Roundtable 8-14 on Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration

Democracy Promotion National Security and Strategy coverIn Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration, Robert Pee explores the United States’ attempts to promote democracy abroad during the Reagan administration. The title of Pee’s book captures a central challenge Washington faced with this issue not only during the 1980s but also throughout the Cold War after 1945. Security considerations frequently clashed with efforts to promote democracy, representative government, and human rights versus authoritarian regimes that were allied with the U.S. around the globe. After an overview of the emergence of democracy promotion and its relationship to U.S. Cold War policies under containment and a discussion of problems that disrupted cooperation between Washington and private groups as well as a decline in support for modernization as an effective solution, Pee focuses on debate within the Reagan administration on how to integrate the promotion of democracy with U.S. foreign policy goals, most notably the perception of increased challenges of communism aided by the Soviet Union spreading in the Southern hemisphere. In several chapters Pee explores the debate within the Reagan administration over how to respond to issues such as the effort by the Polish government in 1981 to ban the Solidarity labor movement and whether the effort to promote democracy should be aimed at reinforcing Washington’s national-security goal of challenging the Soviet Union and regimes identified as Communist allies of Moscow from Fidel Castro’s Cuba to the new Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and the Soviet- and Cuban-backed government in Angola.

H-Diplo | ISSF Roundtable, Volume VIII, No. 14 (2016)

H-Diplo/ISSF Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse
H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable and Web/Production Editor: George Fujii
Commissioned for H-Diplo/ISSF by Thomas Maddux
Introduction by Thomas Maddux

Robert Pee. Democracy, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration. London: Routledge, 2015. ISBN:   9781138828650 (hardcover, $145.00).

Published by H-Diplo/ISSF on 23 May 2016


Introduction by Thomas Maddux, California State University Northridge, Emeritus

In Democracy, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration, Robert Pee explores the United States’ attempts to promote democracy abroad during the Reagan administration. The title of Pee’s book captures a central challenge Washington faced with this issue not only during the 1980s but also throughout the Cold War after 1945. Security considerations frequently clashed with efforts to promote democracy, representative government, and human rights versus authoritarian regimes that were allied with the U.S. around the globe. After an overview of the emergence of democracy promotion and its relationship to U.S. Cold War policies under containment and a discussion of problems that disrupted cooperation between Washington and private groups as well as a decline in support for modernization as an effective solution, Pee focuses on debate within the Reagan administration on how to integrate the promotion of democracy with U.S. foreign policy goals, most notably the perception of increased challenges of communism aided by the Soviet Union spreading in the Southern hemisphere. In several chapters Pee explores the debate within the Reagan administration over how to respond to issues such as the effort by the Polish government in 1981 to ban the Solidarity labor movement and whether the effort to promote democracy should be aimed at reinforcing Washington’s national-security goal of challenging the Soviet Union and regimes identified as Communist allies of Moscow from Fidel Castro’s Cuba to the new Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and the Soviet- and Cuban-backed government in Angola.

When the Reagan administration turned to Congress, which had Democratic majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, the White House encountered resistance from Democrats who wanted to address both Communist and right-wing authoritarian regimes as targets for democracy promotion. Pee argues that despite initial success in the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 1983, Congress, as the overseer of the NED and in control of funding, resisted the Reagan administration’s effort to support anti-Communist groups who lacked any commitment to democratic ends or methods. In the concluding chapter, Pee evaluates the efforts of the NED that exhibited continuing conflict over the White House’s desire to focus on anti-Communism objectives versus the concerns of Congressional Democrats to support programs to address authoritarian regimes. Pee does note some consensus on issues such as NED support for the creation of a pro-U.S. government in Grenada in 1983 after the U.S. invasion and efforts to support democracy in the Soviet bloc, but on the issue of the Philippines and the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, a U.S. ally since 1965, the White House and Congress were in sustained disagreement on U.S. support for the regime. (168-178)

The reviewers are impressed with Pee’s study, noting the archival research in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Library of Congress. As James Graham Wilson emphasizes, Pee “does not force evidence to fit where it does not, and he neatly captures the messy process by which ideals can become policy, the porous boundary between state and the private sector, and the intensity of the interagency and interpersonal rivalries during the Reagan administration.” Matthew Alan Hill is impressed with Pee’s ability to “bring together a series of related but different parts of the puzzle in examining democratic promotion” and in identifying “three key debates” that shaped the process:   “Should promoting democracy be for the long term goal of a democratic world or as a short-term tool of U.S. national security strategy to defeat communism, should the Executive or the non-state actors determine what democratisation projects should be employed, and should the U.S. target allied dictators as well as states with opponent political systems.” Pee’s most important contribution to the literature on democracy promotion, according to Michael McKoy, is his analysis of the “organizational dilemmas involved in supporting democratization internationally” with those who favoured an independent agency with private funding versus the White House’s desire for administrative control with government funding. Lauren Turek views Pee’s book as “nuanced, thoroughly-researched, and astute in its analysis.

The reservations on Pee’s study that the reviewers express focus on a desire for more analysis with respect to the implementation of the NED efforts. Wilson, for example, would have welcomed more discussion on the Philippines and the NED support for Corazon Aquino in the election to replace Marcos which, as Pee notes, served “to entrench pro-U.S. elites in power rather than to promote democratic transitions that could have resulted in far-reaching socioeconomic change” (179). Turek notes a limitation in Pee’s “top-down, bureaucratic/institutional foreign policy history” which is “essential to understanding the relationship between democracy promotion and national security at the highest levels of government, but [Pee’s case studies] do not shed much light on how Reagan’s policies shaped life in the affected countries, nor do they make clear exactly how democracy promoting policies shaped bilateral relations.”   Hill would have welcomed more specific attention to organizational process models of decision-making in evaluating the manoeuvring of the different governmental departments and the application of the “concept of constructive ambiguity which enables multiple and opposing interpretations to operate within the same context without causing polarisation.” The role of Congress in the creation of the NED, according to McKoy, should have received more analysis as a “strategic actor,” and Nichols notes a number of examples of where further analysis by Pee would have been helpful, such as the importance of the beliefs of Reagan and his advisers on “fighting the Soviet Union by pressing democracy”, and efforts to implement the democracy agenda in Europe and with the Soviet Union. Nichols recognizes the importance of the internal policy process but he would like more integration of this with external events in the 1980s. “There is no way to separate support for authoritarians in one area from attacks on pro-Soviet regimes in another,” Nichols asserts, for “to the ‘Reaganites,’ these were all the same policy, but for Pee, they are all tactical reactions hashed out at the organization level. Reagan himself is something of a cipher in all this.”


Robert Pee completed his Ph.D. at the University of Birmingham in 2013. He is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK, where he teaches courses connected to U.S. foreign policy, the CIA and the connections between U.S. culture and politics. He is also an Honorary Visiting Research Fellow at City University London. He is currently researching U.S. democracy promotion policy towards allied authoritarian states. Publications include Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan administration, (Abingdon, UK and New York, USA: Routledge, 2016) and “Political Warfare Old and New: The State and Private Groups in the Formation of the National Endowment for Democracy,” 49th Parallel, Vol. 22 (2008), 21–36.

Matthew Alan Hill completed his doctorate at the University of Ulster in 2008 on U.S. foreign policy, and is currently a Senior Lecturer in History at Liverpool John Moores University. Matthew’s research on US foreign policy and democracy promotion is published in international journals and as a research monograph with Routledge titled Democracy Promotion and Conflict-Based Reconstruction: The United States and Democratic Consolidation in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq (London, 2011). More recently, in September 2014 (UK), he published American Politics for Dummies book with Wiley and Sons, which examines the history and politics of the United States from the War of Independence through to the present day. He is currently working on a project examining Anglo-American relations during the Second World War.

