Re-evaluating democracy promotion: the Reagan administration, allied authoritarian states, and regime change

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The Reagan administration not only pursued democratization in hostile states but also pressured allied authoritarian regimes to reform and, occasionally, supported “soft” regime changes to defuse internal conflict in countries important to the U.S.’ Cold War strategic position.

Convergence between mid-level officials, autonomous democracy promoters, and senior policymakers necessary for the policy to function occurred when these groups perceived U.S. interests would be vulnerable without political intervention. The determination of whether to pursue regime replacement or regime reform rested upon evaluations of the stability and legitimacy of the regime, the presence of an “extremist” internal threat, and a “moderate” democratic movement could be supported by US programs to strengthen these counter-elites within target states.

Critique of this approach is an essential addition to our understanding of Reagan-era foreign policy in allied states and also offers guidance for post-Cold War cases of "democracy promotion".


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cold War Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Oct 2020