaragua.

The rebel forces never legitimately threatened the Sandinista government and military. The U.S. failed to gain international support for the war or its political and economic actions. In fact, Reagan was largely condemned by the international community. Domestic support and popular opinion was low as well. Reagan’s policies pushed communist nations into aiding Nicaragua. The FSLN enjoyed majority support of the people, and were not looking for a change until the end of the decade when they could no longer survive with the Sandinistas under U.S. pressure. Did Reagan really need to be concerned with Nicaragua? Probably not. In damaging Nicaragua’s economy, Reagan Doctrine policy caused ripple effects on the USSR and Cuba who were aiding Nicaragua during this time. When the Administration began to halt trade and relations with Nicaragua, the USSR and Cuba began their efforts to provide the country increased economic aid, military aid, and trade revenue. By the time Reagan left office, economic aid from the USSR never came close to covering Nicaragua’s losses from U.S. sanctions on the economy.

Reagan’s behavior toward Nicaragua, particularly in the glaring disregard for international law and world opinion, threatened to backfire and endanger broader U.S. interests, especially with foreign allies On the other hand, Reagan was widely eulogized for having won the cold war. Reagan helped end the Cold War by exercising prudent diplomacy and skillful statesmanship rather than by crusading against communism and exploiting Soviet vulnerabilities. The signing of the I.N.F. (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) treaty in 1987 marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. I.N.F. was the first treaty to eliminate a complete class of weapons. It was also the first treaty to include an in-depth verification program. The INF treaty was the first to actually reduce the level of nuclear arsenals, or collections of weapons, rather than simply freeze them at certain levels.

Reagan’s willingness to negotiate arms control agreements and support Gorbachev’s reform efforts within the Soviet Union was key to the eventual fall of communist governments, first across Eastern Europe in 1989, and soon after in the Soviet Union in 1991. The foundation for ending the Cold War had been laid (“,” ). Nicaragua was one piece to Reagan’s global foreign policy strategy. Nicaragua was not the only victim to Reagan’s aggressive policies. Countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Angola were infiltrated by U.S.-sponsored military insurgencies and suffered from U.S. economic policies. Though it can be argued that Reagan’s intervention in the Third World was essential in bringing down the USSR two years later, many people suffered the consequences of Reagan Doctrine. Nicaragua is an important case study of how effective and ineffective Reagan’s policies were in the Third World.

Reagan Doctrine was a policy that gave military and material aid to countries that showed resistance against the USSR and the tyrannies they sponsored. Countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola, and Nicaragua were helped b the United States; the Vatican and AFL-CIO’s international wing were also enlisted in the Doctrine to keep the Polish trade union intact. In his 1985 State of the Union Address, Reagan said, “We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives… to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.” Then, in 1983, Reagan led troops into Grenada and overthrew the Marxist government and held free elections. : In regards to communism, the Reagan Doctrine’s “rollback mentality” broke the rule of containment set up by the Truman Doctrine, and this dissent played a huge hand in bringing down the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War.

Reagan knew that the Russian economy would eventually fracture if there was an ongoing “arms race” between the Soviets and the United States; this is why Reagan began to build up the American military. Reagan threatened the Soviet Union by saying “We won’t stand by and let you maintain weapon superiority over us. We can agree to reduce arms, or we can continue the arms race, which I think you know you can’t win. One of Reagan’s first enhancements was the implementation of the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI. The SDI was a new program that would research and eventually develop a missile defense system that offered the promise of, in President Reagan’s words, “making nuclear weapons obsolete” The Soviets were afraid of such technology because it would render their weapons useless and leave them vulnerable. In October of 1986, in response to the SDI program, Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to a mutual disarmament of weapons in Europe but only if the United States agreed not to deploy the missile defense system.

Reagan literally stuck to his guns and refused to tell the American people that their government “would not protect them against nuclear destruction.” The Soviets were beginning to realize that they didn’t stand a chance in an arms race with America, so in December of 1987, Gorbachev came to Washington, D.C., to sign the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which would eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. If Reagan had not continued the arms race, the Soviet Union may still be around today. Gorbachev’s trip to Washington was the first sign of Soviet surrender, and without Reagan’s military build-up, it would have never been possible. Ronald Reagan helped end the Cold War, such as the Reagan Doctrine, American military build-up, and his use of humor to shed a negative light on communism.

The Reagan Doctrine was a strategy orchestrated and implemented by the United States 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 a centerpiece of American foreign policy from the mid-1980s until the end of the Cold War in 1991. Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. provided overt and covert aid to anti-communist resistance movements in an effort to “roll back” Soviet-backed communist governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The doctrine was designed to serve the dual purposes of diminishing Soviet influence in these regions of the world, while also potentially opening the door for democracy in nations that were largely being governed by Soviet-supported dictators. The most conspicuous examples of the new activism came in Latin America.

In October 1962, the administration sent American soldiers and marines into the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada to oust an anti-American Marxist regime that showed signs of forging a relationship with Moscow. In El Salvador, whose government was fighting left-wing revolutionaries, the administration provided increased military and economic assistance. In neighboring Nicaragua, a pro-American dictatorship had fallen to the revolutionary “Sandinistas” in 1979; the new government had grown increasingly anti-American (and increasingly Marxist) throughout the early 1980s. the Reagan administration supported the so-called contras, an antigovernment guerilla movement fighting (without great success) to topple the Sandinista regime.

Chester Pach, “The Reagan Doctrine: Principle, Pragmatism, and Policy,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 36.1 (2006): 80. Handelman, H. (2011). the challenge of third world development. upper saddle rive nj: prentice hall. (n.d.). Retrieved from

James M. Scott, “Interbranch Rivalry and the Reagan Doctrine in Nicaragua,” Political Science Quarterly 112, no. 2 (Summer 1997): 237. Kenneth Roberts, “Bullying and Bargaining: The United States, Nicaragua, and Conflict Resolution in Central America,” International Security 15, no. 2 (Autumn
1990): 78. Windle, J. (2011, December 20). Aol government. Retrieved from

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Brian De Palma

Chicano Movement