Michael McKoy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College (IL). He received a Ph.D. and M.A. in Politics from Princeton University in 2012. His research focuses on how alliance politics effects and is effected by domestic revolutions. His published works include “The Patron’s Dilemma: The Dynamics of Foreign-Supported Democratization,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 56, no. 5 (October 2012), co-authored with Michael Miller; “Backing Out or Backing In? Commitment and Consistency in Audience Costs Theory,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 59, no. 4 (October 2015), co-authored with Jack Levy, Paul Poast, and Geoffrey Wallace; and “Coalition Dynamics and the Sèvres Pact: Do Opposites Attract?” in Melissa Yeager and Charles Carter, eds., Pacts and Alliances in History: Diplomatic Strategy and the Politics of Coalitions (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012).

Tom Nichols is a Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the U.S. Naval War College, a senior associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, and an adjunct at Harvard Extension School. He was personal staff for defense and security affairs in the United States Senate to the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University, and the Certificate of the Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union at Columbia University. His most recent book is No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). His next book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters will be published by Oxford in 2016.

Lauren Turek is an assistant professor of history at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Her articles on religion in American politics and foreign policy have appeared in Diplomatic History and the Journal of American Studies. She is currently working on a book manuscript that traces the emergence of evangelical Christian foreign policy lobbying groups in the United States and the influence these groups exerted on U.S. foreign relations and human rights policies from the 1970s onward.

James Graham Wilson is a Historian at the Department of State, where he compiles volumes for the Foreign Relations of the United States. He is the author of The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War (Cornell University Press, 2014). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in 2011.


Review by Matthew Alan Hill, Liverpool John Moores University

The uniqueness of this research is determined by its ability to bring together a series of related but different parts of the puzzle in examining democracy promotion. Robert Pee’s research investigates democracy promotion during the 1980s and the way in which the U.S. foreign policy establishment discussed how to employ this concept in order to serve U.S. national security goals. In particular, he explores three key debates. Should promoting democracy be for the long-term goal of a democratic world or as a short-term tool of U.S. national security strategy to defeat communism, should the Executive or the non-state actors determine what democratisation projects should be employed, and should the U.S. target allied dictators as well as states with opponent political systems.

Through employing a range of primary and secondary sources, this research successfully details these debates and all the actors involved during the time Ronald Reagan was President. The chapters walk us through different aspects of that debate from the founding days of democracy promotion before the Reagan administration (Chapter One) to the initial discussions on how promoting democracy should be connected to U.S. foreign policy goals (Chapters Two and Three) to the processes involved in developing the democracy-promotion policy and practice and how the promoter should be organised (Chapters Four and Five) to the solution, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED – Chapter Six). Throughout his work, Pee provides insight into the various debates happening within the context of each chapter’s focus and how they impact the succeeding chapter’s focus. By Chapter Six, Promoting Democracy (150-186), Pee is ready to discuss all these debates and discussions raised in the preceding chapters and how they manifested themselves in the operationalization of the NED. He shows how these debates were too polarised for compromise, and for the sake of establishing a democracy promoting organisation they were kicked into touch to be dealt with at a later date. His conclusion shows that whilst the anti-communist camp had initially won, in that NED’s identity and role was attached to the short-term national security strategy of the Reagan administration, this was not the end of the story. With Congress overseeing NED and with the legislature being pre-disposed to the long-term national security focus, when evidence arose in 1984 of misappropriated funding for anti-communist but non-democratic projects it used the power of the purse and halted funding. Congress was adamant that whilst democracy promotion could secure national interests, in practice, it meant that this would be achieved through instituting programmes aimed at reforming the political system towards democracy. According to Pee ‘the influence of Congress reinforced the idea that democracy promotion should attempt to achieve national security objectives through democratic methods” (160).

All throughout this monograph, Pee successfully identifies the impact that international events and internal government discussions had on the Reagan administration’s evolving attitude towards democracy promotion. In Chapter Three, Democracy Promotion and National Security Policy, for example, he discusses how the Polish government’s suppression of the Solidarity movement in 1981 led to debate within the Administration on how to respond. In detailing Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and CIA Director William Casey’s hard-liner camp wanting to concentrate on anti-communism through sanctions and the Secretary of State Alexander Haig-supported camp wanting to focus more on protecting alliances with Western European states as the sanctions would directly affect their economies, Pee maps-out how democracy promotion and the Polish crisis impacted the Reagan administration’s foreign policy. He mentions that by January 1982, under the aegis of Reagan’s newly appointed State Department Head of the Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs Elliott Abrams, the decision was made to shift towards a more interventionist policy (75-78). What Pee importantly demonstrates is that there were qualifications to this interventionist policy in that engagement in democratic activities was restricted to those identified by the Administration as enemies. After the Polish crisis the targets were the Polish and Soviet governments, not allied undemocratic dictators. Pee suggests that the decision to intervene in certain cases reflects the way in which the dominant camp in the Administration saw democracy promotion as a vehicle in which to secure its national security goals of defeating the USSR and communism.

Alongside this shift to a (restricted) interventionist policy, there was also a conceptual jump within the Administration in terms of how it could support those groups fighting for political change. In supporting civil society groups such as church networks, labour unions, and various other non-state actors, the aim was to encourage the growth of democracy in the society and put pressure on the political system. What Pee neatly does, however, is show how this conceptual change, whilst important, did not actually deliver any significant plans on how it could be adopted as a strategy or implemented in practice wholesale. In Chapter Four, for example, Pee details the interplay between three approaches to how democracy promotion should be operationalized. The question was whether the Reagan administration would back its own desire for democracy promotion to be wedded to an anti-communist and anti-Soviet foreign policy and thus be a vehicle for attaining U.S. national security goals, be applied to regimes that were against the U.S. as well as key allies in the fight against communism, or be a strategy that was more expansive and designed to institutionalise democracy everywhere and transcend immediate U.S. strategic priorities by looking to the long-term benefits of a democratic world (105).

This narration of the interplay between the opposing camps is insightful and clearly maps-out the differing ideas as to what role democracy promotion should play in future U.S. foreign policy. After the Reagan administration decided to support an overt democracy promotion policy, the opposing positions shifted away from debates between the Executive departments and private groups into a new political landscape, one between the Executive and the Congress (118-121). With the Democrat majority in both chambers at the time, there was strong opposition towards Reagan’s ‘Project Democracy’ because it supported short-term national security goals that were aimed towards fighting communism both ideologically and practically. The Congress questioned whether this was about promoting democracy in the world or just fighting communism with a democratic tag.

An example of the detail in which Pee goes into when explaining the development of the plan to introduce democracy promotion as an element of Reagan’s foreign policy can be seen in one of the most interesting and well delivered sections of Chapter Four; ‘state and non-state convergences and divergences’ (101-106). In this discussion he cleverly identifies the areas of common interest and the fault-lines between the AFL-CIO and various elements of the U.S. government and how they impacted the decision-making within the Reagan administration regarding its democracy promotion policy. This analysis examines how the AFL-CIO requested support for its programmes around the world. He shows how there was support from all elements of the government in its programmes in Western Europe and the Soviet Bloc because it supported the national security goals of anti-communism. However, in Third World countries such as South Africa and Chile i.e. states that had pro-U.S. regimes, whilst the State Department was supportive, the National Security Council “and other agencies had often been unconvinced that such programmes were in line with US national security objectives (104). As Pee rightly points out, if the AFL-CIO could convince the doubters that it wanted to prepare “democratic groups to compete for power with Soviet-funded groups after the collapse of pro-US dictatorships” and not to fund them “to destabilise the sitting regime” then there was an “opportunity for convergence” between all parties (104). Although agreement in establishing a vehicle for promoting democracy between the actors was achieved, it was not through convergence on this issue but by side-lining it as needing resolution.

To confirm, this research is an important contribution to the study of democracy promotion during the Reagan era. There are, however, two issues that arise that could have made the work stronger. The first is conceptual and the second is organisational. Considering that one of the main goals of this research is to examine the organisational factors that shaped the emergence of democracy promotion, it would have been a good idea to have included analysis based on organisational and other relevant theories or frameworks. This research was a perfect opportunity to support interdisciplinarity, something which should be encouraged. At certain times in the monograph their application would have provided greater support and insight into what happened. Taking my cue from Graham T. Allison[1], this research could have employed organisational process models of decision-making in order to determine how government departments made their decisions and what their specific goals and needs were, and the bureaucratic politics model that suggests solutions are products of bureaucratic bargaining. That is not to say that the results these approaches would have delivered have not been discussed (such as the differing goals, strategies and objectives of parts of the State Department and the NSC), but that it could have been more systematic and explicit.

