Reagan's Foreign Policy

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev have a few final words after a marathon meeting to conclude their mini-summit in Reykjavik, October 12, 1986. Denis Paquin / Reuters

Any attempt to form a judgment on an administration's record in foreign policy must at least begin by comparing the circumstances in which it entered and left office. Certainly in the case of the Reagan Administration the comparison appears striking, more so, indeed, than in the case of any administration since Harry Truman's.

The past year was characterized by a virtually unbroken series of auspicious developments in foreign policy, developments that few observers would have forecast in 1981. In marked contrast, the last year of the Carter Administration had been almost unrelievedly bleak. It had begun with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and had ended with an escalating war in the Persian Gulf between Iran and Iraq. Both conflicts were widely seen as inaugurating a new and more dangerous phase of the continuing oil crisis.

What made the deepening crisis in the Persian Gulf all the more disturbing was its occurrence within the context of a global balance of military power that appeared to be shifting steadily in favor of the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1970s the growth of Soviet arms, strategic and conventional, proceeded at a rate that could eventually call into serious question the effectiveness of Western deterrent and defense arrangements. This impressive Soviet arms buildup was attended by a persistent and unprecedented effort by Moscow to expand its influence in the developing world. What gave this effort a more menacing character than it otherwise would have had was the fact that much of it was centered in regions proximate to the Gulf. To the alarm that in any case would have registered in the West, there was added a measure of nervousness over the threat to the indispensable source of energy for the states of Western Europe and Japan.

The great questions posed in 1980 were: What did these several developments add up to, and where were they likely to end? Clearly, the Soviet Union was making a serious bid to expand its global position and influence. But how far

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