Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy legacy remains hotly contested, and as new archival sources come to light, those debates are more likely to intensify than to recede into the background. In dealings with the Soviet Union, the Reagan administration set the superpowers on a course for the (largely) peaceful end of the Cold War. Reagan began his outreach to Soviet leaders almost immediately after taking office and enjoyed some success, even if the dominant theme of the period remains fears of Reagan as a “button-pusher” in the public’s perception. Mikhail Gorbachev’s election to the post of General Secretary proved the turning point. Reagan, now confident in US strength, and Gorbachev, keen to reduce the financial burden of the arms race, ushered in a new, cooperative phase of the Cold War. Elsewhere, in particular Latin America, the administration’s focus on fighting communism led it to support human rights–abusing regimes at the same time as it lambasted Moscow’s transgressions in that regard. But even so, over the course of the 1980s, the United States began pushing for democratization around the world, even where Reagan and his advisors had initially resisted it, fearing a communist takeover. In part, this was a result of public pressure, but the White House recognized and came to support the rising tide of democratization. When Reagan left office, a great many countries that had been authoritarian were no longer, often at least in part because of US policy. US–Soviet relations had improved to such an extent that Reagan’s successor, Vice President George H. W. Bush, worried that they had gone too far in working with Gorbachev and been hoodwinked.
Richard V. Damms
Probably no American president was more thoroughly versed in matters of national security and foreign policy before entering office than Dwight David Eisenhower. As a young military officer, Eisenhower served stateside in World War I and then in Panama and the Philippines in the interwar years. On assignments in Washington and Manila, he worked on war plans, gaining an understanding that national security entailed economic and psychological factors in addition to manpower and materiel. In World War II, he commanded Allied forces in the European Theatre of Operations and honed his skills in coalition building and diplomacy. After the war, he oversaw the German occupation and then became Army Chief of Staff as the nation hastily demobilized. At the onset of the Cold War, Eisenhower embraced President Harry S. Truman’s containment doctrine and participated in the discussions leading to the 1947 National Security Act establishing the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, and the Department of Defense. After briefly retiring from the military, Eisenhower twice returned to public service at the behest of President Truman to assume the temporary chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then, following the outbreak of the Korean War, to become the first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, charged with transforming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into a viable military force. These experiences colored Eisenhower’s foreign policy views, which in turn led him to seek the presidency. He viewed the Cold War as a long-term proposition and worried that Truman’s military buildup would overtax finite American resources. He sought a coherent strategic concept that would be sustainable over the long haul without adversely affecting the free enterprise system and American democratic institutions. He also worried that Republican Party leaders were dangerously insular. As president, his New Look policy pursued a cost-effective strategy of containment by means of increased reliance on nuclear forces over more expensive conventional ones, sustained existing regional alliances and developed new ones, sought an orderly process of decolonization under Western guidance, resorted to covert operations to safeguard vital interests, and employed psychological warfare in the battle with communism for world opinion, particularly in the so-called Third World. His foreign policy laid the basis for what would become the overall American strategy for the duration of the Cold War. The legacy of that policy, however, was decidedly mixed. Eisenhower avoided the disaster of global war, but technological innovations did not produce the fiscal savings that he had envisioned. The NATO alliance expanded and mostly stood firm, but other alliances were more problematic. Decolonization rarely proceeded as smoothly as envisioned and caused conflict with European allies. Covert operations had long-term negative consequences. In Southeast Asia and Cuba, the Eisenhower administration’s policies bequeathed a poisoned chalice for succeeding administrations.
David P. Fields
The United States and the Kingdom of Joseon (Korea) established formal diplomatic relations after signing a “Treaty of Peace, Commerce, Amity, and Navigation” in 1882. Relations between the two states were not close and the United States closed its legation in 1905 following the Japanese annexation of Korea subsequent to the Russo-Japanese War. No formal relations existed for the following forty-four years, but American interest in Korea grew following the 1907 Pyongyang Revival and the rapid growth of Christianity there. Activists in the Korean Independence movement kept the issue of Korea alive in the United States, especially during World War I and World War II, and pressured the American government to support the re-emergence of an independent Korea. Their activism, as well as a distrust of the Soviet Union, was among the factors that spurred the United States to suggest the joint occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1945, which subsequently led to the creation of the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the American zone and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the Soviet zone. The United States withdrew from the ROK in 1948 only to return in 1950 to thwart the DPRK’s attempt to reunite the peninsula by force during the Korean War. The war ended in stalemate, with an armistice agreement in 1953. In the same year the United States and the ROK signed a military alliance and American forces have remained on the peninsula ever since. While the United States has enjoyed close political and security relations with the ROK, formal diplomatic relations have never been established between the United States and the DPRK, and the relationship between the two has been marked by increasing tensions over the latter’s nuclear program since the early 1990s.