Take also for example, the concept of constructive ambiguity which enables multiple and opposing interpretations to operate within the same context without causing polarisation. By December 1982, in spite of the divergence within and without the government concerning the strategic role of democracy promotion in U.S. foreign policy, there was sufficient consensus to “allow the project to move forward” (112). Pee rightly considers this as “strategic fuzziness” (112). Furthermore, in Chapter 5 The Foundation of the National Endowment for Democracy (128-149), with Congress rejecting ‘Project Democracy’, the dispute over whether democracy promotion should focus on fighting communism or be more expansive was still unresolved. In early 1983, the Democracy Program study was tasked by USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) to propose an alternative vision. Pee demonstrates how kicking the strategic discussion into touch and focussing instead on the organisational model to be employed meant that it had a better chance of being supported by Congress, the Executive, and the non-state sector (130-131). However, framing the government’s organisational situation regarding democracy promotion by applying constructed ambiguity would have provided more depth into the analysis made.

Second, although not a major concern, general points are sometimes made without specifics that are not then footnoted with the details of the summation. Whilst I readily accept that this is because of restrictions on space and the need to drive the argument, it does mean, however, that if one wants to follow the footnote trail they cannot. It would have been good to show the workings out. On page100, for example, when Pee states: ‘in terms of organisation some groups and figures outside the Executive saw private and governmental programmes as competing models […]’, it would have helped to know which groups and people the research uncovered.

In sum, Robert Pee’s research monograph is an important contribution to the discussions of the Reagan administration’s foreign policy deliberations, policies, and implementations as well as the role of democracy promotion within that policy. It provides an important element to understanding the evolution of democracy promotion as we know it today.


Review by Michael McKoy, Wheaton College

President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy aims, strategies, and achievements have been intensely debated since his time in office. And as per President John F. Kennedy’s famous statement, this has been a fight among fathers (and later, their ideological progeny) over who deserves credit for success. Conservatives credit Reagan’s arms buildup, championship of democratic principles, and unwavering belief in Soviet fragility for achieving Western victory in the Cold War.[2]   Liberals—who typically prefer to focus on Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership—give greater weight to Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons and his bold efforts towards nuclear disarmament.[3] In his book, Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration, Robert Pee largely sidesteps this debate, in large part because he focuses almost exclusively on Reagan’s first term.   This book is about the genesis of strategy, rather than its effects, though this is discussed in the final chapters. Moreover, Reagan is himself a minor character in this story and is rarely directly quoted or cited. Rather, this book focuses on mid-level U.S. officials and activists fighting to set the foreign policy agenda of what would ultimately be the last presidency of the Cold War.

Pee frames this history of the Reagan administration’s democratic policy as a struggle to resolve two dilemmas, strategic and organizational. The strategic dilemma is a familiar one: whether U.S. foreign policy should have been guided by geopolitical concerns or ideological principles.[4] Pee labels those most focused on geopolitical concerns ‘Reaganites,’ traditional conservatives with strong personal and political connections to Reagan. They were much more concerned with assuring and upholding authoritarian allies in the Third World than they were about these regimes’ terrible human rights records.   Allied with the Reaganites were the neoconservatives, former Democrats who had become disenchanted with the post-Vietnam new-left politics of the Democratic Party in general and the human rights-centric foreign policy of the previous Jimmy Carter administration in particular. These disillusioned Democrats blamed Carter for the revolutions that overturned U.S. allies in Iran and Nicaragua in 1979. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a former advisor to Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, became the poster child for this group and served as Reagan’s UN ambassador.   The eponymous Kirkpatrick Doctrine—that democratization efforts should focus on left-wing, Soviet-friendly dictatorships rather than right-wing, U.S.-friendly dictatorships—was a direct response to Carter’s policies and became the stated position of the Reaganite-neoconservative faction.

Countering this position were those who believed U.S. democracy efforts should focus universally, regardless of the target regime’s geopolitical alignments. Pee particularly draws attention to George Agree, William Douglas and Michael Samuels, all of whom were former Congressional or State Department staffers. Indeed, the strongest advocates of this position were largely outside the administration. However, their position was not divorced from geopolitical concerns.   Rather, they believed these regimes’ oppressive, authoritarian policies made them ripe for Communist takeover, as happened in Nicaragua. They saw strong alliances with moderate democratic groups as the best means of keeping these countries in the U.S. camp.[5] Those in the State Department shared this view, including Secretaries of State Alexander Haig and George Schultz and Assistant Secretaries Michael Armacost, Richard Armitage, and Paul Wolfowitz.   Indeed, this may be the first time anyone has ever called Paul Wolfowitz a “pragmatic conservative” (173).   Pee in fact touches upon an underlying divide among neoconservatives that is often overlooked: whether U.S. primacy must be maintained in order to protect democratic values (Kirkpatrick) or whether the spread of democracy is necessary for the protection of U.S. security (Wolfowitz). This divide is perhaps one reason for what Pee deems an absence of grand strategy at the very beginning of the Reagan administration.

Yet, Pee goes beyond this strategic dilemma to highlight the organizational dilemmas involved in supporting democratization internationally. This argument is more original, and is what I consider Pee’s major contribution to the literature. Pee demonstrates that both sides ultimately agreed that a separate agency should be established in order to focus on promoting democracy abroad. However, their conflicting factional agendas created differences over that agency’s level of independence and source of financing.   The Reaganites wanted to ensure that the administration had strict managerial and financial control over an agency that could potentially destabilize friendly regimes. The universalists (for lack of a better name), however, feared that democratic dissidents would reject U.S. aid if it was too closely tied to the U.S. government, out of fear that they would be labeled as U.S. puppets. They particularly feared, in the case of Poland, that this would give the Soviets just cause to shut Solidarity down. Universalists therefore preferred a more independent agency with private funding or government dollars funneled through private organizations. This impasse between the needs for administrative control versus plausible deniability was ultimately broken by the universalists’ inability to raise the necessary funds independently. They therefore had to accept governmental funding and agenda-setting. Fortunately for them, Congressional Democrats shared their policy preferences and therefore ensured that the newly established National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was not simply a vehicle for Reagan’s national security agenda.

Congress played a crucial role here, but Pee presents Congress as a deus ex machina or an incidental savior of the universal democracy agenda, rather than a strategic actor in its own right. This decision causes some important dynamics to be downplayed or ignored. Particularly, I question why the Reagan administration did not foresee Congressional opposition. One possible explanation is that administration expected the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the most powerful American labor union, to have much greater influence with Congressional Democrats. Pee goes into great detail about the close working ties between the Reagan administration and the AFL-CIO and its president, Lane Kirkland. Nonetheless, the AFL-CIO was apparently unable to convince its traditional Congressional Democratic allies to support Reagan’s anti-Communist agenda. This failure was likely due to the waning power of party organizations in the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate era. A huge wave of Democratic ‘Watergate babies’ who were more ideologically new left and extremely wary of U.S. involvement against foreign Communist insurgencies were elected to Congress in 1974 and 1976.[6] It was the takeover by these types of Democrats that led Kirkpatrick and other neoconservatives to vote for Reagan or flee the Democratic party altogether.

Yet, it is also possible that the Reagan administration did foresee Congressional opposition and either planned accordingly or recognized that this would not be a problem. Pee notes that while Congress controlled the NED’s budget, the administration still had control over appointments. The administration therefore still maintained strong control over NED priorities.   Pee notes that “this is clearly the strategic calculation which the [National Security Council] had based its decision to support the NED autonomy on” (154). However, Pee leaves unclear whether this was something the administration realized after the fact or whether this was central to the administration’s ostensible capitulation to Congress. If it is the latter—which would be my guess—then it would have been good to have established this earlier and more centrally.

