© 2019

The Reagan Administration, the Cold War, and the Transition to Democracy Promotion

  • Robert Pee
  • William Michael Schmidli


  • Argues that democracy promotion emerged as a central pillar of US foreign policy during the Reagan Administration, with significant implications for post-Cold War international relations

  • Draws on recent declassified US government documents, non-governmental human rights organizations’ records and overseas archives

  • Chapters cover a range of examples of American democracy promotion, from Eastern Europe to Latin America to Asia


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xi
  2. Robert Pee, William Michael Schmidli
    Pages 1-28
  3. Ideology, Strategy, and Institutional Change in the Shift Toward Democracy Promotion

  4. US Democracy Promotion and the Soviet Empire

  5. Democracy Promotion and the Third World

  6. Legacy

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 253-253
    2. Robert Pee, William Michael Schmidli
      Pages 277-301
  7. Back Matter
    Pages 303-336

About this book


This book posits that democracy promotion played a key role in the Reagan administration’s Cold War foreign policy. It analyzes the democracy initiatives launched under Reagan and the role of administration officials, neoconservatives and non-state actors, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), in shaping a new model of democracy promotion, characterized by aid to foreign political movements and the spread of neoliberal economics. The book discusses the ideological, strategic and organizational aspects of U.S. democracy promotion in the 1980s, then analyzes case studies of democracy promotion in the Soviet bloc and in U.S.-allied dictatorships in Latin America and East Asia, and, finally, reflects on the legacy of Reagan’s democracy promotion and its influence on Clinton, Bush and Obama. Based on new research and archival documents, this book shows that the development of democracy promotion under Reagan laid the foundations for US post-Cold War foreign policy.


1980s Developing World US foreign policy State and non-state actors Neoconservatives and liberal internationalists Right-wing dictatorships Philippines, Chile, South Korea Eastern Europe Security Military intervention International relations

Editors and affiliations

  • Robert Pee
    • 1
  • William Michael Schmidli
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political Science and International StudiesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  2. 2.Institute for HistoryLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

About the editors

Robert Pee is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is the author of Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration. His research focuses on U.S. democracy promotion during the Cold War and the War on Terror.


William Michael Schmidli is University Lecturer at the Institute for History at Leiden University, The Netherlands. He is a U.S. foreign relations historian, and his research focuses on the evolving significance of human rights, democracy promotion, and transnational advocacy networks from the Cold War to the present.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title The Reagan Administration, the Cold War, and the Transition to Democracy Promotion
  • Editors Robert Pee
    William Michael Schmidli
  • Series Title Security, Conflict and Cooperation in the Contemporary World
  • Series Abbreviated Title Security, Conflict and Cooperation in the Contemporary World
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages History History (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-96381-5
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-319-96382-2
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XI, 336
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics US History
    Political History
    Modern History
    World History, Global and Transnational History
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“A fascinating exploration of ‘democracy promotion’ during the Reagan administration, this volume does not take the term at face value; it avoids falling into the ‘semantic trap’ which assumes a benevolent intent.  Instead, the chapters advance stories of the complexity and inconsistency of practice in a variety of well-chosen cases.  The volume provides a sober antidote to the positive turn in Reagan historiography.  It draws more broadly from the archives and the literature integrating non-US voices, non-state actors and provides a transnational investigation to the ideologically driven agenda, seemingly set in a neutral or natural setting. The studies in this volume provide an excellent appraisal of the ‘soft’ intervention the US inconsistently practices.  The irony, of course, Washington would be deeply offended if these practices were aimed at US elections.” (David Ryan, University College Cork, Ireland)

”Boldly taking the study of U.S. foreign relations into the 1980s, the authors in this pathbreaking collection examine democracy promotion on the premise that it was anything but a “technical” agenda. Instead, each shows in different ways, this signature program of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and sometimes since was freighted with ideological choices and intersected the realities of great power politics. All told, the book is a major contribution.” (Samuel Moyn, Yale University, USA)