Ronald Reagan on Foreign Policy
President of the U.S., 1981-1989; Republican Governor (CA)
1964: If we lose freedom here, it's the last stand on earth
Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are."
And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are?
I had someplace to escape to" And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.
Ronald Reagan, "A Time for Choosing," his televised speech during the 1964 US presidential election campaign.
Source: Last Line of Defense, by Ken Cuccinelli, p. 19
, Feb 12, 2013
Came to office determined to challenge Soviet power
At the beginning of the decade, Ronald Reagan had come to office determined to challenge Soviet power and had done so successfully. In 1985, Mikael Gorbachev rose to power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Facing rapid internal decay, Gorbachev began to loosen the reins of communist authority at home and to pursue a more conciliatory course abroad.
This approach rapidly reshaped the foreign-policy landscape.
While President Reagan (prodded by then-Secretary of State George Schultz) had decided that
Mikael Gorbachev was indeed a different Soviet leader, some, including Brent and myself, were skeptical of how authentic the shift in Soviet policy really was.
Source: My Extraordinary Family, by Condi Rice, p.242
, Jan 10, 2012
1982:Disagreed with Law of the Sea's international authority
The so-called UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was designed to codify navigation rights in international waters. But it had grown into something considerably more ambitious, with a provision that would put all natural resources found it the seabeds of
international waters under the collective purview of the treaty's signers--a scheme that would result in substantial wealth being put into the hands of what was ominously called the International Seabed Authority. Shortly after Reagan was inaugurated, he
was invited to join a ceremonial treaty signing by some 160 nations in Jamaica. To nearly everyone's surprise, Reagan announced he was not ready to agree to the treaty. Reagan believed rewards and investment incentives should go to those nations that had
the specialized technology and capability to mine the ocean floor, not to the "Authority."
Reagan's reversal of US policy led to consternation at the Department of State, to which Reagan asked, "But isn't that what the election was all about?"
Source: Known and Unknown, by Donald Rumsfeld, p.262
, Feb 8, 2011
1987: People surprised that Soviet Union HAS a constitution
In his 1987 State of the Union address, Reagan said:
"I've read the constitutions of a number of countries, including the Soviet Union's. Some are surprised to hear that they have a constitution, and it even supposedly grants a number of freedoms to
its people. Many countries have written into their constitutions provisions for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Why is US Constitution so exceptional? The difference is so small that it almost escapes you, but it's also so great it tells you
the whole story in just three words: We the people. In those other constitutions, the Government tells the people of those countries what they're allowed to do. In our Constitution, we the people tell the government what it can do, and it can do only
those things listed in that document and no others. Virtually every other revolution in history has just exchanged one set of rules for another set of rules. Our revolution is the first to say the people are the masters & the government is their servant.
Source: America by Heart, by Sarah Palin, p. 6-7
, Nov 23, 2010
US has no territorial ambitions despite military might
Reagan wrote to Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev in 1981, in response to Brezhnev's letter:
"In your letter you imply territorial ambitions of the US; that we have imperialistic designs and thus constitute a threat to your own security and that of the
newly emerging nations. There not only is no evidence to support such a charge, there is solid evidence that the United States when it could have dominated the world with no risk to itself made no effort whatsoever to do so.
"When WWII ended, the US ha
the only undamaged industrial power in the world. Its military might was at its peak--and we alone had the ultimate weapon, the nuclear bomb with the unquestioned ability to deliver it anywhere in the world. If we had sought world domination who could
have opposed us? But the United States followed a more decent course--one unique in all the history of mankind. We used our power and wealth to rebuild the war-ravaged economies of all the world including those nations who had been our enemies."
Source: America by Heart, by Sarah Palin, p. 67-68
, Nov 23, 2010
Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid
During the Cold War, most scholars and Washington experts assumed the Soviet bloc was a permanent fixture in global affairs. The simple fact is that history is moved and shaped by the actions of leaders and by the courage of nations.
As Reagan said, "Evil is powerless is the good are unafraid."