Yet, even without appointment power, the national security agenda may likely still have won out over the democracy advocates’ more universal goals. According to a recent book by Sarah Bush, the universalists’ two supposed victories—Congressional budgetary control and the need for plausible deniability—ultimately stifled the NED’s democracy promoting ability. In The Taming of Democracy Assistance: Why Democracy Promotion Does Not Confront Dictators, Bush argues that governmental funding and long authority chains force democracy-promoting organizations to adopt programs with easily measurable goals in order to justify further funding. These goals may not be commensurate with programs that more successfully build the types of democratic successors that Pee argues the universalists sought to establish.[7] These two books thus serve as compelling if ironic companion pieces: Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy provides in-depth details about the internal conflicts and compromises that led to the creation of the NED, and The Taming of Democracy Assistance shows that regardless of the universalists’ intent and ostensible victories, the national security agenda still won out. Pee makes a significant contribution to the expanding and increasingly complex literature of American democracy promotion.


Review by Tom Nichols, U.S. Naval War College

American foreign policy has tussled with the problem of ‘democracy promotion’ ever since Woodrow Wilson waded into the end of World War I. After World War II, Cold Warriors, like their counterparts in ancient Athens and Sparta, saw democracy promotion — the replication of Western systems in areas held by the enemy — as part of a global campaign for survival in the face of the Soviet threat. Since then, views of American ‘democracy promotion’ tend to fall along predictable political lines, with critics seeing it as a cynical tool for the manipulation of others, and supporters defending it as a noble American calling.

Robert Pee’s detailed study cuts through these and other more academic explanations, and instead treats democracy promotion as just another policy among many in the strategic toolbox. This allows him to place the idea itself in a political context, as neither more nor less important than other Cold War policies. Pee rightly claims that “efforts to spread democracy have never occupied the position of a dominant and overriding imperative in US foreign policy;” his more arguable view is that democracy promotion is a “hybrid solution,” handled on a “tactical case-by-case” basis. (6)

His major case, reasonably enough, is President Ronald Reagan’s democracy agenda in the 1980s. After reviewing the history of the concept of U.S. democracy promotion, particularly in the developing world, Pee focuses much of his study on the wrangling inside the Reagan administration that led to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Strikingly, Pee argues that the Reagan White House “did not possess a coherent grand strategy” for democratization. (40) This is in keeping with his earlier view that democratization as a policy in general in the 1960s and 1970s was more a response to the inability of state actors to modernize the developing world than any kind of ideological project. Here, too, Pee sees democracy promotion more as opportunism, or at best as a prudential tactic, limited by external relationships and internal political conflict.

Pee’s chronology of the early Reagan period is a bit jumbled, making his point more contentious. Pee notes the reaction in some European quarters to Reagan’s aggressive anti-Soviet rhetoric, for example, placing these concerns in 1981. NATO, Pee writes, “appeared to be decaying,” and thus the Reagan administration throughout 1981 “generated a solution to its geopolitical problems in Western Europe through the deployment of democratic ideology” (43).

This kind of overly compact analysis is difficult to accept. Within the space of a few pages, Pee essentially argues that Reagan’s hard line spooked Europe, and that ‘democratic ideology’ was the answer. While it’s not wrong to note that hard-line Cold Warriors like U.S. Information Agency head Charles Wick wanted to take the propaganda fight to the Soviet bloc itself, this is too over-simplified a view of the early 1980s.

For one thing, NATO was already in serious decay by the time Reagan was elected. In the mid-1970s, U.S. leaders seriously considered whether NATO could survive the politics of the post-Vietnam era, and President Gerald Ford even went to Brussels personally to plead for keeping the Alliance together. Pee is right that democracy promotion was a tool, but it was not merely a response to jangled European nerves. U.S. policymakers were trying to regain some of the moral high ground lost during the 1970s, rather than as a relatively quick reaction to European reactions to Reagan. But the transition from the disasters of the 1970s to the election of Reagan in 1981 passes entirely too quickly here.

More importantly, Pee concludes that the Reagan administration’s views were merely rhetorical devices deployed in order to “build support for its foreign initiatives and criticize enemy states” (65). To some extent, that is true, but there is always some instrumental element to public diplomacy, and that does not then remove the importance of sincerely held beliefs. Pee’s brisk pace unfortunately gives short shrift to years of writings and statements by Reagan himself and others in his administration that suggest that they were deadly serious about their ideological approach, and that fighting the Soviet Union by pressing democracy as an alternative was already deeply embedded in their worldview long before any of them arrived in Washington.

The book’s strongest moments are when Pee details the debates inside the White House about how to balance this ideological imperative with the pressing realities of national security and foreign policy. [His discussion of the genesis of Reagan’s Westminster address in 1982, for example, is particularly worthwhile (88-92)]. I admit, however, that I am still unclear on Pee’s point about the relationship in this period between the White House’s policy and ‘private sector democracy programs,’ and especially his argument that one of the Reagan administration’s aims was to bring these private programs “into conformity with U.S. goals” (93). I am not disputing the point, insofar as I understand it, but I am not sure it merits the importance Pee seems to give it.

Because Pee’s narrative presents democracy promotion as a tactic, he also needlessly abbreviates discussion of important aspects of that policy under Reagan. While he provides an interesting account of the Westminster speech, for example, the narrative then rushes past a far more important internal document, National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 75. NSDD 75, Peenotes, was largely drafted by Harvard professor Richard Pipes, whom he calls a “Reaganite” and “confirmed hard-liner.” (108) (For some reason, the book has an index entry for “Reaganites,” as though they were a card-carrying group.)

Pipes, of course, was an anti-Soviet Cold Warrior to his bones. Pee notes that the State Department objected to Pipes’s draft, with Pipes duly objecting to State’s objections. This is interesting but not news, and it is just as important to consider how NSDD-75 was understood and implemented as how it was drafted. NSDD 75 seems to vanish from Pee’s account quickly.

Overall, Pee’s book is weakest in dealing with Reagan’s democracy agenda as it relates to Europe and the Soviet Union, and strongest in detailing how this policy played out in Central America. The developing world seems to be where Pee’s real interest in the subject lies, and that is reasonable, but it causes him to rush past Reagan’s policies in what Reagan himself clearly thought was the main arena of East-West confrontation. This undermines the better material in the book, including the detailed discussion of the founding of NED.

Pee’s study, unfortunately, will be difficult for students or interested readers who do not have a solid background in Cold War history. In part, this is because the book itself is too compact and too elliptical. There are also some strange usages here; the book capitalizes ‘Human Rights’ as a policy, one of many small but distracting practices in the text. More important, Pee juxtaposes ‘the Kirkpatrick Doctrine’ of supporting anti-Marxist authoritarian governments against what he sees as the more practical views of policymakers who saw the transition to democracy as a surer guarantee of stability.

Not only is this an oversimplification of former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick’s position, but it misses the more controversial aspect of democracy promotion, which was the Reagan Doctrine of arming anti-Soviet moments to fight their own regimes. This is a problem throughout the book, as itshoehorns a wide spectrum of policies — whose foundations he does good work detailing at the internal level — into a story that misses important characteristics of the overall environment of the 1980s. There is no way to separate support for authoritarians in one area from attacks on pro-Soviet regimes in another; to the ‘Reaganites,’ these were all the same policy, but for Pee, they are all tactical reactions hashed out at the organizational level. Reagan himself is something of a cipher in all this.

Because Pee begins by denying that the Reagan administration’s democracy promotion policy had very much coherence, he thus too often treats each part of it in isolation from the others. This raises a larger problem with the book, which is that Pee’s explanation is too broad: At the very outset, he sees American democracy promotion efforts as the result of:

a contested decision-making process involving negotiations within a disunited US elite that was influenced by strategic and geopolitical calculations, disagreements over appropriate organizational structures, and convergences and divergences between elite factions located in the state and civil society. (4)

In other words, it was a policy that was the result of everything at the same time. This is true, but only because as a general statement, this is true of all foreign policies. Pee notes this and then to move on to the detailed internal workings of organizational imperatives and bureaucratic politics.

