The Reagan Administration is repeating the first beat of a familiar rhythm of America's international and political life. Each newly elected Administration of the alternative political party launches its foreign relations with themes that were developed during the national campaign in opposition to the policies of its predecessor. But then comes the down beat: unexpected domestic and international conditions contradict (or appear to contradict) the underlying premises of the "new" foreign policy. Then either the Administration abandons or modifies its themes (in substance, if not in rhetoric) or it takes uncontested credit for the transformation. This phenomenon began with the Eisenhower Administration. It has deep roots in the American political system and the American approach to the outside world.

Beneath this familiar rhythm the continuities of American foreign policy are always greater than the political claims to innovation would have one believe. The greatest discontinuities spring from responses to unanticipated events, not from changes of Administration. Moreover, the rhythm is itself one of the most notable continuities. It corresponds to the oft-noted oscillations in America's world role between assertion and retrenchment, between the affirmation and restraint of national power. And in the postwar period it has responded to the onset and aftermath of crises and wars. As the nation revises its estimate of the Soviet threat to its foreign security interests upward and downward there is an alternation between repeated efforts to close the chronic gap between ever-expanding interests and the available power to support them, and efforts to seek relief from the ardors of containment.

The Reagan Administration has assumed the task of once again augmenting and reaffirming American power, under the impetus of heightened fears of the Soviet threat. The Carter Administration had already substantially reversed its initial policy of retrenchment and self-restraint, but the themes of the new Administration's efforts reflect a vigorous reaction to those that its predecessor brought into office in 1977. It launches this new effort, however, in the face of a set of troublesome domestic and international conditions which have emerged largely in the last decade and which impose unprecedented constraints on the effective exercise of American power in its economic, diplomatic, and military dimensions. Most of the policy expedients to which previous administrations resorted in order to close the gap between interests and power-whether by enhancing U.S. power, accommodating the Soviet threat, or blunting its impact-are, in practice, either no longer available or seriously limited.

How well the Reagan Administration performs in bringing American power into a safe balance with American security interests and commitments under these novel constraints will not only determine the reputation of President Reagan's Administration; it will establish an historic landmark in the nation's capacity to adjust the principal continuities of postwar foreign policy-most notably, the overriding objective of containment-to portentous developments that have deprived the United States of its primacy while extending its involvement in world politics.


A brief review of the previous oscillations of U.S. foreign policy since World War II indicates the magnitude and significance of the task of national revival that President Reagan has undertaken.

At the outset of the cold war, Soviet moves in Iran (Azerbaijan), Poland, Berlin, Greece and Czechoslovakia refuted hopeful expectations of a new international order based on U.S. collaboration with the U.S.S.R. and Great Britain; in 1947 Britain's abandonment of its strategic role in Greece began the still-expanding process, unforeseen at the time, of America's global role of containment. Nevertheless, it took the shock of the Korean War to drive the United States to close the widening gap between its expanding commitments and the military power available to support them. The latter had been restricted by a rigid ceiling of about $13 billion on the defense budget and by a military strategy adapted only to the defense of Western Europe and a chain of Pacific islands running southward from Japan (thereby excluding the Korean peninsula from the U.S. "defensive perimeter").

In the aftermath of the frustrations and exertions of the Korean War and the accompanying four-fold defense build-up and expanded commitments to the defense of Europe, the Eisenhower Administration came into office with a dual mandate: economic retrenchment and avoidance of future Korean Wars, on the one hand; deterring Soviet aggression-by-proxy more effectively, on the other. Its formula of substituting nuclear deterrence and a network of alliances-a "political warning system," in Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's words-for conventional forces and local intervention worked well enough for a while. The 1955 summit meeting with the Russians seemingly confirmed the success of this formula in a widely perceived "thaw" in the cold war and the "spirit of Geneva." But then the Soviet orbiting of Sputnik, the fear of an imminent "missile gap," Khrushchev's instigation of a second Berlin crisis and his harsh antics in May 1960 following the shooting down over Russia of America's acknowledged U-2 spy plane, coupled with growing troubles with Castro, political turmoil in the Congo, and Nasser's turn toward Moscow for arms, put an end to the incipient détente.

President Kennedy came into office dedicated to campaign themes of restoring American power and prestige on the basis of a revived American economy. He translated these themes into policies intended to strengthen and diversify the nation's military power, counter the new threat of wars of national liberation, identify America with the forces of non-communist nationalism in Africa and elsewhere, and overcome the vulnerability of the less-developed countries to Communist penetration through economic development keyed to social and economic reform. By the mid-1960s the resulting military build-up, a surge of domestic economic growth, the successful surmounting of crises in Berlin, Cuba and the Congo, and new evidence of Soviet troubles in Eastern Europe and with China produced perhaps the greatest sense of security and well-being that Americans have enjoyed in the entire postwar period.

Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, took office determined to concentrate his and the nation's attention on domestic social and economic improvements. But fate and the inertia of settled axioms of containment, given new impetus by the heightened confidence in American power born in the Kennedy years, determined that Johnson's Administration would be preoccupied with a war in Vietnam which could not be won-perhaps not even at the price of a protracted and expanded war, which neither Johnson nor the nation was willing to pay.

Given the national trauma inflicted by the war in Vietnam, any succeeding Administration was bound to oscillate again toward retrenchment. The Nixon-Ford-Kissinger regime conceived its first task, after honorable extrication from the war, as bringing American power into balance with vital interests at a reduced level of national effort and a lessened risk of armed intervention. It sought to shore up containment at a level of involvement that would be acceptable to the American public and consistent with constraints on unilateral American power that had emerged during the last two decades. But to reconcile containment with retrenchment it could not resort to the expedients available to the Eisenhower Administration. Instead, it turned to a more selective projection of U.S. force in Third World crises; a greater reliance on less-developed countries to help themselves in countering internal threats; the orchestration of a global modus vivendi, or détente, with the Soviet Union (with SALT as the centerpiece); instrumental to détente, a rapprochement with the People's Republic of China; and reliance on Iran as a security-keeping surrogate in the Middle East.

On the whole, this strategy worked well, but over the years some of its underlying premises about the international environment began to run into conflict with intractable realities. The atmosphere of détente helped to reinforce post-Vietnam restrictions on U.S. defense expenditures (which declined in real dollars), although the U.S.S.R. continued an annual four to six percent increase in its defense outlays-beyond the requirements of parity, as Americans saw them. The underlying assumption of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy, that the turbulence of the Third World-contrary to Kennedy's dramatization of its significance as the decisive arena of the cold war-need not impinge on vital American security interests was refuted by the Yom Kippur War of 1973, with an ominous, though muted, threat of Soviet intervention to compel a cease-fire, and with the emergence of an Arab embargo on oil to the increasingly oil-dependent United States. Then the unanticipated collapse of the Portuguese empire in Africa in 1974 led directly to Soviet intervention, in collaboration with Cuban troops, in the Angolan civil war; the withdrawal of America's indirect and covert participation in that war under pressure from Congress portended, in Kissinger's view, a repetition in resource-rich southern Africa of the fateful 1930s scenario of unopposed piecemeal aggression, which underlay America's whole postwar effort to vindicate the interwar lessons through vigilant containment.

Even these developments, however, did not overcome the post-Vietnam mood of retrenchment. The apparent success of Kissinger in blending containment with détente blunted the force of retrenchment, but it also postponed a revival of containment. This enabled the Carter Administration to focus its criticism on the containment side of the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger strategy, in what became a less constrained, delayed accommodation to the psychological wounds of the Vietnam War. President Carter came into office with an avowed mandate to reverse what he and his aides portrayed as Kissinger's Machiavellian and anachronistic preoccupation with the containment of the Soviet Union through clever personal diplomacy and Realpolitik. Without really abandoning the overriding objective of containment, the new Administration set out to implement it in a manner congenial to American geopolitical retrenchment and moral resurgence-by downplaying the "inordinate fear of communism" that had led the country "to embrace any dictator who joined us in our fear" (as the President put it in his famous Notre Dame speech on May 22, 1977); aligning the United States with the forces of black majority rule in southern Africa; and concentrating on the transcendent "global questions" of justice, equity, and human rights through revising the international economic order to accommodate the needs of the "South," preventing nuclear proliferation, curbing the arms trade, and promoting the rights of the individual against cruelty and oppression.

In the face of a steady Soviet military build-up and of mounting turbulence and new opportunities for the expansion of Soviet influence in the Third World, the Carter Administration's emphasis on "world-order politics" and the "global agenda," in the fashionable academic phrases of the time, was bound to enlarge the interests-power gap that was already emerging under the cover of Kissinger's Realpolitik. Reacting against this trend on pragmatic and domestic political grounds, the Administration began after only a year to modify, abandon or reverse major components of its original grand design. As in previous oscillations of American policy, the driving factor was a shift in the prevailing estimate of the Soviet threat.