Source: Leadership and Crisis, by Bobby Jindal, p.251
, Nov 15, 2010
1976: passionately advocated for retention of Panama Canal
Reagan contrasted his clear, profound beliefs with the temporizing "realism" of the Republican establishment in his 1976 presidential primary campaign against President Jerry Ford, when Reagan passionately advocated
America's retention of the Panama Canal. His utter refusal to appease the Panamanian dictator was a stark divergence from Ford's "realistic" policy of negotiating the canal's surrender.
Source: To Save America, by Newt Gingrich, p.155
, May 17, 2010
1988: Agreed to mutual nuclear reduction with USSR
In 1988 Reagan managed a feat that was often thought impossible: he agreed with Gorbachev to reduce the nuclear stockpiles of each nation.
Perhaps this was part of the wind of change to which Reagan had been a party. Certainly, this change swept through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Soon after Reagan had left the White House, the Berlin Wall was no more and Gorbachev had dissolved the Soviet Union. It is readily agreed by many that, despite some follies,
Reagan improved the American economy, guided American morale upwards and reduced the American people's reliance upon government. It was a situation that was to last long after he left the White House.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.226
, Mar 3, 2010
1981: Don't spend unused funding; return it to Treasury
Our goal was to make Agency for International Development's (AID) programs more market-driven. While at AID, early on, we made a key point by returning to the US Treasury $28 million that was obtained by canceling
AID projects around the world that were failing. This was not a huge amount of money in Washington, but it was a shock to a government culture of spending that NEVER returned money to the Treasury.
We made up a big check, like the ones seen on game shows, which Reagan obviously loved. After receiving the check, Reagan said, "Anyone who's familiar with the Washington scene--as many of you are--know that it is far more normal
at this stage of the fiscal year, only a couple of months to go, that anyone that finds $28 million unspent in the department says to everyone, 'Rush out and buy new furniture or do something. We must spend this money before the end of the fiscal year.'
Source: Surrender is Not an Option, by John Bolton, p. 20-21
, Nov 6, 2007
OpEd: Viewed Latin America in context of worldwide Communism
The big human rights debates of the early 1980s centered on Latin America. President Reagan reduced the many volatile political situations in Central America to what he saw as a worldwide Communist plot,
making the region a major focus of his foreign parties, and in President Reagan's view, it was necessary to back down those who stood against Communism, no matter their own records on human rights.
President Reagan, for example, wanted to send support to the government of El Salvador, led at the time by a civilian/military junta, which was fighting leftist guerillas.
The government's notorious death squads also targeted those who opposed its power.
Source: Letters from Nuremberg, by Chris Dodd, p. 18
, Sep 11, 2007
In Berlin: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Once, on his way to the Brandenburg Gate, Reagan's advisors were pleading with him to temper his comments. (Reagan's secretary of the treasury, James Baker, told me this story.) "When you get to the Berlin Wall," the advisors told the president, "please,
remember we're in the middle of sensitive negotiations. Be careful what you say." So what did Reagan do? He strode to that gate and he took the lectern and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Ronald Reagan didn't listen to his advisors.
He didn't listen to his pollsters. He trusted his gut. And he united the whole world. Mothers and fathers who had locked themselves in their homes in fear showed up in town squares in Poland and Czechoslovakia and in the
Baltic states. "We want our freedom." Reagan's words echoed through Eastern Europe, and soon enough the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and millions of people were returned to their rightful way of life, to freedom.
Source: Stand For Something, by John Kasich, p. 32-33
, May 10, 2006
Nicaraguan Contras: moral equal of our Founding Fathers
Iran-Contra was a shorthand term for illegalities involved in financing the civil war raging in Nicaragua. Pres. Reagan had pleaded with Congress to aid the contras, whom he referred to as "the moral equal of our Founding Fathers." Congress denied his
plea and passed the Boland Amendment, making it illegal to provide funding to overthrow Nicaragua's duly elected Communist government.
[Then] 17 Americans were kidnapped in Beirut by terrorists. In a misguided effort to free the hostages and finance
Reagan's war against the Sandinistas, Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council devised a complex scheme, which he and others later tried to cover up: secretly aiding the contras, selling arms to Iran, and diverting proceeds from the
Iran arms sales to the contras. The deception by North and others led to joint congressional hearings, a presidential commission, an investigation, court trials, and 3 convictions. In the end, 6 participants received presidential pardons.
Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.393-394
, Sep 14, 2004
1986: Angered Jewish groups by visiting Nazi cemetery
In 1986 the Reagan administration had been accused of insensitivity to the Holocaust when the President decided to visit the little cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, that held the graves of 49 Nazi storm troopers. His decision angered Jewish groups
in the US, Europe, and the Soviet Union, all of whom held public demonstrations. Elie Wiesel, who grew up in the death camps and lost his parents in Auschwitz, pleaded with the President on national television not to lend his presence to a
German military cemetery. This provoked further outrage, including two resolutions in the House of Representatives beseeching Reagan not to visit Bitburg, coupled with a similar resolution signed by half the Senate. The editorial opposition to Bitburg
was overwhelming as newspapers throughout the country pleaded with the President to change his mind. Even his wife begged him, but Ronald Reagan would not budge. He had given his word, and he said that if he reneged, he would look weak and indecisive.
Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.439
, Sep 14, 2004
Reaffirmed Shanghai Communique's "One China" policy
In 1972, in the Shanghai Communique, the US "acknowledges that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China." As long as he remained in office, Nixon maintained the US embassy in Taipei and the treaty commitment to defend the Republic of
Jimmy Carter, however, severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, terminated the security treaty, and recognized the People's Republic as the sole legitimate government of China. A firestorm ensued.
Reagan reaffirmed the Shanghai
Communique--that Taiwan was a part of China--and agreed to cut back arms sales to the island. Joint communique 1982, the United States declared that it intends to reduce gradually its sales of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time to a final
While this writer, among others, opposed the Shanghai Communique and the more far-reaching Carter and Reagan concessions, the day when Taiwan might have declared independence with US support is gone.
Source: Where The Right Went Wrong, by Pat Buchanan, p.133-134
, Aug 12, 2004
OpEd: Allied with South Africa despite a million killings
In southern Africa, where the estimates are that about a million and a half people were killed by South African depredations in the countries surrounding South Africa (forget what was happening inside South Africa).
In Mozambique and Angola, about a million and a half people were killed and over $60 billion of damage were caused, just in the Reagan years alone, 1980 to 1988.
Those are the years of what was called "constructive engagement," at a time when South Africa was a valued ally and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress was an officially designated terrorist organization, in fact worse than that.
The State Department listed it as one of the "more notorious terrorist groups" in the world. That was in 1988, when South Africa was still, of course, a valued ally after its actions in the preceding eight years.
Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 56-57&110
, May 25, 2002
Iran-Contra: Reagan uninformed; subordinates indicted
Reagan’s most damaging foreign-policy event was the Iran-contra affair. Late in 1986 the administration admitted that it had been secretly selling arms to Iran, with some of the profits possibly going to the guerrillas in Nicaragua. Reagan claimed that
he had not been informed of the Iran-contra link. The two policies-selling arms to Iran in apparent exchange for hostages and sending arms to Nicaragua-triggered multiple investigations.
[The official 1987 report] depicted Reagan as confused and
uninformed, and concluded that his relaxed “personal management style” had prevented him from controlling his subordinates. Congressional committees heard testimony that Reagan did not know of the diversion of funds. Most committee members signed a
majority report in Nov. 1987 asserting that although Reagan’s role in the affair could not be determined precisely, he had clearly failed to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Poindexter, North, and others were indicted in the affair.
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia on-line, “The Presidency”
, Dec 25, 2000
Called USSR “Evil Empire,” but signed an anti-nuke deal
Soviet-US relations were generally chilly during Reagan’s first term. The Reagan-proposed Strategic Defense Initiative [and several other events] contributed to continuing tensions. A cordial 1985 meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began a
warming trend. In 1987 the two leaders signed a historic treaty in Washington that would eliminate their intermediate-range nuclear forces. In 1988, Reagan had a friendly summit meeting in Moscow, the capital of what he had once called an “evil empire.”
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia on-line, “The Presidency”
, Dec 25, 2000
Assist contras to overthrow Sandinistas
Reagan’s long-standing foreign-policy initiative was to assist anti-Communist guerrillas, known as contras, in thwarting alleged Soviet-Cuban inroads into Nicaragua and to pressure the Sandinista government to hold elections and negotiate with its
neighbors. Congress reversed itself several times on whether to give humanitarian or military aid to the contras. Apparently Reagan’s real goal was to overthrow the Sandinistas, but after a 1988 cease-fire, this objective appeared unrealistic.