This is not only too simple, it is too cynical. It’s true that policies are the result of multifaceted pressures of politics, but why place those in opposition to principle or declared motives? To say that democracy promotion is just one of many vectored outcomes of the political and organizational process is not to say anything distinct, and Pee does not provide clarity on which pressures are more important than others, or when.

Why, for example, does democracy promotion attain such salience in the Reagan administration? Was it, as Pee argues, merely the response to failed policies in previous decades, or to the worries of the Europeans about the new American administration? To his credit, Pee brings in world events here — again, too briefly — including signal moments such as the imposition of martial law in Poland, but these seem to be little more than fodder for the preexisting internal debates he relates in more details.

In fairness, what I see as a weakness is also a strength of the book. Pee assumes a certain amount of familiarity with history on the part of his reader so that he can take us deeper into the policy process. I am not certain, however, that Pee accomplishes this without needlessly unmooring those internal processes from the world in which they took place. Still, he has unearthed some important discussions, and for readers interested in the establishment of the NED, in particular, there is some fascinating reading in here.

There is not much of a conclusion to the book, which is surprising. Pee foregoes the opportunity to link the legacy of the 1980s to current debates. Democracy promotion is perhaps the most controversial element of American foreign policy in the 21st century, and Pee has said something important, if controversial about it. Still, his study would have been stronger if his historical analysis were linked to some kind of conclusion about what the Reagan experience can tell us about today.


Review by Lauren Turek, Trinity University

Upon announcing his intention to seek the Republican nomination for president in November, 1979, Ronald Reagan urged the nation to continue “protecting and defending freedom all over the world,” and pledged that under his leadership the United States would “become that shining city on a hill” that John Winthrop envisioned in 1630.[8] Yet once in office, Reagan confronted the same fundamental challenge that has bedeviled American foreign policymakers since the United States became powerful enough to project its interests abroad: how to balance national security with the promotion of the nation’s core values. In his thoughtful and incisive monograph, Robert Pee explores this longstanding tension between security and democracy promotion through a case study of foreign policy during the Reagan administration. He focuses specifically on the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), explaining in great detail the impetus for its creation as well as the protracted debates within Congress, the policymaking establishment, and non-government organizations (NGOs) over its organizational structure. Through this study, Pee highlights the Reagan administration’s shift from a rhetorical defense of global freedom to a specific strategy of promoting democracy. He argues that this strategy differed fundamentally from previous democracy-promotion efforts, yet nevertheless remained closely aligned with national security interests and was thus limited rather than universal in scope.

Pee opens the book with a discussion of the precursors to Reagan’s program of democracy promotion, tracing the rise and fall of earlier strategic frameworks such as containment and modernization. In what emerges as a common theme, he notes that “while democracy may have meshed with national security concerns at the ideological level” during the Cold War, “support for democracy did not serve US national security goals consistently in pragmatic terms” (12). Indeed, as decolonization accelerated, the U.S. government confronted the challenge of choosing between repressive authoritarian leaders who were friendly to U.S. interests and democratically-elected nationalists who might lean toward the Soviet Union (15). Early Cold War strategies often proved incapable of fostering U.S.-friendly democracies in the Global South, and a CIA scandal in 1967 discredited the involvement of private civil society groups in political interventions abroad, owing to their use of covert government funding (18-23). Yet when the Carter administration implemented policies to promote human rights in authoritarian regimes, its efforts failed to counter revolutionary movements in Latin America and the Middle East. As such, Pee argues that “by 1980, the growing need for a method of blocking or pre-empting Third World revolutions and the recognition that democracy promotion required financial resources that only the state could provide had opened up the possibility … [for] the creation of a new, overt state-private network dedicated to democratization” (33).

Having laid this foundation, Pee then explains the halting process by which this possibility for a state-private democracy promotion network developed into the National Endowment for Democracy during the Reagan administration. When Reagan entered the White House in 1981, disagreements between members of his administration and the lack of a coherent grand strategy made it difficult for the United States to operationalize democracy promotion in the service of its national security interests (41). Pee uses case studies of Western Europe, Poland, and El Salvador to demonstrate that for much of the early Reagan administration, democracy promotion remained largely rhetorical and ad-hoc. Although domestic pressures, including congressional human rights activism, led the administration to shift U.S. policy toward El Salvador from supporting authoritarianism to promoting elections, policymakers lacked the “organizational capability” to actually achieve this new objective (55). According to Pee, it was only with the declaration of martial law in Poland in December, 1981 that proposals for “a government-sponsored strategy of democracy promotion to be implemented by US private groups” gained purchase within the administration (71).

Chapters three, four, and five of this book then provide a granular analysis of the competing visions for a democracy promotion program that emerged within the administration and among the State Department, Congress, and private civil society organizations between the end of 1981 and 1983. Pee sums up these competing visions by noting that disagreements existed “on whether to pursue an expansive vision of democracy promotion aimed at both friendly and hostile dictatorships, a narrow campaign against Soviet communism, or even a global campaign untied to any specific and immediate US national security interest,” not to mention over “whether democracy promotion should be a primarily state-led or privately implemented activity” (7). Questions about the program’s funding, credibility, and potential partisanship figured prominently into these discussions as well.

Pee asserts that the plan for the NED that the Democracy Program study group provided to Congress in 1983 elided many of these debates by appealing to core American democratic values while avoiding any reference to specific programs that might have raised partisan objections over strategy (136-138). This ambiguity created “an organization which could pursue democracy promotion on a case-by-case basis, not a coherent strategic framework” (189). Pee expands on this assessment in the final chapter, which examines how the NED operated during its first two years of existence. Through a series of concise, illuminating case studies on the NED’s democracy promotion programs in Panama, the United Kingdom, France, Grenada, Guatemala, the Soviet bloc, and the Philippines, he concludes that “the NED’s operations under the Reagan administration were not conducted in accordance with an overarching strategic framework that prioritized democracy promotion over short-term national security objectives. Instead, democracy promotion was deployed as a political/organizational tool to achieve pre-existing US national security objectives in specific cases” (178). Pee argues that for this reason the tension between promoting universal democracy and protecting U.S. security interests persists in U.S. foreign policy to this day.

By delving into the bureaucratic, institutional, and academic debates that unfolded around the establishment of the NED, Pee reveals that the interactions between non-state actors, Congress, and policymaking agencies imposed constraints on the scope of democracy promotion. His deep analysis of these debates expands our understanding of why national security interests continue to trump genuine, universal democracy promotion as the core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The fact that Reagan pursued regional security over the implementation of democratic reform programs in certain countries is not surprising. Nevertheless, Pee’s careful assessment of the NED’s foundation shows that the compromises that the Reagan administration, civil society groups, and policymakers made to overcome disagreements within their ranks and with Congress over the structure of the new organization made it impossible to resolve the fundamental tension between long-term policies to cultivate democratic institutions abroad and short-term security concerns.

In rooting these debates about the organizational structure of the NED within the context of national security and strategy, Pee adds an important layer to the larger story about how the Reagan administration used human rights principles as a vehicle for promoting its foreign policy interests. This book thus complements other key works that explore the interrelation of democracy promotion, human rights, and non-state actors, including Nicolas Guilhot’s The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and International Order and James Peck’s Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights.[9] In The Democracy Makers, Guilhot notes that “the emergence of various democracy promotion programs was a direct consequence of the neoconservative human rights doctrine or, better, the substitute for a human rights policy,” which the Reagan administration began seeking in late 1981 after Congress put up resistance to Reagan’s rejection of Carter-era human rights objectives.[10] Pee might have made more of the manner in which the Reagan administration and policymaking agencies subsumed human rights into democracy promotion, thus operationalizing human rights to serve national security ends.

This book is, for the most part, a top-down, bureaucratic/institutional foreign policy history and as such it has certain limitations. Although Pee does an excellent job in the second, third, and final chapter of introducing case studies to ground his discussion of the NED’s creation in a specific context, the studies are brief and top-level, reflecting the Reagan administration’s reactions to events on the ground. These studies (and this approach) are essential to understanding the relationship between democracy promotion and national security at the highest levels of government, but they do not shed much light on how Reagan’s policies shaped life in the affected countries, nor do they make clear exactly how democracy promoting policies shaped bilateral relations. This quibble aside, Pee’s book is nuanced, thoroughly-researched, and astute in its analysis. It makes a valuable contribution not only to the literature on foreign relations, democracy promotion, and human rights policies during the Reagan administration, but to our understanding of contemporary foreign policy as well.