After Moscow's 1977 intervention (with East German and Cuban assistance) in behalf of Mengistu's self-styled Marxist-Leninist regime in Ethiopia, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the President's National Security Assistant, emerged as a militant critic of Soviet violations of "what was once called the code of conduct." By the spring of 1978 he was depicting an "arc of crisis" that came to include the Soviet alliance with Vietnam, the 1978 installation of a puppet regime in Afghanistan, the establishment of military dependencies in South Yemen and in Ethiopia (in the latter case with Soviet military personnel and proxy forces), and the invasion of the Katanga (Shaba) province in Zaïre from Angola. President Carter reversed the decade-long decline in the real defense budget (notably in his address at Wake Forest University in March 1978) and declared that détente must be based on reciprocal restraint, whereas the Soviet Union, he charged (at the U.S. Naval Academy in June), had exploited détente to cover "a continuing aggressive struggle for political advantage and increased influence in a variety of ways."

This rhetorical reaffirmation of containment was matched, not only by a reversal of the decline in real defense expenditures, but also by increased arms sales (especially to Middle Eastern countries), U.S. leadership in establishing a Long Term Defense Program under which the NATO allies pledged to increase annual defense expenditures by three percent in real terms, and support of a long-range theater nuclear force modernization program (first publicly advocated by Chancellor Schmidt) culminating in the NATO decision of December 1979 to install 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles on European soil.

Capping this shift, President Carter, in urgent response to the dual shock of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran (followed by the imprisonment of American hostages) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, proclaimed the most far-reaching extension of American commitments since the redefinition of America's Pacific defensive perimeter after the Korean War. In his January 1980 State of the Union address, he declared, in what immediately became known as the Carter Doctrine: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." Giving substance to this new sense of urgency, he promised to increase defense expenditures by five percent a year, ordered the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), deployed naval forces and sent heavy arms to protect North Yemen from the Soviet client in South Yemen, imposed a partial grain embargo and other sanctions on the U.S.S.R., and removed some restrictions on militarily significant sales of technology to China. With the ratification of SALT II already doomed by Afghanistan, it was formally withdrawn from the Senate in Carter's last days in office.

This reassertion of American power in support of containment, however, did not save the Carter Administration. Beginning in the middle of the 1970s (according to the opinion polls), the tide of opinion which President Carter had ridden into office had been reversed; by 1980 it was flowing strongly in the opposite direction. Indeed, Carter's switch only reinforced the politically fatal image of an indecisive, somewhat schizoid President presiding over an erratic, incoherent policy.

In the 1980 presidential campaign Governor Ronald Reagan emerged as the rallying point for, and articulator of, the pent-up reaction to the "Vietnam syndrome." Like President Kennedy, he interpreted his political mandate as, above all, the restoration of the nation's power and prestige in response to a heightened and neglected Soviet threat. But he did so in the face of domestic and international constraints that Kennedy never imagined. Unlike Kennedy, Reagan approached this task with a clear priority in favor of economic restoration. Lacking Kennedy's familiarity or concern with foreign affairs, his pretensions to innovative policies, or the ebullience and missionary impetus that Kennedy had imparted to his program of American resurgence, the simplicity of Reagan's foreign policy themes stood in even sharper contrast to the complexity of his task.


President Reagan avowed that in foreign policy, as in other matters of public policy, simplicity has its virtues and should not be equated with simple-mindedness. He had a point. It would have been difficult, even in the luxury of one's analytical imagination, to invent a single strategic concept to embrace the full complexity of the international conditions of 1981. And the failure of previous concepts-really stratagems more than strategies-to fulfill the expectations they raised (for example, Eisenhower's massive retaliation, Kennedy's promotion of self-sustaining economic growth and nation-building among the LDCs, the Nixon Doctrine, and Carter's vision of world-order politics) suggest that the absence of a grand strategy may be prudent as well as pardonable.

Journalists and academics complained that the vaunted simplicity of Reagan's foreign policy was an excuse for incoherence. By normal standards, however, it was not the incoherence of the new Administration's policies that stood out-in fact, they were comparatively coherent in action as well as rhetoric-but rather their incompleteness, both in scope and detail, when measured against the realities of the international environment. One reason for this was the President's decision, as a choice of political strategy as well as substantive priority, to concentrate on domestic economic goals at the beginning of his Administration. But there were other reasons: the failure to organize an effective system for the conduct of policy that would enable the President to make reasoned choices of strategic implementation (a failure due, in large part, to the downgrading of the National Security Council staff); the President's unfamiliarity with foreign policy and his lack of interest in taking an active role in the implementation of policies; the resulting lack of a dominant locus of policymaking, whether in the State Department, the Defense Department, or the White House; and the associated lack in any of these quarters of articulate intellectuals with the role of rationalizing policy for domestic and foreign audiences.

Nevertheless, despite the slowness of the Administration to formulate and articulate the components of a national strategy, the outlines and much of the substance of a set of foreign policies, linked to the central goals of policy and fairly well integrated with each other, were emerging by the end of 1981. As in the case of previous new Administrations, the process of elaborating the outlines and filling in the substance would be the result of themes and positions developed in the victorious campaign for office rubbing up against the stubborn continuities of the past. At the end of its first year the Administration was altering the tone and content of its original policies in response to intractable domestic and international constraints at a faster pace than most of its predecessors. Perhaps this was partly because the elementary nature of its strategic design enabled it to adapt more readily to elusive realities; but it was also because some of its own priorities-particularly rejuvenating the economy and refurbishing alliances-were, at the outset, in conflict with other themes and programs developed in the campaign. Some of the President's own simple objectives, in practice, also conflicted with each other.

The dominant theme of President Reagan's foreign policy, to which all major policies were subordinated, was revitalizing the containment of Soviet expansion. Of course, declarations about the urgency of strengthening containment were accompanied by familiar affirmations of containment's twin: the achievement of a world hospitable to free societies, where the Soviet Union would observe the international code of decent conduct, and peaceful change would become the norm. But the attainment of this world-order goal was declared to depend centrally on containing the enemy-not, as in the Carter Administration's initial formulations, on addressing the transcendent problems of the global agenda or, as in the Kissinger era, on achieving a global modus vivendi with the competing superpower.

The centrality of containment, moreover, followed from a new emphasis on the danger of the Soviet global threat. In the incoming Administration's view, while Americans had been paralyzed by illusions of détente and the trauma of Vietnam, the Soviet Union had achieved an epochal reversal of global power. Transforming itself from a continental to an ascendant imperial power, it had pursued global preponderance through a steady build-up of military capabilities ever since the Cuban missile crisis. It made no practical difference whether one attributed Soviet ascendancy to ideologically driven expansionism or to the defensive paranoia of a geopolitically encircled power center-both interpretations were to be found in the new Administration. The result was the same: a cautiously but relentlessly expansionist state opportunistically capitalizing upon its two great assets, military ascendancy and the political turmoil and vulnerability of the Third World.

To counter this Soviet threat, the priority task for the United States was to reverse the trend toward Soviet ascendancy and regain a safe military balance. Military revival would require liberation of the American spirit from the paralyzing effects of an era of national self-doubt and timidity. It would require overcoming the "strategic passivity" that had subordinated urgent security concerns to unrealistic scruples about the moral and political purity of friendly countries. And the revival of American power and spirit, the President and his spokesmen repeatedly stressed, would depend, above all, on the rejuvenation of the American economy by liberating the creative impulses of free enterprise from the dead hand of government control.

In proclaiming this central theme, there was no pretension of an all-embracing grand design or even intimations of a Reagan Doctrine. The important point was to establish a central purpose and priority and to develop coherent policies consistent with each other.

The closest the Administration came to elaborating or refining this common-sense view in its first year were the oft-repeated but little noted "four pillars" set forth by Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who called them the President's "coherent strategic approach."1 But the "pillars" were really goals: the restoration of American and Western economic and military strength, the reinvigoration of alliances and bilateral relationships with friendly states, the promotion of progress, in an environment of peaceful change, among less industrialized countries, and the achievement of a relationship with the U.S.S.R. based on greater Soviet restraint and reciprocity. They fell far short of delineating a strategy, if strategy means a comprehensive plan for applying the instruments and resources of national power most effectively to support a hierarchy of interests in a range of specific contingencies and circumstances.

But their very generality made it easier to adjust campaign themes to the complexities of domestic and international realities. Furthermore, despite the fact that the Administration's organization for conducting foreign policy was woefully deficient in analyzing policy options at the NSC level and did not regularly engage the President in strategic choices, and despite an extraordinary amount of "turf-fighting" in the foreign policy structure, the existence of unusual ideological affinity among the key policymakers made for relative coherence in the major substantive areas as policies evolved. The greatest substantive differences were between unilateralists and multilateralists (to use oversimplifications current within the Administration). By the end of the year the latter clearly prevailed, but the balance was unstable.


The overriding goal of the Administration's foreign policy was to make American and Western power commensurate to the support of greatly extended global security interests and commitments. There was no disposition to define interests more selectively and no expectation of anything but an intensified Soviet threat to these interests. Hence, the emphasis in closing the gap between interests and power would be placed on augmenting countervailing military strength-first of all unilaterally, but also collectively with allies and bilaterally with countries willing and able to defend themselves against Communist incursions and revolution.

