U.S. response to Third World revolution: The case of the Reagan administration and Nicaragua

Date of Completion

January 1998


Political Science, International Law and Relations




This study focuses on the foreign policy of the Reagan administration toward the Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s. By employing six major theoretical models of foreign policy, the author analyzes the policies of the Reagan administration as well as the processes by which decisions were made. The research is aimed at demonstrating the complexity of both the foreign policy process and the motivations that drive decision-makers.^ Although the United States was conceived in revolution over two hundred years ago, its leaders have long been suspicious of other nations following a similar path. As the United States emerged as a world power during the twentieth century, U.S. politicians increasingly viewed revolution as a threat to American power and influence around the world. In 1979, when the Sandinista revolutionaries seized power in Nicaragua, they explicitly challenged American political, economic, and military interests in Central America and beyond. Their socialist, nationalist, and pro-Cuban orientation set off alarm bells among Americans who saw the Soviet Union making inroads in parts of the world where the United States and its allies had historically enjoyed preeminence.^ Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981 determined to reassert American power and reverse Soviet advances in the Third World. Nicaragua became the lightning rod for the so-called Reagan Doctrine, a policy that provided support for rebel forces fighting to oust pro-Soviet or socialist-oriented governments. The Reagan policy encountered serious domestic and international opposition, and yet the administration continued to push it forcefully.^ The dissertation seeks to identify and analyze the driving forces and explanations behind the administration's opposition to the Sandinista revolution. This is done by employing a "levels of analysis" framework in which six separate models of foreign policy are used. They include theoretic frameworks concerned with national security, American economic interests, presidential leadership, domestic politics, bureaucratic influences, and ideology. The author argues that one cannot understand the sources of American foreign policy unless one takes all of these factors into account. ^