Review by James Graham Wilson, Historical Office, Department of State[11]

The world must be made safe for democracy,” President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in his 1917 war message to Congress (1). At subsequent moments, when requesting that the American people export blood and treasure, U.S. presidents have reiterated the point that security at home depends upon defending liberal-democratic principles. And yet, as Robert Pee writes in this careful and nuanced study, “the relationship between democracy and national security has been and will continue to be characterised by constant and continuing tension. . . ; [t]he fundamental problem that animates this tension is that while the US gains a measure of strategic and ideological power from its invocation of democracy and its pursuit of some types of political reform in some states, it cannot be certain that democratic change overseas will always be consistent with US national security interests” (7).

As Pee describes in an early chapter, U.S. policymakers after 1945 worried that free elections in war-ravaged Europe might usher in governments that would orient themselves toward the Soviet Union or opt out of the Cold War. As colonial empires collapsed, they grew anxious about the type of governments that newly independent peoples in the Third World would choose for themselves. In a free election during the 1950s, the majority of Vietnamese would have chosen a unified state under Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist Party. Modernization theory assumed that there was a non-Marxist model for rapid industrialization that would more closely align democratic aspirations and Washington’s national security objectives. Those expectations collapsed during the Kennedy-Johnson era; President Richard Nixon dropped even the pretense of democracy promotion.

Pee’s work fits well into a burgeoning literature of the role of ideas in U.S. foreign policy after Realpolitik itself broke down in the 1970s. As Barbara Keys, Daniel Sargent, Sarah Snyder, and others have described in recent books, human rights became a first-order concern in U.S. foreign and domestic politics.[12] Nearly the only idea one associated with President Ronald Reagan and the world in 1980 was anti-communism. The former governor of California belittled President Jimmy Carter for criticizing the human rights records of regimes who otherwise shared U.S. opposition to communism, and endorsed neoconservative Democrat Jeane Kirkpatrick’s thesis, laid out in Commentary in November 1979, that authoritarian regimes sometimes evolved into democracies — whereas totalitarian regimes never did.

The so-called Kirkpatrick Doctrine never really entered into force, however. The Reagan administration vociferously opposed communist regimes and continued to support some dubious actors as Pee demonstrates, yet it also jettisoned the notion that authoritarian regimes were inherently more reliable allies and better business partners than democracies. The process was messy, and it did not result in a blueprint for how to reconcile competing objectives of democracy and national security priorities. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of democracy promotion in the Reagan administration is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the contours of which Reagan sketched in his June 1982 Westminster Speech, and the creation and early initiatives of which Pee describes in the middle chapters of his book.

Led then and now by Carl Gershman, the NED provides grants mainly to institutes representing the two major U.S. policy parties as well as labor and management. Gershman, a protégé of Kirkpatrick, regarded the regimes of authoritarian allies (as well as those of totalitarian nemeses) as doomed. The priority for U.S. national security interests was not to delay the inevitable but to improve the odds of a democratic succession. Supporters within the administration acknowledged that this project exceeded the bounds of traditional diplomacy, yet also did not regard the NED’s mission as covert action. “[I]f we have the C.I.A. in this we can call it off right off the bat,” Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs Lawrence Eagleburger told Deputy National Security Robert “Bud” McFarlane in the summer of 1982. (113)

Pee bases his analysis on a close reading of declassified documents at the Reagan Library and Library of Congress. He does not force evidence to fit where it does not, and he neatly captures the messy process by which ideas can become policy, the porous boundary between state and the private sector, and the intensity of the interagency and interpersonal rivalries during the Reagan administration. He also gives voice to overlooked policy entrepreneurs such as Michael Samuels, William Douglas, and George Agree, as well as Robie Marcus Hooker “Mark” Palmer, a highly respected foreign service officer who played a key role in the creation of NED and played key, if largely forgotten, role in Eastern Europe during the end of the Cold War.

On occasion, Pee might have clarified a bit more his terms and drawn out the distinctions. For instance, he uses “Reaganites” throughout the book; while I suspect that it refers to hardliners on communism and arms control, hardliners appears on both sides of the democracy- promotion debate. Pee might also elaborate on whom he regards as the ‘elites’ — versus non-elites — during the Reagan era.

Another theme on which the author might elaborate is the alternative to the outcome he describes in his chapter on the Philippines. As Pee persuasively argues, the Reagan administration grudgingly backed away from President Ferdinand Marcos only when it seemed that Corazon Aquino, widow of slain opposition leader Benigno Aquino, had a viable chance to win in an election; at that point, the National Endowment for Democracy played a limited yet constructive role. “The opposition forces which the State Department and the NED supported aimed at a conservative democracy,” Pee writes, “a restoration of the institutions which had existed before Marcos gutted them, rather than a radical transformation” (177). Were there specific missed opportunities to have done better? “The practical effect of democracy promotion programmes was to entrench pro-U.S. elites in power rather than to promote democratic transitions that could have resulted in far-reaching socioeconomic change,” Pee writes (179). Perhaps the author might have enumerated a few recent successful examples of the latter.

Criticism aside, I enjoyed reading this book and grappling with the ideas the author lays out. I especially encourage scholars interested in foreign policy during the Reagan administration to read it. So should graduate students be required to read this book in seminars on international relations, modern U.S. diplomatic history, and in public policy schools. The penultimate section of the Conclusion, which extends the analysis to the post-Cold War era, reads as an excellent proposal for a follow-up book that I would read.


Author’s Response by Robert Pee, University of Birmingham

Thank you to Thomas Maddux for putting together a diverse group of scholars to participate in this roundtable review, and to Lauren Turek, Matthew Hill, Michael McKoy, Tom Nichols, and James Graham Wilson for taking the time to provide perceptive and incisive comments on my book. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss and clarify certain points that they have raised.

The purpose of the book was to examine how the tensions between democracy promotion and national security were resolved under the Reagan administration at the strategic and organizational levels, rather than at the levels of ideology or in cases of U.S. foreign policy towards individual countries. The focus was the Reagan administration because, after a period in which promoting democracy had fallen into disfavor in U.S. foreign policy and been replaced by the realism of the Richard Nixon- Henry Kissinger years and the Human Rights campaign of the Carter administration, the 1980s saw both a revival of democracy promotion and its reconceptualization. This reconceptualization was most evident in the generation of the new programs, implemented through the National Endowment for Democracy, which aimed to build democracy overseas through strengthening sub-state actors such as political parties, unions and business associations. The outcome of this reconceptualization of democracy promotion laid the groundwork for key aspects of post-Cold War foreign policy under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The reviewers touch on several key issues in their comments on the work. First, there is the question of scope: whether I have concentrated on key events or conversely, omitted important factors from the analysis. Second is the issue of the relationship between interests and ideology in the United States’ promotion of democracy. Third, the reviewers discuss the theme of the roles that the Executive, Congress and non-state actors have played in the shaping, deployment and implementation of U.S. democracy programs. Fourth is the issue over whether the depth of U.S. democracy promotion is limited, and why.