In pursuit of this goal the Administration's determination to increase the U.S. defense budget was clearer than its strategy for applying military resources to foreign policy requirements. After initially projecting more than double the percentage increase of the Carter budgets for FY 1981 and FY 1982, the program leveled off to a seven percent annual increase instead of Carter's five percent for the next four years, and added up to $1,280.6 billion by the end of 1986, which was about a $200 billion increase beyond the projected Carter program. In terms of constant dollars, these amounts would be by far the largest peacetime military outlay in American history.

This ambitious target, however, was arrived at without the benefit of any comprehensive strategic review, and it depended on equally ambitious targets of growth in domestic economic production. The scattershot approach to defense spending, along with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's decentralization of the management of programs and resources into the hands of the separate armed services, meant that defense expenditures would be undisciplined by strategic guidance until budgetary and other constraints compelled choices among priorities.

Initial strategic pronouncements indicated little more than that the new Administration intended to restore American military power to meet an extraordinarily wide range of contingencies. First of all, it would close the "window of vulnerability" resulting from the presumed Soviet capacity to destroy most of American land-based missiles in a first strike and regain a "margin of safety" in the U.S. strategic nuclear posture. (Significantly, even before taking office the Administration had dropped the 1980 Republican platform's less credible pledge to "superiority," which implied the rejection of parity.) In Europe it would move ahead with the development of 108 Pershing II and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs), in accordance with the long-range theater nuclear weapons program (LRTNF). But it also stressed the necessity of strengthening conventional capabilities and reaffirmed that the NATO commitment to three percent annual real increases in the long-term defense program (LTDP) must be fulfilled.

Outside the NATO theater, too, the Administration's objectives were comprehensive. It would build up general purpose forces, not only to support the previously planned Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf with a full-time regional presence and reinforcement capabilities, but also to prepare the United States to fight protracted conventional wars in more than one theater simultaneously. In this connection Secretary Weinberger explicitly rejected the artificial constraints implied by previous commitments to a 11/2- or 21/2-war strategy. If one took his repeated statements about the need to meet Soviet aggression in one location by responding at points of vulnerability elsewhere-a concept soon dubbed "horizontal escalation"-as a strategy with operational significance, this would put an even higher premium on a multi-theater capability. For no one could reasonably assume in the 1980s that the threat to respond at "places of our choosing" would-as John Foster Dulles seemed to hope when he used the same phrase in the 1950s-so enhance deterrence as to obviate the necessity of fighting local wars at all.

One indication of how the Administration's goals might be translated into strategy and forces was Secretary of the Navy John Lehman's exposition of a posture of "unquestioned naval superiority," based on a 600-ship fleet with 15 battleships clustered around large aircraft carriers, surface ships with cruise missiles, and enhanced amphibious forces. This formidable force would do far more than control the sea lanes and establish a presence in crises. It would be capable of coping singly or simultaneously with local conflicts in every theater, at least in terms of maintaining access to land against Soviet or Soviet-proxy forces and thus, if necessary, removing the need to depend on U.S. or other land-based forces. But it would also be able to fight a global war between U.S. and Soviet forces at sea and perform traditional naval tasks in general war, such as protecting the sea lanes.

If nothing else, these intimations of all-purpose strategic goals indicated the Administration's firm intention to change what a number of its officials had criticized as America's "Euro-centered" strategy and to prepare the armed forces, for once, to support the nation's global commitments with truly flexible, global capabilities. The far-reaching scope of this intention was confirmed by the demanding objective, as put forth by the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Fred Iklé, to expand the capacity of the industrial base of American defense production so that it could support not only rapid mobilization for a crisis but also a prolonged large-scale war.

But the extent to which the Administration would actually implement its expansive strategic goals, or maintain the goals if they could not be implemented, was another matter. The major factor likely to move the Reagan Administration toward a revision and refinement of its strategy over the long run was the state of the American economy. Ronald Reagan came to office pledged to balance the budget, lower taxes, and reduce inflation and unemployment, yet at the same time greatly increase defense spending. Only with at least an annual four percent growth in the economy, by the Administration's own accounting, might these goals be reconciled. But, as of the end of 1981, the prospect of tax reductions had failed to stimulate growth. Despite extensive reductions in other government expenditures, increased defense budgets ensured an expanded federal deficit. Higher interest rates and continuing inflation discouraged productive investment, while unemployment rose. The President, although acknowledging a recession and the prospect of bigger deficits, found it politically difficult to raise taxes by much.

This left reductions in the defense budget as the most obvious economic adjustment. Reagan's strong commitment to defense kept him from approving more than a $13 billion cut over fiscal years 1982-1984, but the economic trends were bound sooner or later to have a restricting effect on defense appropriations requests and grants. For FY 1982 the Administration had already cut several billion dollars from its projected budget. Congress would be extremely reluctant to permit further cuts in social programs without exacting comparable cuts in defense. Equally restrictive, and one of the most costly deficiencies to correct, was the shortage of trained military personnel to operate sophisticated weapons, flesh out the Rapid Deployment Force, and man the increased number of naval ships envisaged. To meet these manpower needs would be difficult even with a draft, which the Administration continued to oppose.

The caution of the Reagan Administration in confronting the dilemmas that afflicted its first "pillar" was demonstrated in the surprising decision, announced on October 2, not to go through with the "race-track" deployment of the projected MX missile in Utah and Nevada. Instead, the plan is to emplace a limited number of MX missiles in existing silos while continuing to explore other possibilities to reduce the vulnerability of land-based strategic missiles. This decision may have been motivated more by domestic political objections and technical military factors than by economic considerations. Nevertheless, in so conspicuously subordinating the highly advertised urgency of closing the window of vulnerability to other considerations, it showed how readily initial defense projections might yield to unanticipated constraints.

Moreover, the organization, program support and funding of the Rapid Deployment Force continued to proceed at a sluggish pace that belied its declared urgency-and the strategy for using it remained unresolved. The Administration's discovery of the political obstacles in the Middle East to local stockpiling of military supplies and equipment, let alone stationing military brigades, strengthened advocates of sea-based projection forces; but the utility of naval and Marine forces in implementing a trip-wire strategy against a hypothetical Soviet drive toward the Gulf was highly questionable.

Nevertheless, as its decisive vote to approve a defense budget of almost $200 billion in December showed, Congress remained prepared to support an unprecedented peacetime increase in defense appropriations. Whatever the details of actual programs, authorizations, and outlays in FY 1982 might turn out to be, the President could correctly declare that the U.S. government had definitely reversed the military decline of the 1970s. This tangible expression of national will might be the most important achievement of Reagan's defense policy, but in the long run it would be an empty achievement if increased expenditures were not translated into increased capabilities related to a coherent strategy.


Domestic economic difficulties, strategic incoherence, and a range of bureaucratic and external political obstacles to defense programs were not the only factors modifying and shaping foreign policies. Equally important were critical tensions abroad that impinged on vital interests of established priority. This was especially the case in Western Europe, where differences between the United States and several of its allies had created a more deep-seated challenge to the cohesion and security of the Atlantic Alliance than any of the half-dozen previous crises. What made this crisis more serious was that it turned upon fundamentally divergent approaches to East-West relations and that it occurred when the United States had lost the economic and military primacy-and therefore much of the confidence of its allies and its influence with them-that it had enjoyed before the 1970s.

At the root of the trans-Atlantic crisis was an insoluble but manageable predicament. On the one hand, there was the dependence of West European security upon American nuclear protection-more specifically on the efficacy of a nuclear first-use strategy as a deterrent to Soviet conventional aggression. On the other hand, there was the unavoidable reality that if the deterrent had to be used, it would lead to a nuclear war that included European soil. This geostrategic fact, plus the contrast between the global scope of American security interests and containment concerns and the more restricted national or regional concerns of the European allies, had from the beginning of the Alliance been the source of European anxieties about American policy. Depending on the occasion, Europeans were almost bound to fear that the United States might-or that it might not-counter Soviet aggression with nuclear weapons, that it might destroy an accommodation with the Soviets-or reach one unilaterally.

When Reagan took office this predicament was once again the source of tension between the United States and its European allies-most importantly, with the Federal Republic of Germany. The demise by 1980 of the U.S.-Soviet détente threatened to jeopardize the European-Soviet détente, which to Germany especially had become a primary national interest during the 1970s. In addition, the suspension of SALT, coupled with the American rearmament effort, portended a new arms race that might undermine the general bargain that European governments had struck with domestic political constituencies dedicated to expanded social welfare programs: that European defense increases would be sustained at a politically tolerable level while arms control negotiations were conducted in parallel.

