The Strategic Defense Initiative of America

What are the negative strategic and political implications of SDI?

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Analyzing the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) launched by President Ronald Reagan on 23 March 1983, it can be stated that the mismatch between the ambitious objectives and the realization of the program resulted in negative strategic and political implications. For US foreign policy, the launch of SDI indicated a new tendency in developing defense strategies. The objective of implementing the technological advancements for developing an anti-missile defense system was plausible though lacked the necessary scientific basis. In that regard, the decision to make SDI a part of US military-political strategy is recognized as mostly Reagan’s idea. Under the influence of his Hollywood background as an actor who had played a secret agent in a science-fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still and the influence of scientists and advisers, Reagan was driven for the announcement of SDI.

It is stated that “SDI wasn’t conceived by scientists, although they came on board and contributed greatly to its success”1. The scientists who claimed that the existing technological advancements made the anti-missile project feasible inspired Reagan for the launch of SDI which was expected to contribute to the US deterrent capability, and accordingly, preconditioned the negative strategic implications of the program. The launch of SDI intensified both domestic and foreign peace movements who worried that the program could increase the Arms Race and the risks of nuclear attacks of the USSR before the program was operational. The military worried that spending costs on the program, the country would reduce spending on conventional arms. Thus, it can be logically assumed that the negative strategic implication of SDI was the lack of its scientific basis and the risks of a pre-emptive strike before the innovative technology were operational.

The ideological underground for SDI represented a synthesis of the ideas of isolationism and a Pax Americana based on the principles of American self-sufficiency and global superiority2. It is stated that “SDI was an important effort to find a fundamental improvement in the long-term security of the US and its allies and to provide a better response to the growing Soviet offensive and defensive threat”3. On the one hand, the objective of defending people against the incoming missiles became revolutionary for the US military strategies. On the other hand, the introduction of SDI caused the asymmetry between Soviet and US force structures. In terms of the arms race, SDI became a significant challenge for the Soviet Union.

The political implications of Reagan’s strategies were even more important than the feasibility of the project. It is stated that “Whether or not it would work was less important than the fact that the Soviets believed that it could work”.4 For US foreign policy, it can be stated that the launch of SDI was a great initiative towards world peace. Reagan’s proposal to share the SDI technology with the Soviet Union to persuade them that the program does not threaten them represented the President’s intention to reduce and even eliminate the nuclear weapons systematically. The SDI was a crucial issue of US-Soviet relations. Disregarding the peacemaking motivation for the introduction of SDI, its launch resulted in unexpected negative political implications, including those of asymmetry between the Soviet and US force structures and intensification of the arms race. The transition from nuclear attacks towards developing anti-missile technologies as one of the stages of the nuclear weapon elimination has become a significant stage in the development of the Soviet-US relations and had a significant impact upon the performance of the US national security system.

Explain the Reagan Doctrine? How was it applied?

Reagan Doctrine can be explained in a nutshell as the country’s initiative to play a more active role in the Third World and overthrowing Marxist governments in them. Though the origin of the Reagan Doctrine cannot be defined precisely, it is usually traced back towards the president’s second term during which Congress refused to continue funding Nicaraguan Contras, and the president and his administration were looking for ways of bypassing the congressional restrictions. It is stated that “Reagan Doctrine was ‘offensive’ in theory and practice: it was designed to overthrow Communist regimes that had been imposed by Soviet troops (Afghanistan) or helped to power through military aid to Communist factions (Nicaragua, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Angola)”5 (Nuechterlein 2001).

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Reagan Doctrine is associated with the covert actions programs aimed at aiding the Afghan resistance against the Soviet troops and arming the Nicaraguan resistance against the Sandinista regime. Along with funding the anti-Communist forces in the countries of the Third World, Reagan persuaded the Soviet Union and its allies to withdraw their troops from the Third World countries under consideration. Disregarding the fact that the latter goal was achieved, the application of the Doctrine, in general, cannot be defined as completed, taking into account the fact that Nicaragua remained the main disappointment for Reagan because the Sandinistas government remained in power even longer than Reagan himself did. Thus, it can be stated that Reagan Doctrine was aimed at strengthening the US position in the countries of the Third World and consisted of the two main strategies of withdrawing the foreign troops from the countries and overthrowing Marxist governments in them. In that regard, the estimation of the accomplishment of this Doctrine depends upon the definition of Reagan’s main objectives.

The removal of the Communist troops from Afghanistan in 1989, Cambodia in 1989, and Angola in 1990 can be seen as the first step in the accomplishment of the Reagan Doctrine. Despite the obvious success in the rest of the countries of interest, Nicaragua became Reagan’s main disappointment and the main weak point of the Doctrine Accomplishment. The lack of Congress’s support and the inability of the Contras to challenge the Sandinista government can be seen as two reasons preventing Reagan from accomplishing his goal in Nicaragua. As opposed to Congress’s support of the rest four countries mentioned in the Reagan Doctrine, the military aid for Nicaragua was abandoned in 1984.