The issue of scope is raised by two of the reviewers. Turek notes that Democracy, National Security and Strategy does not provide much analysis on how U.S. democracy promotion affected bilateral relations with other states or the lives of their populations, while Nichols argues that it focuses more on democracy promotion in Central America and the Third World than the Reagan administration’s efforts to spread democracy in the Soviet bloc. As factual statements, there is little to argue with here. The analysis focuses mainly on the internal debates within the U.S. which affected the genesis and early development of the democracy promotion programs carried out under the Reagan administration, rather than on the programs themselves or case studies of how they affected other countries. Thus, while chapters two, three, and four touch on the Reagan administration’s policy towards El Salvador, Poland and the Soviet bloc, these topics are discussed because they impacted on the debate within the U.S. over democracy promotion by changing the viewpoints of some of the participants and altering the balance of forces within the administration while policy was being formulated. Similarly, although I discuss further cases in Central America, the Soviet bloc, and the Philippines in the final chapter, I do so because of what they reveal about the relationships between the Executive, Congress and private forces in the management of the new approach to democracy promotion, and because they trace the development of this approach in its early years. Regarding the geographical scope, there is more material on the U.S. and the Third World than on the Soviet bloc. However, this is partly because the Third World played a more important role in the debates which shaped democracy promotion and its early development. The tensions between U.S. national security interests and democracy promotion were far more marked in the Third World, where U.S. policy ran the risk of alienating or undermining authoritarian friends, than in the Soviet Union, where the actors agreed that democracy promotion could enhance U.S. security, and tended to disagree largely about the extent to which it should be pursued and the correct approach to adopt.

Finally, on the question of scope, Nichols wonders why I omit discussion of the Reagan Doctrine. Briefly, I focused my analysis on the generation of overt, non-forcible programs of democracy promotion based on forging linkages to overseas political parties and civil society groups, which aimed at the direct construction of functioning democratic systems. I see this as the new element in U.S. foreign policy which emerged under Reagan, and which requires explanation. While I do not discount the importance of the Reagan Doctrine to the administration, I do not see it as an example of democracy promotion. While President Reagan often explained U.S. aid to anti-Marxist guerilla movements in terms of providing aid to freedom fighters, the democratic credentials of the forces who received aid under the doctrine, such as the Afghan Mujahedeen, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in Angola and the Nicaraguan contras, were questionable.[13] Furthermore, the aid and advice the U.S. government supplied to these groups was focused on winning a military victory against Soviet or Communist forces, not on the mechanics of creating political parties or running a democratic system.

In terms of the relationship between ideology and interests in U.S. democracy promotion, Nichols contends that I understate the importance of an ideological commitment to democracy on the part of President Reagan and other hard-line Reaganite policy-makers, and paint an overly cynical picture of such policy-makers simply seizing on the concept of democracy promotion as a convenient trope in order to advance U.S. interests. He argues that it would be more correct to posit a deep ideological commitment to democracy on the part of Reagan and the hard-liners, and to see the administration’s foreign policy as a coherent expression of this commitment.

I do not deny Reagan’s commitment to democracy, nor that of other policy-making actors. However, any policy, no matter how much policy-makers have committed to it ideologically, needs to be implemented, and often balanced with competing priorities. This is doubly so for democracy promotion, which is a policy which aims to alter political structures in other states, and thus may involve removing existing regimes from power or reducing the influence of foreign elites. Democratisation does not always serve U.S. interests, and policy-makers may legitimately debate whether pursuing democracy promotion in a particular state will lead to stability, chaos, or an anti-U.S. backlash, or whether pushing a friendly authoritarian regime to reform itself will lead to the creation of a new liberal ally, or open a path to power for hostile political elements.

Rather than seeing democracy promotion as a coherent expression of a pro-democratic worldview held by hardline policy-makers and the President, I argue that the groups which influenced foreign policy formation within the U.S. on this issue – the Reagan administration, Congress, and the non-state actors who went on to implement democracy promotion programs – were divided over exactly these questions. None of these groups were simply cynical manipulators of democratic rhetoric. Instead, each group fused democracy promotion with more realist national security interests in different ways, giving rise to different strategies. As Nichols notes, for the Reaganites, the promotion of democracy in the Soviet bloc and the toleration of authoritarian rule in many Third World states that were allied to the U.S. were facets of the same policy: a Soviet-focused strategy of democracy promotion aimed at winning the Cold War. In turn, the wider conception supported by many State Department officials, and by democracy promoters working outside the state, of pursuing democracy promotion in the Soviet bloc and in allied Third World regimes, was a policy aimed at containing Soviet power by stabilizing Third World states and denying Soviet-backed forces any opportunities to seize power in other states. This would be accomplished by building up democratic forces which could replace unpopular non-Communist dictators with more legitimate governments that were less vulnerable to revolutionary pressure. The spread of democracy was a clear goal of both groups: the question was over where this goal should be given priority, and where it was compatible with U.S. national security interests.

This context of strategic disagreement is also why analysis of the relationship between the Reagan administration and non-state actors involved in democracy promotion during the 1980s is a key issue rather than a trivial one. Debates over whether the administration should have some direct control over non-state democracy promoters, and whether programs run by private groups should closely track short-term U.S. government objectives and policies, related directly to the strategic disagreements between the actors. The fear of the Reaganites that efforts directed at spurring the growth of democratic groups in allied authoritarian states might damage U.S. security relationships with them led these policy-makersto advocate a more state-supervised model of democracy promotion to ward off such problems. In contrast, the wider approach favored by State Department officials, Congressional Democrats, and the private democracy promoters themselves did not demand close state control of private groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), as their field of operation would not be limited. Therefore, the type of relationship between the state and private groups which was chosen, with the level of state control this implied, would have a key impact on where democracy promotion was pursued, and was linked to the strategic question.

In my view, an analysis which focuses on the interaction of Executive, Congressional and non-state actors with their own blueprints for democracy promotion holds more explanatory power for analyzing the form and course of democracy promotion under Reagan than one which focuses more on the President’s commitment to democracy. Reagan’s vision, if left unhindered, may well have resulted in an anti-Soviet public diplomacy campaign which exalted democracy rhetorically but did not seek to build concrete political structures, perhaps coupled with covert or overt links to friendly anti-communist groups overseas. The fact that the result of this process was a mode of democracy promotion which focused both on totalitarian enemy states and authoritarian allies and was implemented by a new overt organisation staffed by private citizens, the NED, was a result of the interaction of the President’s ideas and those of non-state democracy promoters and Congressional Democrats.

Furthermore, while the actors were able to agree on an organizational solution to promoting democracy in the form of the NED, policy coherence on democracy promotion remained elusive. In particular, the U.S. policy on promoting democracy in allied authoritarian regimes remained unclear, and was often formulated on a case-by-case basis. In the Philippines, the administration remained split over whether to support the islands’ dictatorial President, Ferdinand Marcos or his democratic challenger, opposition leader Corazon Aquino, until after the 1986 elections, rather than taking a clear line that democratisation was the correct policy option. Moreover, democratisation was supported as a policy option in this case most strongly by sub-cabinet-level officials such as Paul Wolfowitz, then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Richard Armitage, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, rather than being formulated at cabinet level and then imposed on the bureaucracy. Similarly, Morris Morley and Chris McGillion have shown that the Reagan administration’s democracy promotion policy towards Chile was contested, and that the policy shift was conceived by mid-level officials.[14] The same could be said of U.S. policy towards South Korea, which shifted towards support for a democratic transition after large-scale anti-regime protests in 1987.[15] These appear to have been tactical reactions, rather than the implementation of a coherent strategy based on democracy promotion.

This brings us to the interaction between Congress, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and the Reagan administration raised by McKoy. He queries whether the Reagan administration expected the AFL-CIO to influence Democrat legislators to support its proposals for a campaign of democracy promotion, and whether the administration had calculated before the establishment of the NED that the organisation would be largely constrained by the U.S. government’s national security framework, or after. To clarify, these questions refer to two democracy promotion programs supported by the Reagan administration. The first, Project Democracy, envisaged an anti-communist democracy promotion campaign which would fund and utilize U.S. civil society groups overtly, managed by a committee within the U.S. national security bureaucracy. It was never implemented, as Congressional Democrats on key committees rejected it. The second, the National Endowment for Democracy, was to be funded by the U.S. government but would be run on a day-to-day basis by a board of private citizens.