This bargain took on new importance when the allies' agreement in 1979 to deploy 572 intermediate-range missiles on European soil was followed by the resurgence of a European anti-nuclear movement with anti-American overtones. This deployment was now attacked not only as a provocation to an arms race, but also as the implementation of an American limited war-fighting strategy that would confine a nuclear war to Europe. From the American standpoint the military program had been intended, in response to Chancellor Schmidt's 1977 proposal, to reassure the European allies that the defense of Europe would remain coupled to an American strategic response and that the rapid Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missile against European targets would be countered by visible European-based weapons that could reach Soviet targets. Thus the rising opposition seemed a frustrating demonstration of allied irresolution and irresponsibility.

If, in addition to this opposition, and following Europe's faint support for sanctions to punish and warn the Soviet Union with respect to its behavior in Southwest Asia and Poland, European governments began to renege on their long-term defense commitments, the American congressional reaction might go beyond frustration to the threat of withdrawal. Surely, if allied governments felt compelled to accept Soviet arms-control proposals that clearly upset the military balance, let alone to accede to suggestions of a European nuclear-free zone, America would have to reappraise the viability of a Continental strategy. Meanwhile, the interaction of European "pacifism" and American "unilateralism" might lead to real European neutralism.

Thus the Reagan Administration faced a serious prospect of the paralysis and unraveling of the North Atlantic Alliance. In the face of a heightened Soviet threat, the foremost European response was to urge renewed arms control negotiations, which President Reagan had condemned during the campaign and suspended upon taking office. The popular stereotype in Europe of Reagan as a bellicose cold warrior, some militant statements by his Cabinet and staff, and some artless remarks about neutron weapons and limited nuclear options added to the tension. Yet the Administration's general response to the existing and potential crisis was not to scold or threaten the allies or to retreat to unilateral globalism in reaction to European "appeasement" and "neutralism." Rather, it went out of its way to avoid the aggravation of U.S.-European divergences on defense policies, arms control, and East-West relations and set out to revive a trans-Atlantic consensus.

Secretary of State Haig and his Assistant Secretary, Lawrence Eagleburger, both familiar with the European political scene for over a decade, reassured allied governments with their comprehension of the European perspective. Administration spokesmen were firm in their support of the LTDP and the LRTNF and continued to argue for a more equitable sharing of defense burdens, particularly to support and replace the diversion of American resources to Southwest Asia, where European security was even more directly imperiled than American security. But they refrained in public from the exasperated tough-talk that was attributed to some other American officials in private conversations. In fact, there was less behind-the-scenes arm-twisting and more intensive consultation than in the Carter Administration and no rigid insistence on a percentage increase in defense expenditures.

The most dramatic evidence of the Reagan Administration's effort to restore the trans-Atlantic consensus was its eventual position on arms control negotiations. One of the President's first acts had been to suspend the SALT process indefinitely, pending reappraisal, although significantly he refrained from terminating U.S. adherence to the unratified terms of SALT II. A number of Reagan's supporters who had taken positions in the Departments of State and Defense were convinced that the utility of arms control had been oversold; that arms control had become an excuse for the West's "strategic passivity," pursued at the expense of defense programs essential to Western security. The Administration's first pronouncements on arms control reflected these skeptical reservations, restating the original 1960s rationale of arms control as a complement to defense policy, as only one element of national security policy, not the centerpiece of U.S.-Soviet relations. Without specifying any particular quid pro quo, Secretary Haig and others had reiterated the moderate concept of "linkage" which held, as "a fact of political life," that Soviet violations of the civilized code of international conduct would jeopardize arms control. Having maintained that the world had become less secure in the 1970s despite-indeed, because of-continued arms control efforts, President Reagan and his Cabinet logically emphasized that the precondition for successful negotiations was the restoration of the military balance as well as Soviet reciprocity in self-restraint.

But however warily the Administration approached arms control, it was also convinced that the priority of "revitalizing alliances" required adhering to NATO's "two-track" agreement of 1979-that discussions to limit intermediate-range missiles by treaty must be conducted in parallel with the program of deploying TNF. It insisted that the latter should be the condition of the former, but it knew that the compelling political reality was the reverse. The rise of the anti-nuclear movement and the resulting pressure on Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and other European leaders made acting on this judgment an urgent imperative. So even while it was publicly discounting the impact of the anti-nuclear movement, the Administration agreed with the Soviets to begin discussions on TNF limitation in November 1981 "within the context" of strategic arms negotiations.

On November 18, as the negotiations approached, the President announced in a public address that the United States was prepared to cancel its deployment of Pershing IIs and GLCMs if the Soviets would dismantle their SS-20s, SS-4s and SS-5s. This was the "zero option" urged by Schmidt and other anxious European leaders. It signified not only a concession to European views but, more fundamentally, to the arms control process. Coming after the discovery of economic constraints on the defense budget and before either a military build-up or any improvement in Soviet behavior, it was a particularly significant sign of the Reagan Administration's priorities and its flexibility in adjusting policies to the "four pillars" when some of the pillars clashed.

Not that this solved any of the formidable technical and political problems of improving military security through arms control. The unprecedented complexity of assessing, verifying, and equalizing the military balance by mutual agreement, and the difficulty of inducing the Soviets to accept what the United States could consider an equitable balance when that would require offsetting a perceived Soviet advantage, guaranteed prolonged negotiations full of political and technical obstacles and the risk of thwarted popular expectations. But for better or worse the process had begun. Unlike the mutual and balanced force negotiations (MBFR), these negotiations could not go on fruitlessly forever without evoking concern by anxious publics and governments. The zero-option initiative signalized the revival of a temporarily blocked strand in U.S.-Soviet relations, which, if past experience were a guide, would have a life of its own, affecting defense and foreign policy in sometimes unexpected ways.

That arms control might exceed the restrained subsidiary role that Reagan's experts originally preferred was suggested by the President's adoption of the acronym START (strategic arms reduction talks), put forth by the forceful new Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Eugene Rostow. Appealing to both the Left and Right and promising a bilateral solution to the economic burden of defense, START might turn out to be an object of enthusiasm no less beguiling than SALT. Or, considering the difficulty of achieving agreement on arms reductions that would scrap programs and change the ratio of power, as compared to agreement on ceilings to existing programs that would ratify an existing balance, START might dash unrealistic expectations once again.


The revitalization of containment through a unilateral defense build-up and through the strengthening of allied cohesion and defense was squarely within the core of the American consensus on U.S. foreign policy. The way the Reagan Administration handled alliance relations, moreover, promised to keep U.S. policy in the mainstream of the trans-Atlantic consensus.

Similarly, the Administration's management of relations with the other two major counterpoises to Soviet power, Japan and China, was consistent with established continuities of containment, although in both cases it faced great potential trouble. The relatively discreet urging that Japan increase its contribution to defense, in terms of roles and missions within the ambiguous limits of "self-defense" permitted by Article IX of the Japanese Constitution, avoided public acrimony. By the end of the year it seemed likely to lead to a marginally more satisfactory division of regional security efforts with American naval forces. But the record $15 billion surplus in trade with the United States, combined with Japan's reluctance to assume a larger share of the burden for its defense, was provoking a congressional reaction that could spell serious trouble for U.S.-Japan relations if Japan did not continue to increase its defense expenditures.

The lifting of restrictions on arms sales to China was an important extension of the policy of selling "dual-purpose" technology, in line with a trend established by the previous Administration. Despite general references to further strategic collaboration against the Soviet Union on such issues as Cambodia and Afghanistan, this action did not portend any basic change in the U.S. relationship with "a friendly non-aligned country." The limited convergence of interests and the economic constraints on China's military modernization inhibited such a change. But the geopolitical logic of the entente with China that began with the Nixon-Kissinger rapprochement might nevertheless be overridden by the legacy of Reagan's commitment to the Republic of China on Taiwan, if the Administration met Taiwan's request to sell it the FX advanced fighter aircraft or even military spare parts. Calling such military sales a "litmus test" of the whole Washington-Peking relationship, Peking, at the end of December, charged that they constituted "hegemonic" interference in China's sovereign affairs and warned that they would compel a downgrading of diplomatic relations to the level of chargé d'affaires.

From the problems incurred in relations with Japan, China and the European allies it was evident that revitalizing relations with major allies and friends would be more difficult than anticipated. Revitalizing containment in the Third World was likely to be even more difficult and also considerably more controversial both at home and abroad-especially if campaign themes were literal standards of policy. The extension and implementation of containment among the less-industrialized countries had always raised the most agitated issues at home and the greatest opposition abroad. In the politically turbulent and largely non-democratic Third World, the application of the interwar lessons about the necessity of stopping piecemeal totalitarian aggression, although compelling in security terms, repeatedly confronted the American conscience with the awkward expedient of supporting authoritarian and inhumane regimes. In this vast post-colonial area, America's implementation of containment inevitably carried the opprobrium of imperial intervention, and the opprobrium was sharpened by foreign acceptance of America's own claim of unique righteousness as a standard of judgment. At the same time, in this area lay the greatest opportunities for the expansion of Soviet influence, whether directly or by proxy.

