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The International System and the Reagan Doctrine: Can Realism Explain Aid to 'Freedom Fighters'?

Mark P. Lagon
British Journal of Political Science
Vol. 22, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 39-70
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/193861
Page Count: 32
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The International System and the Reagan Doctrine: Can Realism Explain Aid to 'Freedom Fighters'?
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Abstract

Doctrines have been a prevalent form of foreign policy in American history. What explains their origins? This study addresses this question by examining the Reagan Doctrine, a declared policy which pledged aid to anti-communist guerrillas in the Third World. This case study examines the utility of the 'structural realist' theory, focusing on the international level of analysis. Structural realism stresses the international balance of power, international conditions, limits on the government's freedom to make policy and the national interest. Sources of the Reagan Doctrine are found both in the international environment as a whole and in the individual countries where the Reagan Administration openly aided insurgents: Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola and Cambodia. The findings indicate that the structural realist perspective is necessary to explain the Reagan Doctrine, but not sufficient. In particular, it fails to account for the role of political elites and their beliefs in foreign-policy making.

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