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US Diplomacy Failures in 1981 to 1990

During the last ten years of the Cold War, the diplomacy of the United States experienced several failures, which subsequently resulted in military conflicts. Prior to analyzing the underlying causes of these failures, it should be pointed out that at that moment, the relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union began to alleviate, yet, both superpowers were reluctant to make concessions. It is quite possible for us to say that both countries pursued the policy of containment. The main goal, which the US government set, was to prevent the USSR from advancing its interests in developing countries or the Third World as they were officially named at that time (David S. Painter, 1999, 111).

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The main reason why the Reagan administration did not achieve good results was the tendency to use military force or any other means of compulsion. For instance, trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, the government resorted to several measures, in particular, blocking commercial credit, trade embargo, and subversive activities. One may say that the end eventually justified the means because the Sandinista regime eventually fell. Nevertheless, such policy had far-reaching effects on the international image of the United States (Leogrande, 1996, 333).

For example, many countries, even the allies, began to regard America as some kind of bully who tries to scare everyone else into doing what he wants. In addition to that, the Reagan administration attempted to portray the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” but such policy indicated that both superpowers used approximately the same means for achieving their goals.

Moreover, many American citizens were discontent with the policy carried out by the Reagan administration because they believed that the affairs of the developing courtiers did not have any bearing on their own lives. The public demanded the government to shift the focus from the external problems to the internal ones. Now, it appears the Reagan administration could have a different and entirely different approach to the foreign policy of the United States.

As it has been noted before, primary importance was attached to military force, which was undoubtedly not very conducive to establishing close relationships with developing counties. Probably, it would have been more natural to use the so-called “soft or smart power.” Overall, this notion can be defined as a form of influence, which is based on attraction and persuasion. In sharp contrast with hard power, such an approach is not aimed at defeating or conquering one’s rival; more likely, it seeks the decision, which can suit both sides (Lilie Chouliaraki, 2007. 10). Overall, it should be taken into consideration that even now, the world superpowers have not made full use of such political doctrine.

While discussing the relations of the United States with such counties as countries as Angola, El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Cuba, we may say that the use of soft power would have been much more efficient. At that moment, the Reagan administration was trying to decrease the influence of the Soviet Union by coercion or compulsion. It should be borne in mind that that main purpose was to make the country take the pro-American course. Namely, it was stated that the funding might be resumed on the condition that the Sandinista regime would “revitalize the private sector,” which contradicted major principles of the country’s pro-communist government (Leogrande, 1996, 336). Perhaps, it would have been better to convince the Nicaraguan government that a capitalistic approach would yield more benefit to the country and its people, not only in terms of inner development but in terms of international support as well.

It stands to reason that some may raise objections to this statement by saying that the use of soft power is not always efficient, especially considering the fact that the Soviet Union exercised very strong influence over the Sandinista government. Nonetheless, it is very unlikely that Nicaragua would have rejected humanitarian help. By giving a hand of assistance, the Reagan administration could have immediately improved its international image in the world and win the confidence of the Nicaraguan government and people. Furthermore, softness often involves extensive use of media, which helps to achieve a common understanding of cultural, political, and economic values. The Soviet Union managed to employ this technique several times, but the net results were diminished by the overuse of military force (Scott, 1996, 77). Certainly, the economic blockade of Nicaragua resulted in the fall of the Sandinista regime, but the cost of such policy was too high because the image of the United States suffered a heavy blow. To a certain degree, every country, striving for the palm of supremacy, has to achieve equilibrium between hard and soft politics; otherwise every attempt will be fruitless.

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Therefore, we can arrive at the conclusion that the failures of the US diplomacy may primarily ascribed to the approach that the government took. In particular, Reagan administration tried to promote the country’s interests in the developing countries by means of military force or compulsion, especially economic pressure. It seems that that these failures could have been averted if the United States had tried to persuade those countries but not to force them. Especially, we may speak about the so-called “soft power”, which mostly relies on attraction and persuasion.


David S. Painter. The Cold War: An International History. Routledge, 1999.

Felix Berenskoetter, Michael J. Williams. Power in World Politics. Routledge, 2007.

James M. Scott. Deciding to Intervene: The Reagan Doctrine and American Foreign Policy. Duke University Press, 1996.

Lilie Chouliaraki. The Soft Power of War. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2007.

William. M. Leogrande “Making the Economy Scream”. Journal of Emerging Areas ,17, no 2, (1996). 329-348.

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