The Reagan Administration entered office committed to a major campaign theme that condemned the Carter Administration for neglecting too long the expansion of Soviet influence, subversion, and presence in the "arc of crisis" and for failing to respond to the threat of Marxist revolutions and Cuban subversion in America's own "backyard": Central America and the Caribbean. According to this theme the Carter Administration's misguided moralism and conscience-bound timidity had not only obscured the threat and paralyzed countervailing action; by applying unrealistic standards of moral censorship, particularly liberal Western standards of human rights, against friendly authoritarian governments, it had precipitated their replacement by unfriendly totalitarians. The latter claim was directed particularly, though with doubtful historical accuracy, to the fate of the Shah in Iran and of Somoza in Nicaragua.

In contrast, the Administration proclaimed, President Reagan would restore cooperative relations with countries primarily on the basis of their sharing America's concern to halt Soviet and Soviet-proxy expansionism. As an instrument of this expansionism, international terrorism was said to be the greatest threat to human rights, while Soviet-inspired revolutions and interventions were the greatest threat to world peace and security.

In the aftermath of the Carter Administration this forceful message was bracing to many Americans, but it was unnerving to many governments in the Third World and also to West European governments responding to the growing interest of social democrats in supporting "progressive" forces in the developing countries (especially in Latin America and Africa). Furthermore, insofar as the risk of American armed involvement in local revolutions was implied, a broad cross-section of the American public, still in thrall to the bitter memory of Vietnam, would oppose bold reaffirmations of containment. In the forefront of this opposition would be traditional liberals whose special concern for getting on the right (which, in practice, meant the "left-center") side of social and political change was reactivated by official talk of supplanting concern for human rights and reform with opposition to terrorism.


The worst apprehensions that Reaganism meant a militaristic revival of the cold war in the Third World, with the intention of destabilizing leftist regimes and defeating incipient wars of national liberation, were seemingly confirmed by the new Administration's first major foreign initiative. In February, Secretary Haig charged that the shipment of arms to the guerrillas opposing the Duarte regime in El Salvador was a "textbook case" of Soviet-induced, Cuban-executed subversion. He issued warnings that the United States might "go to the source" if outside involvement did not cease. In an action reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis, he dispatched emissaries to allied governments in Europe with a White Paper documenting Cuban arms shipments to explain the seriousness of the threat. More tangibly, the U.S. government lifted restrictions on lethal arms aid and sent 56 military advisers to help the junta.

The alarmed reaction in Latin America and Europe and the revival of the Vietnam analogy in the United States evidently convinced the Administration that it had made a tactical error. A campaign that the press widely interpreted as an effort to draw the line against Communist aggression quickly subsided. Haig emphasized that far more economic than arms aid was being sent to El Salvador. Without dropping the charges of Cuban complicity, he acknowledged the internal sources of political turbulence in Central America, as elsewhere in the Third World. He announced a multilateral program of economic aid for the Caribbean Basin, which in the nature of its members' political orientation could not be overtly directed against Cuba, and launched an effort to engage Mexico and Venezuela diplomatically as well as economically in some sort of regional security relationship.

Actually, the Administration had substantially followed its predecessor's policy-indeed, the preferred American policy in all revolutionary situations-of supporting a supposedly centrist regime and hoping that it would be sufficiently reformist to broaden its political base and prevail. It acted about as the Carter Administration would probably have acted, although with neither apology nor self-righteousness. But its analysis of Central American developments remained pessimistic and might well be confirmed by events.

The Duarte regime seemed to be losing control. Whether either an election or a negotiated settlement could restore order under a not-unfriendly coalition of factions was doubtful. Meanwhile, Nicaragua continued to build up with Cuban help one of the largest armies in Latin America, to an extent that could hardly be explained solely as a defensive reaction to the Reagan Administration's rhetoric. In the background there were signs that Moscow was looking covetously toward Central America as the next disturbed area in which the support of "national liberation" movements (that is, pro-Soviet regimes) might remove U.S. influence, establish Soviet proxies, and tie down U.S. forces.

Faced with this situation, the Reagan Administration was understandably disposed to back diplomacy with private and public contemplations of the use of force. The trouble was that wielding a big stick in the 1980s might so arouse the domestic and international apprehensions of friends as to undermine the impact of tough words on enemies. All the worse if the stick were weak or not suited to the task. Administration officials hinted darkly of naval blockades to stop the flow of arms, and they kept up verbal attacks against Cuban global interventionism. But against either Nicaragua or Cuba there were probably no effective small-scale military options, and a serious blockade would entail a significant naval draw-down elsewhere, not to mention an explosive reaction among European allies and Latin American friends.

Consequently, although Secretary Haig would not explicitly renounce the use of force, President Reagan said in November: "We have no plans for putting combat troops anywhere in the world." The Administration prudently resorted to making the most of active bilateral and regional diplomatic representations in order to isolate revolutionary forces and limit their damage to other countries, while standing ready to reward diplomatic cooperation with increased military and economic aid. As in Europe, the prior condition for revitalizing containment had become the enhancement of America's credibility as a promoter of multinational diplomatic solutions to regional security threats. Only on this basis could a revival of military strength effectively support diplomacy.


The area of the Third World in which diplomacy seemed most promising was southern Africa, where American policy was conducted with little or no reference to U.S. military power, arms aid or covert action. Again, it was the rhetoric, tone, and tactics rather than the substance of diplomacy that most distinguished the Reagan Administration from its predecessor. Its keynote was basing relations in the area more on common security concerns against Soviet or Cuban penetration and relatively less on the national and racial concerns of black Africa, including the condemnation of South Africa.

The major immediate objectives were the same: to strengthen pro-Western regimes, to get the Soviets and Cubans out of Angola, and to get the South Africans out of Namibia-and, integrally related to this objective, out of Angola, which was a haven for the revolutionary group SWAPO's attacks into Namibia-under conditions that might stabilize the area against revolutionary and anti-Western forces. The first objective was most importantly implemented by economic aid to the pragmatic Marxist Robert Mugabe's constitutional regime in Zimbabwe. The other two objectives had been effectively blocked by South Africa's refusal to go through with the agreed plan for Namibian independence. The Carter Administration's strategy for removing this obstacle, including the threat of sanctions against South Africa, was demonstrably impotent. The Reagan Administration's strategy, largely developed and executed by Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, charted a different course.

The strategy was to cease public censorship and pressure against South Africa and convince the government that cooperation with the conservatively oriented Reagan Administration offered the last best opportunity to secure its northern border with a stable independent buffer in Namibia and an Angolan regime (based perhaps on a coalition between the Soviet-backed government and Jonas Savimbi's principal insurgent group, UNITA) free of Cubans and no longer a base for SWAPO attacks. To back this strategy the Administration secured the diplomatic support and cooperation of the other members of the so-called "contact group": Britain, France, West Germany and Canada.

To put all these logically related pieces together to solve such a complicated diplomatic puzzle, in an international environment of conflicting interests in which the United States had only limited leverage, would be difficult. But there was no good alternative to achieve the same objectives, and all the key parties seemed to recognize this. SWAPO's acceptance in mid-November of Western proposals, backed by the contact group, for guaranteeing the rights of the white minority in an independent Namibia was an auspicious sign.


Of all the critical areas of the Third World the problem of strengthening containment was most important and most difficult in Southwest Asia: most important because of its strategic position, the dependence of the United States and its major allies on Middle Eastern oil, and the proximity of the Soviet Union, with a great concentration of Soviet forces athwart the border from Afghanistan to Turkey; most difficult because of the many clashes of national, ethnic, ideological, and religious interests in the area; the absence of reliable military counterpoises; the destabilizing effects of modernization on traditional regimes; and the special American commitment to Israel in an area in which few governments or movements were prepared to accept its legitimacy. Moreover, this was the area most responsible, in the aftermath of the collapse of Iran and the invasion of Afghanistan, for accentuating the chronic gap between American security interests and commitments, on the one hand, and effective power to support them against the Soviet threat, on the other.

Ever since the withdrawal of the British from this area in the 1950s (completed in the early 1970s), the United States, in its role of global container, had been faced with a "power vacuum." The problem was that each successive effort to fill the vacuum seemed either to upset the intraregional balance of power, as the 1955 Baghdad Pact had led Egypt to become a Soviet military dependent, or upset the internal equilibrium of the local base of American power, as the unrestrained U.S. assistance to the Shah had contributed to his demise. In either case, the effect was to facilitate Soviet penetration and influence.

Moreover, the problem of finding a reliable political base for American military power in the area was compounded by the deep-seated conflict between Israel and the Arab states, which became more acute after the 1967 War. Israel was by far the strongest and most reliable counterpoise to Soviet expansion in the Middle East, but its hostile relationship with the Arab states made it unsuitable as a base or surrogate. This was particularly the case after the political activation of OPEC in the course of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, for this development gave the United States a new degree of interest in maintaining harmonious relations with the major oil suppliers. And this interest merged with containment because of the presumed threat that the Soviets might directly or indirectly deprive the West of access to the oil fields. It also put the United States in the awkward position of trying to reconcile a cooperative relationship with Arab states with the security of Israel.