These are intriguing questions to which I have no clear answers at present. However, I will offer my own assessment of them. Regarding the first question, the AFL-CIO had been slated to receive funding from the Reagan administration under Project Democracy and could have been expected to support a program which would provide it with millions of dollars to spend overseas. McKoy’s hypothesis that the fracturing of the United States’ anti-Communist domestic political consensus during the 1970s reduced the ability of the AFL-CIO to influence Democrat legislators in favour of the program is persuasive. However, it may also be the case that the interests of the Reagan administration and the union in regard to democracy promotion had diverged, making the AFL-CIO less likely to use its influence to support Project Democracy. While the U.S. government and the AFL-CIO had often co-operated on anti-communism during the Cold War, their priorities were not necessarily the same in specific situations, sometimes leading to tactical disagreements. The work of Anthony Carew and Hugh Wilford reveals serious disagreements in the late 1940s and 1950s between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was providing covert funding for the union at that time. These disagreements were often provoked by the AFL-CIO’s unhappiness with the agency’s level of tradecraft, and the union’s frequent demands for more CIA funding with fewer restrictions on how and where the money could be spent. [16] Indeed, Wilford compares one meeting between AFL-CIO and CIA officials to a “failed wage negotiation”. [17] It is possible that the leaders of the AFL-CIO in the 1980s, some of whom had been in place during this earlier period, remembered these clashes and were searching for a method to preserve their tactical flexibility. By the time Project Democracy was submitted to Congress, the AFL was also participating fully in the Democracy Program study, which gave rise to the National Endowment for Democracy, and may have believed that its interests would be easier to safeguard under the more decentralized NED structure than through the Project Democracy structure.

McKoy’s final question is by far the most difficult to answer: did the Reagan administration assess that it would still be able to wield influence over the NED, despite its legal autonomy, before the Endowment was founded, and did it support the Endowment on this basis? I believe that the answer to this question is different for different elements of the administration. For example, as early as April 1982, the State Department had argued that in practice a semi-autonomous but government-funded democracy promotion foundation would not be able to operate far beyond the U.S. government’s foreign policy priorities.[18] More hardline policy-makers may have accepted this calculation as the best that could be salvaged as the chances of Project Democracy gaining support from Congress dwindled.

The final point to discuss is the depth of U.S. democracy promotion in specific states. My argument, expressed in several of the case studies in the final chapter, is that the type of democracy the U.S. promoted under Reagan tended to produce regimes which were more stable than the previous dictatorships, but which failed to implement the economic and social reforms necessary for a deeper level of democratisation to occur. Wilson asks, with regard to the Philippines, whether there were better options which U.S. policy-makers could realistically have pursued at that time to promote a deeper level of reform. It is clear that the major factors preventing a deeper level of democratisation in the Philippines were rooted in Filipino politics and society. Aquino herself, though extremely popular, was politically conservative, as were many of the legislators elected after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. Moreover, it is unlikely that anyone other than Aquino could have united enough of the anti-Marcos opposition in 1986 to pose a political alternative to the regime. However, the opposition movement itself was a mixture of right-wing and left-wing forces,[19] and in this context the U.S. and the NED did make far-reaching reforms less likely under Aquino’s government by supporting more right-wing forces, and in limiting democracy promotion grants to NGOs which did not threaten the U.S. interest in a stable Philippines by agitating for more far-reaching reforms, such as land reform.[20] My larger point is that even if opportunities to support deep reform existed, U.S. democracy promoters, whether in the state or in civil society, were unlikely to seize them. This was partly because U.S. democracy promoters in the 1980s did not see socioeconomic reform or the redistribution of wealth as part of their project. An approach to democratisation which turned on modernization measures such as land reform had fallen out of favour due to the failure of the Alliance for Progress during the 1960s, while the development models of the 1980s were focused largely on neoliberalism and free enterprise.[21] In addition to this, the key strategic purpose of democracy promotion in Third World contexts has been the creation of stable and legitimate regimes rather than the pursuit of socioeconomic reforms, which could destabilize such societies, opening them up to domination by radical forces hostile to the U.S. The situation is similar today. Furthermore, even if democracy promoters within state-funded organisations such as the NED decided to support groups aiming at more far-reaching reforms, it is unlikely that they would be able to do so given the organization’s dependence on the U.S. government, which was unlikely to agree. Thus, ideology, U.S. interests, and the structure of the democracy promotion machinery conspired to export a form of democracy which is stabilizing rather than empowering.

In conclusion, U.S. democracy promotion has been and is likely to remain an area of controversy, both in terms of policy and in terms of its interpretation by academia. The tensions between the United States’ national security objectives in sustaining relations with some dictatorships versus its more long-range interest in pursuing democratisation, conflicts between the President and Congress over the management of democracy promotion, and tensions over the exercise of state influence over private democracy promotion actors continued to have an impact on U.S. democracy promotion after the end of the Cold War. These tensions are likely to continue to operate as structural factors shaping the environment within which democracy promotion policies are formulated and operated. Although democracy promotion has decreased in salience under President Barack Obama, it continues to be a feature of U.S. foreign policy. At the moment, the two key, and most controversial, arenas for U.S. democracy promotion are Egypt and Cuba: one authoritarian allied state, and one totalitarian enemy state. It will be interesting to see how U.S. democracy promotion policy evolves towards these two states, and what the final resolution is.



[1] “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis” (The American Political Science Review, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Sep., 1969): 689-718.

[2] John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994); Steven Hayward, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980-1989 (New York: Random House, 2009).

[3] Paul Lettow, Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (New York: Random House, 2005); Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry, “The International Sources of Soviet Change,” International Security, Vol. 16, no. 3 (Winter 1991/1992), 74-118.

[4] See, for example, Michael McKoy and Michael Miller, “The Patron’s Dilemma: The Dynamics of Foreign-Supported Democratization,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 56, no. 5 (October 2012), 904-932.

[5] This position is supported by empirical research. See Ely Ratner, “Reaping What You Sow: Democratic Transitions and Foreign Policy Alignment,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 53, no. 3 (June 2009), 390-418.

[6] Jim Wright, Balance of Power: Presidents and Congress from the Era of McCarthy to the Age of Gingrich (New York: Turner Publishing, 1996).

[7] Sarah Sunn Bush, The Taming of Democracy Assistance: Why Democracy Promotion Does Not Confront Dictators (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[8] Ronald Reagan, “Ronald Reagan’s announcement for Presidential Candidacy November 13, 1979,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, (accessed 14 November 2015)

[9] Nicolas Guilhot, The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and International Order (NY: Columbia University Press, 2005); James Peck, Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2010).

[10] Guilhot, 79.

[11] The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.

[12] See Barbara Keys, Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014); Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Sarah B. Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

[13] Robert H. Johnson, “Misguided Morality: Ethics and the Reagan Doctrine,” Political Science Quarterly Vol. 103 no. 3 (1988): 517 and 524.

[14] Morris Morley and Chris McGillion, Reagan and Pinochet: The Struggle over U.S. Policy toward Chile (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 71, 87-88, 96-97, 136-138.

[15] The toughest and most substantive call for democratic reform in South Korea before the transition was delivered by Gaston Sigur, the Reagan administration’s Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in February 1987. Again, Sigur was clearly ahead of the administration, as Secretary of State George Shultz had not approved the speech and was reportedly unhappy about its content. A. David Adesnik & Sunhyuk Kim, “If At First You Don’t Succeed: The Puzzle of South Korea’s Democratic Transition”, CDRRL Working Papers (2008): 12. Available from, accessed 16 April 2016.

[16] Anthony Carew, “The American Labor Movement in Fizzland: The Free Trade Union Committee and the CIA,” Labor History Vol. 39 no. 1 (1998): 25-42 and Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 51-69.

[17] Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer, 64.

[18] Robert Pee, Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2016), 87.

[19] Joel Rocamora, “Lost Opportunities, Deepening Crisis: The Philippines under Cory Aquino,” in Low Intensity Democracy: Political Power in the New World Order, ed. Barry Gills, Joel Rocamora and Richard Wilson (London: Pluto Press, 1993), 196-197.

[20] Ibid., 199. William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US intervention and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 135-138.

[21] Jeff Bridoux highlights the differences between the export of democracy as a developmental policy in the 1960s and 1980s clearly in Jeff Bridoux, “US Foreign Policy and Democracy Promotion: In Search of Purpose,” International Relations Vol. 27, no. 2 (2013): 236-237.