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia on-line, “The Presidency”
, Dec 25, 2000
Knew "evil empire" would polarize but felt forced to use it
Reagan says with humor that [Pat] Buchanan says with anger. I think Buchanan is almost by definition a polarizer. Reagan accepts sadly the polarization you force on him, but he does not accept it.
And "evil empire" he knew would be a polarizing phrase. And Reagan was quite clever in the Napoleonic sense of a strategic offense and a tactical defense.
He would lunge out here somewhere and then be unbelievably pleasant while people screamed at him. Buchanan's technique is to wade into the middle of a barroom brawl.
--Unpublished interview with Newt Gingrich in U.S. News & World Report at Republican Convention in Houston. August 19, 1992
Source: Quotations from Speaker Newt, by A.&P. Bernstein, p. 87
, Jan 1, 1995
Ignored ICJ ruling against mining Nicaraguan harbors
In Jan. 1984, mines were laid in Sandino harbor in Nicaragua, accompanied by other mine-layings, sabotage of Sandanista communications, and destruction of an arms depot. In April, it was disclosed that the CIA had conducted the action, and a Senate
resolution condemned the mining 84-12.
The mines were designed primarily to damage and scare off ships rather than destroy them, but they were a clear violation of international law. The Sandanistas took their case to the International Court of
Justice in the Hague (popularly known as the World Court) and won, though the administration refused in advance to recognize the court’s jurisdiction. The mining of the harbors was an example of “force against another state,” the court said; US support
of the contras “amounts to an intervention of one state in he internal affairs of the other.”
By 1984 the contras had become an end in themselves. Loyalty to the contras had become the litmus test for loyalty to “Reagan’s policy” among conservatives.
Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 380
, Jul 2, 1991
Democracy & market economy result in a better life
Reagan was a President who seldom stated his aims in private and who relied almost wholly on others to cope with details. In foreign policy as in other matters, he proceeded on the basis of his instincts and a few fundamental conviction: democracy
supported by a market economy resulted in a better life for people everywhere than did Marxism-Leninism or other forms of totalitarianism based on planned economies; the moral, economic, and military strength of the
United States and its allies was the basis of peace in the world, and the surreal political and economic policies of the Soviet Union were the source of much of the world's misery and discord; despite the conflict between the two systems, no question
was so complicated that it could not be reduced to its basic elements and resolved by personal agreement between two men of goodwill who had the power to act in the names of the United States and the Soviet Union.
Source: For the Record, by Donald Regan, p.296-298
, May 2, 1988
Reagan-Gorbachev meetings based on personal contact
Agreement was reached on a number of ancillary matters. The Soviets agreed to resolve 10 of 25 human-rights cases involving separated spouses in marriages between Soviet and American citizens; airline landing rights were restored by each country for the
civilian carriers of the other; and the two sides agreed to open consulates in New York and Kiev and came to terms on cultural exchanges. Also, both principals instructed their negotiating teams to proceed at a faster pace on the question of reduction
of nuclear missiles in Europe.
Reagan and Gorbachev had discovered that they could talk to each other even if they could not yet agree. On that basis they had decided that they would meet again in Washington and Moscow. In the meantime, they would
correspond as man to man, with no insulating layers of diplomats between them. The meeting of the minds, the measure of character, and above all, the decision to go on, could only have been achieved by the President and General-Secretary.
Source: For the Record, by Donald Regan, p.317
, May 2, 1988
Limit UN role; withdrew from UNESCO
The Reagan administration’s attitude toward the UN could be gauged by the appointment of Jeane Kirkpatrick as UN Ambassador. She was a frequent critic of the “anti-Americanism” expressed in General Assembly votes. American distrust and dislike of the UN
would be confirmed repeatedly in the Reagan years. The Administration withdrew from UNESCO, cut off America’s contribution to the UN Fund for Population Activities, cast the single vote against a World Health Organization code for infant formula, and did
not oppose the Kassebaum amendment reducing America’s contribution to the General Assembly by 25% unless the UN should amend its charter. The Administration encouraged Britain’s withdrawal from UNESCO (the objective of a Heritage Foundation campaign),
and threatened its own withdrawal from several other international agencies. When Nicaragua took the CIA’s mining of its harbors before the International Court, the US refused to recognize the Court’s jurisdiction.