Confronted with these obstacles to containment, the American strategy was, first, to promote a stable peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. After the Carter Administration's abandonment of a comprehensive settlement and Sadat's astonishing transformation from Soviet dependent to peacemaker, this objective had come to focus on an Egyptian-Israeli settlement through the process envisioned in the 1978 Camp David Accords, which by the time of Reagan's victory had either entered their final stages or an impasse, with Israel's scheduled withdrawal from the Sinai and the question of Palestinian autonomy remaining to be resolved. At the same time, the American logic of containment called for development among the "moderate" (that is, anti-Soviet and not anti-American) states a sufficiently cooperative arrangement to facilitate the operation of the RDF in the Gulf. Toward this end, the key states would have to be Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which, especially after Sadat's assassination, would regard movement toward a Palestinian settlement as an essential condition for their cooperation.

The Reagan Administration's approach to the regional problem-contrary to campaign rhetoric that strongly favored Israel's position-was essentially an extension of the prevailing strategy. It continued to play the role of broker and lever toward the consummation of the Camp David agreements, with a combination of sticks and carrots intended to enhance Israel's receptivity to a minimal formula for Palestinian autonomy. At the same time, it concentrated on building the political and physical foundation for military collaboration in Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as in the older outposts of the Northern Tier, Pakistan and Turkey.

Consistent with the Reagan Administration's emphasis on the revitalization of containment, Secretary Haig gave this latter policy the name of "strategic consensus." He did not suppose that a common concern for containing Soviet influence and preventing Soviet aggression in the area would overcome all regional conflicts, least of all the conflict over Palestine. Nor was he insensitive to the political obstacles to stationing American troops in the area. But he did hope that this common concern might sufficiently mute the Saudi-Israeli antipathy and consolidate the Saudi-Egyptian convergence of interests to permit arrangements for the use of pre-positioned supplies, technical facilities, and bases in collaboration with local forces strengthened by American arms sales and assistance.

In 1981 the badly bungled sale of AWACS aircraft to the Saudis again showed the difficulty of strengthening Saudi collaboration without undermining Israel's sense of security. The Administration's concession to Israel's security was sign a pact for military cooperation, but this concession fell far short of the collaboration Israel sought and did nothing to reconcile the Begin government to a Palestine solution that the moderate Arabs might accept. Some European allies thought that Saudi Arabia's implicit recognition of Israel in its eight-point peace plan might break the impasse over Palestine, but the Arab states' rejection of this démarche was almost as adamant as Israel's. Meanwhile, the steady extension of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza convinced many observers that Begin's intention was annexation, which would foreclose any Palestinian settlement. Israel's annexation of Syria's Golan Heights in December and Begin's bitter retort to U.S. criticism and suspension of the pact for military cooperation seemed to move the dream of an Arab-Israeli accommodation even further from reality.

Added to these obstacles was an underlying uncertainty about the long-run stability of the Saudi regime. President Reagan's apparent extension (in a news conference on October 1) of the Carter Doctrine-initially characterized by Secretary Weinberger as "clumsy and ill-advised"-to cover any internal upheaval in Saudi Arabia that might shut off vital oil supplies to the West was an effort to reduce this uncertainty, but clearly it entailed some added risk of extending American commitments beyond American power. Furthermore, since stationing even small numbers of specialized American forces on Saudi or Egyptian soil was unwelcome by the hosts and politically disturbing in any case, the utility of the RDF even in contingencies involving Soviet forces seemed highly questionable. Against local military or internal revolutionary conflicts that threatened Western access to oil supplies, the utility of American forces had always been viewed as limited.


In the Third World the tone and rhetoric of diplomacy, the tactics and emphasis of policy, most differentiated the Reagan Administration's policies from those of its predecessor. In most respects, the content, as opposed to the style, of policy was marked by continuity; but in some cases the change of style amounted to a change of substance. This was markedly true in the case of policies concerning the trans-national issues on the global agenda that so engaged Third World representatives and liberal Western spokesmen in the arena of world opinion.

The style of the Carter Administration in addressing these issues was initially to elevate them to the status of critical elements in an emerging new international order, in which North-South relations would impinge upon American vital interests at least as significantly as would East-West relations. The Reagan style, in contrast, was to approach the "so-called" Third World as a huge heterogeneous aggregation of countries with a variety of political and economic problems deserving of American sympathy and help on grounds of enlightened self-interest, but to do so on a practical case-by-case, issue-by-issue basis, not as a class of states demanding a massive transfer of wealth to redress the economic inequalities of an unjust international system. Rejecting what it considered the false dichotomy of North-South and East-West relations, the Administration also rejected the view that one set of relationships turned upon social and economic, the other on security concerns. Rather, these relationships and concerns were fused and interdependent.

One aspect of this fusion to which the Administration gave extraordinary emphasis, implemented by a variety of countermeasures as well as words, was the threat to the security-and, therefore, the development-of less industrialized countries arising from the aggressive interventionism of two Third World states sponsored by the Soviet Union: Cuba and Libya. Indeed, against these two disturbers of the peace the Administration directed such a vigorous verbal onslaught as to convey the impression that it welcomed the chance to discipline them as more vulnerable extensions of the Soviet Union. And yet its actions were, in fact, cautious-even in response to what it publicly charged was an effort by Libya's Qaddafi to assassinate leading members of the Administration.

Notwithstanding its emphasis on Communist threats, the Reagan Administration did not ignore the Third World's preoccupation with economic development. Even though it did not speak with the compassion of the two preceding Democratic Administrations, in substance its approach was about the same as that of the Carter Administration. Both accepted the generalities about the West's commercial and humanitarian interests in economic progress and stability among the less industrialized countries, but Western governments had long ceased to regard development aid as an effective means of achieving this end except under congenial internal conditions which were usually beyond their control. Nor was the response of the two Administrations to Third World demands for an internationally organized transfer of wealth essentially different: rejection of most of the items put forth by the Group of 77 for structural reform of the international system, coupled with a willingness to bargain about a few of the more practical demands for economic concessions within the framework of the existing system.

The principal difference was that the Reagan Administration was less susceptible to egalitarian appeals and was unapologetically committed to capitalist self-help. That the candid but not unresponsive Reagan style of neither "confrontation" nor "condescension" in dealing with the less industrialized countries might enjoy some diplomatic success was suggested by the President's performance at the meeting of developed and developing countries at Cancún, Mexico, in October.

This meeting followed Reagan's effective opposition at the July Ottawa summit to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's proposal for "global negotiations" on increased aid to the Third World, and his warm endorsement in September of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (IBRD) as instruments for stimulating development through the private sector. At Cancún he gracefully agreed to the dominant concern of the less-developed countries for continuing global negotiations, but deftly defined these negotiations as a dialogue in the United Nations (not subject to votes) and within U.N. and multilateral bodies such as the IMF and IBRD (where weighted voting would prevent futile haggling)-while emphasizing the superior benefits of private investment and free enterprise demonstrated in the striking economic progress of some newly industrialized countries.

In its approach to two other issues on the global agenda, the Reagan style expressed the Administration's more candid emphasis on the objective of security and cooperative relations with friends: the transfer of conventional arms and nuclear proliferation.

The Carter Administration entered office with a strong disposition to regard arms transfers as wasteful and provocative distractions from economic development which must therefore be restrained. In practice, it found that arms sales, for a variety of political and military purposes, were one of the most effective instruments of policy that the superpowers have. It proceeded to develop a set of restraints that more or less came to terms with U.S. diplomatic and military interests. The only substantial planned reduction of arms sales was to Latin America-always in domestic political terms the most appealing and, in terms of U.S. security, the least costly arena for applying sanctions of various kinds-but the result was simply to substitute foreign for American sales.

The Reagan Administration entered office with a bias in favor of arms sales as a means of narrowing the gap between security interests and unilateral power-by strengthening friendly countries, revitalizing mutual security relationships, and fostering regional and internal stability. It developed a set of guidelines designed to restrain arms sales, but for purposes of cost-effectiveness rather than political virtue. It avowed an interest in multilateral restraints on arms transfers; but, seeing little or no foreign (including Soviet) interest in such restraints, it was opposed to jeopardizing U.S. security interests through unilateral restraints. Putting its money where its policies were, the Administration greatly increased military assistance to Southwest Asian countries and relaxed the Carter restraints on co-production of arms, on the production of weapons specifically for export, and on assistance by American embassies to arms exporters.

This shift of emphasis compounded the usual difficulty of restraining energetic arms salesmen in the Pentagon-especially the salesmen of advanced aircraft-but Administration spokesmen insisted that the new emphasis was not a disguise for uncontrolled sales. They pointed to the new program adopted for Pakistan-$3.2 billion over six years in military and economic aid, divided about 4-to-1 in favor of loans for military purchases and including the sale of F-16 aircraft-as an effective use of military transfers for overriding security interests, in contrast to the Carter Administration's suspension of military assistance as a sanction against Pakistan's nuclear program (and Pakistan's rejection, on grounds of inadequacy, of Carter's post-Afghanistan effort to resume aid). The explicit purpose of the program was to strengthen Pakistan against a "serious threat" from Soviet troops in Afghanistan; but, as often, arms transfers also seemed to be intended for purposes served best by public silence: bolstering the Zia government against neutralism and Soviet inducements; preserving a base for the harassment of Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan; and gaining bases and access rights for the RDF. As in other cases in Southwest Asia, arms aid to enhance the security of one country tended to threaten the security of its rival-in this case, India. But the Administration evidently calculated that it could manage this dilemma without upsetting the balance in the subcontinent. In any case, India's quasi-alignment with the Soviet Union inclined the Administration to discount the cost of displeasing India.

