Ronald Reagan: Foreign Policy


  • President Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” and authorized the largest military buildup in US history.
  • Reagan's administration funded anti-communist “freedom fighters” in various locations to reduce worldwide communist influence.
  • US-Soviet relations warmed during Reagan’s second term. Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the first-ever nuclear arms reduction treaty, and the Cold War ended.
  • In the Iran-Contra affair scandal, the Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran and used money from the sale to covertly fund the Contras, a group opposed to the government of Nicaragua.

Foreign policy and foreign affairs under Reagan

President Reagan was an anti-communist who worked to re-assert American power and to reduce Soviet communist influence around the world. He called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

In his first term, President Reagan authorized the largest military build-up in US history, including the development of a space-based Strategic Defense Initiative (nicknamed "Star Wars") to shoot down Soviet missiles before they reached the United States. He also deployed medium-range nuclear missiles in five NATO countries in late 1983 to counter a Soviet missile build-up.

President Reagan’s administration supported anti-communist “freedom fighters” around the world. He sent secret aid to anti-communist rebels in Angola; military support to the Contras seeking to overthrow the Marxist government of Nicaragua; and secret aid to the mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

In 1983, US forces invaded the Caribbean island nation of Grenada after a coup by hardline members of the island’s own leftist government. The American forces replaced the Marxist government with one friendly to the United States.

The Cold War thaws

Mikhail Gorbachev took over Soviet leadership in March 1985. He introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (Soviet economic and political restructuring), which led to better relations between the two superpowers.

Reagan and Gorbachev held four summit meetings and agreed to the first-ever nuclear arms reduction treaty. They also began negotiations that led to the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) in the 1990s, which reduced the two nations’ nuclear arsenals by 50 percent.

Middle East and North Africa

On the day of his inauguration in January 1981, Iran released the last of the American embassy workers it had held hostage for 444 days.

In April 1983, a suicide bomber blew up a van packed with explosives outside the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing seventeen Americans and forty-six other people. Six months later, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck into US Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 242 Marines stationed there as peacekeepers in support of the Lebanese government. President Reagan then withdrew US forces from Lebanon.

In April 1986, there was a bombing at a Berlin club that killed or injured more than sixty American soldiers. Libya was allegedly involved, so President Reagan authorized the bombing of ground targets in Libya. In a televised address to the nation, Reagan said, "When our citizens are attacked or abused anywhere in the world on the direct orders of hostile regimes, we will respond so long as I'm in this office."

President Reagan’s second term was scandalized by the Iran-Contra affair, in which US officials secretly sold weapons to Iran and sent the profits from those sales to Nicaraguan rebels.

Source: Ronald Reagan: Foreign Policy
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