Nicaraguan Contras in their turn did not demonstrate the ability to challenge the Sandinistas government seriously. Nevertheless, making extraordinary efforts for overcoming these Congress restrictions, Reagan did not admit the defeat in Nicaragua and continued imposing overt and covert measures for preserving the Contras vital. In terms of overt initiatives, Reagan tried to persuade the American people that Nicaragua threatened the US national interests and the whole national security system was at stake in Central America. As it is cited, in his speech from the spring of 1983, Reagan stated that “This is not a partisan issue. It is a question of our meeting our moral responsibility to ourselves, our friend and our posterity”6. As to the covert measures, the attempts of overcoming the congressional ban on Contra aid resulted in the Iran- Contra scandal in November 1986. Reagan was accused of the fund’s diversion although he stated that he was not aware of it. Thus, it can be stated that the attempts of accomplishment of the Reagan Doctrine canceled out the past achievements of his peacemaking foreign policy.

What unintended consequences did the Iran-Contra affair produce?

As one of the results of Reagan’s passion for the accomplishment of his Doctrine, the Iran-Contra diversion scandal was a significant event that substantially reduced public trust in the Reagan administration. Though the issue of whether the President himself was involved in the operations of transmitting the profits received from selling the arms to Iran for providing the military aid to Contras remains rather controversial, he was still responsible for the actions of the National Security Staff. The Iran-Contra case can be seen as an example of US foreign policy implementation under the conditions of the divided political power. Thus, the president’s administration took actions that contradicted Congress’s veto and made attempts of overcoming the Congressional ban.

The unexpected consequence of the scandal was the case The Republic of Nicaragua vs. the United States of America at the International Court of Justice. Though the compensation payment was mandated to Nicaragua by the Court, the United States as one of the members of the Security Council managed to block the enforcement of the payment mechanism.7 Disregarding the fact that the United States of America has been accused of violating the international law by providing military aid to Contras forces and mining Nicaragua’s harbors, the US Security Council refused to participate in the proceedings as well as fulfill the compensation obligations. Providing arguments concerning the scandal, the United States raised doubts concerning the validity of the Court’s judgments. The case under consideration represented the important role that US National Security played in the intergovernmental bodies.

Even though the US support of the Contra rebels contributed to the restoration of a democratic process in Nicaragua, the US scandal for the United States can be seen on the domestic and international levels. On the one hand, the scandal decreased Reagan’s public popularity significantly. Disregarding all the president’s previous achievements in the spheres of domestic and foreign policies, the failure of Reagan’s Doctrine and the scandal under the consideration ruined his reputation. Nevertheless, Reagan’s public rating remained rather high and it prevented him from impeachment though the possibility was rather high after the Iran-Contra episode.8 Thus, President Reagan managed to inspire the nation in an era of crisis but lost his points trying to realize his Doctrine by all means.

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On the other hand, after the Iran-Contra episode came to light, the credibility of the US criticism of other states’ initiatives was likely to be diminished. Taking into account the ruined reputation of the United States on the international level, it can be logically assumed that the state which had violated the international law had not the moral right for criticizing other countries’ foreign policy strategies.9 Accordingly, the foreign political leaders had to be compromised because of their loyalty to Reagan’s administration. As to the third-party estimation of the scandal’s aftermath, the Iran-Contra episode can be seen as a demonstration of the gap in the US foreign policy which can be used as an effective instrument for extracting financial concessions from the state. Thus, it can be stated that the unintended consequences of the Iran-Contra affair should be used by future politicians as valuable historical lessons.

Reference List

Art, Robert J. 2003. A grand strategy for America. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Brown, Michael E. 2000. America’s strategic choices. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

Duric, Mira. 2003. The strategic defense initiative: US policy and the Soviet Union. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Hook, Steven W. and Spanier, John. 2007. American foreign policy since World War II. Washington: CQ Press.

Nuechterlein, Donald E. 2001. America recommitted: A superpower assesses its role in a turbulent world. Lexington: University Of Kentucky Press.


  1. Mira Duric, The Strategic Defense Initiative: US Policy and the Soviet Union. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2003), 190.
  2. Michael Brown, America’s Strategic Choices. (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2000), 190.
  3. Duric, 190.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Donald Nuechterlein, America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses Its Role in a Turbulent World. (Lexington: University Of Kentucky Press, 2001).
  6. Nuechterlein.
  7. Steven Hook and John Spanier, American Foreign Policy since World War II. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2007)
  8. Nuechterlein.
  9. Robert Art, A Grand Strategy for America. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003).
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