The Reagan Administration, partly moved by Israel's air raid against Iraq's nuclear facilities, endorsed the well-established American goal of curbing the spread of independent nuclear capabilities. But, as with arms transfers, it integrated nonproliferation policy more explicitly with U.S. security policy. It put new emphasis on the position that, in the final analysis, discouraging a nation's acquisition of nuclear weapons depends on helping to meet its security interests by other means, and it added the argument that reestablishing the United States as a reliable partner for peaceful nuclear cooperation under adequate safeguards was essential to gain the support of recipients for nonproliferation goals. At the end of 1981 it was too early to say precisely what this emphasis would mean in operational terms, beyond the general relaxation of restrictions on nuclear reactor fuel sales and on civil reprocessing and breeder reactor development abroad, which had often been political irritants but seldom effective nonproliferation devices. It was clear, however, that nonproliferation policy would have to come to terms with the revitalization of containment and that, where the two conflicted (as was widely considered to be the case in Pakistan), the burden of proof would now rest on those favoring restrictions. Again, arms aid to Pakistan provided some indication of how the new emphasis might work out in practice. While giving precedence to mutual security interests, the Administration made it clear, informally, that the aid would be terminated if Pakistan were to explode a nuclear device; and Congress added provisions to the appropriation bill to make this explicit.

On human rights policies the divergence between the Reagan and Carter Administrations was, as both saw it, the sharpest of all the divergences on global-agenda issues. Representatives of the Carter Administration, with some reason, considered these policies the most distinctive and enduring expression of their moral enhancement of America's global posture. Representatives of the Reagan Administration considered them the most quixotic, biased and counterproductive. The controversy excited during the campaign by the New Conservatives' charge that human rights policies had undermined friendly right-wing authoritarian countries while turning a blind eye to left-wing totalitarians reached a crescendo in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's opposition that led Ernest W. Lefever, a long-time critic of misguided moralism, to withdraw his nomination as head of the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the State Department.

Yet the new Administration did not renounce the application of human rights standards to the conduct of foreign relations. In November it reaffirmed them as "a principal goal" "at the core" of U.S. policy. It did not dismantle the often intrusive machinery in the State Department for implementing human rights standards nor, for the moment, challenge the legislation that required such implementation, including the extraordinarily undiplomatic reports on foreign countries' state of moral health.

The State Department memorandum on human rights policy, published on November 4, amounted to a forceful restatement of the Carter Administration's policy, but there was an underlying difference of emphasis and philosophy. President Carter and his spokesmen often gave the impression, though seldom confirmed in practice, that they regarded this policy as an ideal to be pursued altruistically, in contrast to the policy of supporting right-wing dictators for the sake of containment. The State Department's memorandum, on the other hand, frankly stated the instrumental justification for such official idealism. Human rights, it affirmed, must be an integral, not just rhetorical, part of American foreign policy in order to maintain public and congressional support of foreign policy initiatives, to stave off neutralism, and to mobilize ideological opposition to the Soviets. This justification of official morality on grounds of enlightened expediency might offend moral purists, but the end result could nevertheless be to exalt moral values to the greatest practical extent, if the Administration adhered to the memorandum's view that to be credible and effective human rights standards must be applied evenhandedly, even if they adversely affect relations with friends as well as enemies.

The eventual continuity of human rights policies was apparently confirmed by the rapid and overwhelming congressional approval of the Administration's nominee to replace Dr. Lefever, Elliott Abrams, who advocated the reinvigoration of the human rights bureau. But, of course, the actual content of human rights policies would depend, as before, on the kinds of judgments the U.S. government would make in reconciling (and often subordinating) human rights standards to equally compelling diplomatic and security interests and means-ends calculations in particular cases. Here one could be sure that the Reagan Administration would apply human rights policies less publicly, be more discreet with friendly countries and tougher with enemies, give greater emphasis to "civil" and "political" (as distinguished from "individual") rights, apply all three components of human rights with more deference to favorable trends, seek amendments to legislation singling out particular countries as targets for restrictions on military and economic assistance, and give greater weight to security considerations and the necessities of combatting terrorism.


To assess the general course of foreign policy in the Reagan Administration it may help to speculate how it might look in retrospect five or ten years from now. It is always too early to conduct this kind of exercise of the imagination for the purpose of prediction, but a year is time enough for a contingent evaluation.

It will be argued that the contingencies implicit in the following evaluation are skewed toward unwarranted optimism. I would say they are skewed toward plausible optimism, which may be refuted by the Administration's deficiencies and by events beyond its control. I assume, for example, that the preponderant influence in U.S. foreign policy of the judicious and informed pragmatic multilateralism which is now concentrated in the State Department will prevail; that President Reagan's best qualities of leadership will become actively engaged in the making of foreign policy; that the Administration will avoid the hazards of talking toughly with a weak stick it does not even wield; and that it will eschew the inclinations of some of its members toward the kind of unilateralism that could lead to disastrous national self-isolation. The reason for such conditional optimism is partly to present an appropriate model for emulation and partly to provide an antidote to widespread derogatory stereotypes of the Administration (especially abroad) that are even less warranted than absolute confidence that performance will coincide with the model. As for the multiplicity of adverse events and developments in trouble-prone parts of the world that may occur no matter how wise or foolish the U.S. government may be, I can only concede that some of them will almost surely occur, yet hopefully assume that the worst possibilities will remain only sobering hypotheses.

Whatever the future holds, it is safe to say that in retrospect the continuities in the broad outlines of American foreign policy will seem more striking than in November 1980. Both the Administration's claims and its opponents' fears of innovation will seem less important; and so will the inept remarks, bureaucratic collisions and tactical pratfalls that the media magnify. But, of course, continuity of the outlines does not preclude significant changes in the substance of policy. The momentous changes in American postwar policy have resulted from the process of translating the enduring premises and purposes of containment into policies and actions, in response to unpredictable events and basic changes in the international and domestic environment.

Amid the predictable continuities and unpredictable changes, the success or failure of the Reagan Administration, in retrospect, should be judged by the extent to which it has achieved its central goal, the revitalization of containment. The achievement of this goal requires bringing American power, in all its dimensions, into safe balance with America's expanded security interests and commitments-at a level of effort and by means that engage the moral and material support of the nation. The principal obstacles to achieving this balance lie precisely in the areas of policy concern-the four pillars-that the Reagan Administration has identified as most critical to the achievement of its central goal.

The obstacles are particularly formidable with respect to the two most immediately pressing objectives: the rejuvenation of the American economy and the restoration of the military balance. Inextricably related to restoring the military balance are two other objectives to which the Administration has properly assigned top priority: the revitalization of the North Atlantic Alliance and the achievement of a stable military and political equilibrium in Southwest Asia. Tying all these objectives to the revitalization of containment is the Administration's goal of achieving a relationship of restraint and reciprocity with the Soviet Union.

This constellation of related objectives deserves the highest priority simply because it has the greatest impact, for better or worse, on American security and well-being as Americans broadly define their vital interests. To be sure, the record of the past shows that developments in the Third World, even outside Southwest Asia, can become as critical to American interests as what happens in these major areas of policy concern if the mistakes and excesses of American policy make them so, but intrinsically they do not impinge on U.S. security nor strain U.S. power to the same extent.

In 1981 the Reagan Administration's most serious weakness lay in the foundation of its first pillar: the restoration of the nation's economy and, closely related to this objective, its defense posture. In 1982 one should be able to tell whether the Administration will be able to overcome its economic problems; it may take longer to judge the real efficacy of its defense efforts. Let us assume, not unreasonably but without any pretense of prediction, that in the course of the next few years the resilience of the American economy and society; the abundance of American resources, technological prowess, and ingenuity; the national consensus for a defense buildup; and the President's mobilization of the country behind the reaffirmation of national power and prestige will succeed in establishing this first pillar. Then, in retrospect, one could say that this achievement had given the United States the opportunity to cope with the closely related security problems in Western Europe and Southwest Asia.

It is unlikely that this Administration or any other will come very close to solving the complex of problems in these two areas, because these problems are, at their roots, insoluble dilemmas under any conditions that one can reasonably foresee. It is not unlikely, however, that the United States, as in the past, will at least cope with the dilemmas of the Atlantic Alliance by once again providing the key to preserving the essential security and cohesion of the Alliance, based on a solid core of common interests. The Reagan Administration has auspiciously entered the rocky two-track road to validate this judgment-but in the shadows of the Polish crisis, which could invalidate it.