Source: Reagan’s America, by Garry Wills, p. 353
, Jul 2, 1987
Aid to Soviet Union dependent on its commitment to freedom
We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures? There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable.
Mr. Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, come to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! In this age of redoubled economic growth,
of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make changes, or it will become obsolete. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to create a safe, freer world.
Source: Speech at Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
, Jun 12, 1987
Iran-Contra: maybe authorized it, unknowingly
If we are to believe Donald Regan, a man of generally accepted honesty, the blood drained from the President’s face when Meese told him that some of the money paid by Iran for TOW missiles had been siphoned off from Israel by Col. North and funneled to
the Contras. Reagan looked drawn & stern.
It was the reaction, in Regan’s opinion, of a complete innocent. Or, it was the reaction, a cynic might say, of someone who had been found out. Guilt drains blood just as fast as shock.
Only the Admiral knows
whether Reagan knowingly authorized the transfer of illegal funds from illegal mercenaries in the Middle East to another set of illegal mercenaries in Central America. My suspicion is that Reagan did authorize the transfer, not having the smallest
comprehension of the laws he was subverting. Reagan’s character by 1986 had become so lacking in curiosity & his life as president so repetitive, that when I went to interview him, I was reminded of the what-am-I-doing-here look of an actor between takes
Source: Dutch, by Edmund Morris, p.615-616
, Nov 24, 1986
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp: Never again
[At the opening of a memorial to Holocaust victims]:
What we have seen makes unforgettably clear that no one of the rest of us can fully understand the enormity of the feelings carried by the victims of these camps.
Source: Dutch, by Edmund Morris, p. 530-31
, May 5, 1985
Here lie people-Jews-
whose death was inflicted for no other reason than their very existence. Here death ruled.
We are here because humanity refuses to accept that freedom or the spirit of man can ever be extinguished. We are here to commemorate that life triumphed over
the tragedy and the death of the Holocaust. Out of the ashes-hope, and from all the pain-promise.
As we flew here, over the greening farms and the emerging springtime, I reflected that there must have been a time when the prisoners of Bergen-Belsen
and those of every other camp must have felt that the springtime was gone forever from their lives. Here they lie. Never to hope. Never to pray. Never to love. Never to heal. Never to laugh. Never to cry.
Consoled Taiwan when Nixon went to China
Someone with impeccably pro-Nationalist credentials was needed to convince Chiang Kai-shek of the continuing goodwill of the US.
Reagan’s ambivalence over such a mission is evident in a speech he wrote : “The President has been blunt in his
declarations that we will not under any circumstances desert an old friend and ally. give anything away, or betray or honor. If I am wrong and that should be the result--time then for indignation.”
This was good enough for Nixon. In 1971, Governor
Reagan found himself appointed special presidential envoy and dizzyingly transported to a throne room in Taiwan. Chiang Kai-Shek received him stiff with rage. “Look, I don’t like this any more than you do, but it had to happen sooner or later.”
Flying home, Reagan found that he had been converted by his own mission. Taiwan was more secure now than before since “the People’s Republic,” would have to respect its sovereignty or compromise the new rapprochement.
Source: Dutch, by Edmund Morris, p.377-378
, Oct 10, 1971
Open door to PRC, but maintain alliance with Taiwan
Reagan had long been Taiwan’s leading political champion. When he was elected, Reagan still believed that the government that fled to Taiwan in 1949 was the legitimate government of China. Reagan needed a process of rationalization before he became
comfortable with the idea of visiting China. “And we have made it plain that in continuing and trying to build this friendship with the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, we in no way retreat from our alliance with the Chinese on Taiwan.”
Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 479-80
, Jul 2, 1991
- Click here for definitions & background information on Foreign Policy.
- Click here for VoteMatch responses by Ronald Reagan.
- Click here for AmericansElect.org quiz by Ronald Reagan.
Other past presidents on Foreign Policy:
Ronald Reagan on other issues:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)
Past Vice Presidents:
Natural Law Party
Page last updated: Sep 12, 2018