It is less likely but not impossible that the Administration will be able to cope with the dilemmas of the Middle East. Whatever it does, there will be a lively danger of local wars and revolutions. The Arab-Israeli impasse over Palestine seems likely to continue, and it is not inconceivable that some kind of Israeli fait accompli may totally preempt movement toward a settlement. In either case, the situation will almost surely strain Arab as well as Arab-Israeli relations to an extent that will preclude a reliable regional "strategic consensus" for the projection of American military power. And even if the Palestinian question were settled, there is not likely to emerge among the Arab countries the kind of internal and inter-state stability that will provide a congenial environment for an RDF capable of containing a Soviet military incursion locally and short of the Gulf. Consequently, it will be a considerable tribute to the Reagan Administration if one can say in retrospect that it avoided the most serious hazards of excessive commitment to any of its several conflicting objectives in the area at the expense of the others, but retained a sufficiently credible political and material base for the projection of its power to reinforce Soviet caution against the military exploitation of regional turbulence.

If these minimal, yet challenging, objectives were achieved, would the Reagan Administration have succeeded in closing the chronic gap between American security interests and American power? Would it, thereby, finally have established the basis for sustaining containment over the long run without the disturbing oscillations between the assertion and retrenchment of American power? Not necessarily.

At the end of 1981 there were no signs, and no reason to think, that the extent and scope of American security interests and of American involvements in their behalf would cease to expand. Quite the contrary. At the same time, the disparity between security interests and the means of supporting them against internal, regional, and global threats seemed greater than at any time since the Korean War, partly because a military conflict in Southwest Asia would be more likely to spread than previous local wars in East Asia. Hypothetically, there were several ways to narrow the gap between interests and power to a safe margin; but in reality only a few of them were likely to be tried or to have much effect on the interests-power gap if they were.

In the abstract, the simplest way to narrow the gap would be simply to define security interests-especially those that might require the use of force to support them-more selectively. In practice, however, there seems to be no safe formula for doing this that would be consistent with containment. To plan to exclude some interests from the ambit of containment while trying to revitalize containment would be particularly disadvantageous and hardly something that the Reagan Administration would contemplate.

There is a beguiling geopolitical logic to the possibility that the Western European allies and Japan might fill in the expanded interests-power gap by contributing more to defense in their region and in the Middle East, where, after all, their security is more directly imperiled than American security. Some redistribution of security roles and contributions is, indeed, politically essential and feasible; but the political constraints against the scale of devolution that would be necessary to compensate for the shortfall in U.S. capabilities are too obvious to make it a practical target in the 1980s.

As for arms control, we must know by now that it cannot end the arms race, nor substitute for maintaining the military balance. At best, it is a complement to defense programs. It can make a military balance less volatile and provocative, more predictable and safer. It may also save money if it does not become an excuse for letting the military balance deteriorate. But it cannot, by itself, do much to close the gap between interests and power.

There remains one crucial key to narrowing the gap to a safe margin-one essential complement to redressing the military balance. This is diminishing the threat to American security interests by diplomatic accommodation. In the Third World this means putting the full weight of American power and prestige behind the resolution of regional conflicts and tensions through patient and discreet diplomatic intervention.

Even more important, in East-West relations this means maintaining a restraining balance of will and strength against Soviet expansion, while establishing over a number of years a set of formal and informal reciprocal restraints. If the Administration's other three pillars were firmly erected, it would have a good opportunity to construct and sustain such an equilibrium. Intractable internal and external problems could be important incentives to the Soviets, providing that they know that they cannot exploit U.S.-European divergences. The volatility of the Middle East, the persistence of the interests-power gap, and the imperatives of allied cohesion provide compelling incentives to the United States.

Needless to say, the opportunity for a new East-West equilibrium would be destroyed for a long time by Soviet military suppression of Poland. It would be enhanced if the Poles are able to settle their own affairs through peaceful compromise and the Soviets abstain from military intervention. General Jaruzelski's repression of the independent Polish labor movement in December cast an ominous cloud over East-West relations, and tested the Reagan Administration's ability to reconcile the management of East-West tension with the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance. The Administration's cautious and measured actions manifested its determination to preserve two of its pillars of policy under difficult circumstances.

Against the Polish government the Administration applied economic sanctions of graduated severity, while trying to distinguish between sanctions against the state and humanitarian concern-especially in the form of privately distributed food aid-for the people. Against the Soviet Union, which the Administration publicly held responsible for Jaruzelski's crackdown, it also applied phased sanctions, contingent upon the continuation of repressions; and it repeated previous warnings of unspecified reprisals in the event of overt Soviet military intervention. The President also pledged that if the Polish government reached an accommodation consistent with basic human rights, the United States would do its part to restore the Polish economy, as it had helped the countries of Europe after World War II.

These measures fell far short of the full-scale political and economic sanctions advocated by some labor leaders and Congressmen, but even these were not matched by the European allies. Failing to secure parallel sanctions by its allies, the Administration nevertheless felt compelled to impose them unilaterally; but it refrained from publicly pressuring the allies to follow suit. Indeed, on the diplomatic level the Administration conspicuously eschewed a tougher stance and continued normal relations, not only with allies but with Moscow as well. Thus, it explicitly delinked the Geneva negotiations on TNF from the Polish situation on the grounds of their "unique character and significance," and it guardedly looked forward to a summit meeting between Presidents Reagan and Brezhnev.

To some critical observers, these actions merely confirmed a pattern of talking loudly while carrying an inadequate stick. But underlying the Administration's actions were substantial considerations of Realpolitik. The threat of military intervention to deter Soviet intervention was, of course, excluded. Massive multilateral economic aid, with political strings, to prevent repression by the Polish government was of doubtful economic or political efficacy and was politically unfeasible to organize with the Allies anyway. That left rhetoric and sanctions as a protest and deterrent, and the promise of economic aid as an incentive toward a peaceful accommodation and a rescue operation if accommodation were achieved.

The Administration had not yet devised a comprehensive strategy for East-West trade, but it was skeptical of the utility of economic sanctions as an instrument to affect Soviet actions or weaken Soviet power to carry out its actions-a view amply supported by the whole history of sanctions. (In April President Reagan's lifting of the partial grain embargo that President Carter had imposed on the Soviets in response to the invasion of Afghanistan reflected this skepticism as well as the payment of a political promise to American farmers.) On the other hand, no Administration, and least of all one as vehemently anti-communist as President Reagan's, could fail to express its condemnation of Polish repression by the most widely accepted tangible means available to major trading countries in modern international politics: punitive or demonstrative economic sanctions.

In imposing such sanctions, however, the Administration was mindful that, for sanctions to be effective economically or symbolically, the European allies and especially Germany would have to take parallel action or at least not rush in to supplant American exports. Partly because they were major trading partners with the Soviet bloc they were reluctant to curb exports, either for the purpose of putting pressure on the Polish government or to hold Moscow responsible for repression. Therefore, the Administration was anxious that sanctions at least not divide the United States from its allies, as they had tended to do after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was also anxious that sanctions not foreclose the opportunity for East-West accommodations-especially in arms negotiations, where suspension of the TNF talks would be far more damaging to the United States in its relations with the allies than to the Soviet Union, which would seize upon the suspension to exploit U.S.-allied differences. In the end, sanctions could hardly improve conditions in Poland, but they could easily worsen relations with the allies and the Soviet Union. More constructive might be multinational implementation of the President's proposal of a program for economic restoration if the Poles were to achieve a stable and liberal resolution of their internal affairs.

Whether the Reagan Administration would succeed in translating these several considerations and objectives into successful policies would depend, in the final analysis, on developments in Poland that are fundamentally beyond American influence. But if it were to emerge from the Polish crisis with a realistic prospect of more constructive relations with its allies and with Moscow, it would not only have earned valuable credit for statesmanship. It would also have demonstrated a familiar fact of American political life: it is easier for a conservative Republican than for a liberal Democratic administration to exercise restraint and secure reciprocity in dealing with recalcitrant allies and with the principal adversary.

If the Reagan Administration could capitalize on this political advantage, it might eventually be known best for an achievement it seemed least to seek when it came into office. Having put the Vietnam syndrome to rest and consolidated the restoration of the American economy and defense, it might be known best for constructing a safer and more secure relationship with the Soviet Union. Such a relationship could be more substantial than the atmospheric détente of the late 1950s or the ephemeral détente of the 1970s precisely because it was neither a superficial escape valve for public anxieties nor the core of a grand design for a global modus vivendi, but the consequence of an integrated set of policies that brought American power into balance with vital interests on an enduring basis.

1 At the end of the year, these were succinctly presented in an article by the Secretary, "A Strategic American Foreign Policy," NATO Review, December 1981. The summary of the "four pillars" is taken directly from that article.



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  • Robert E. Osgood is currently the Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. He was formerly Dean of SAIS and served as a member of the Senior Staff of the National Security Council in 1969-70. He is the author of Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations, Limited War, Limited War Revisited and other works.
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