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Reagan on War

A Reappraisal of the Weinberger Doctrine, 1980-1984

Gail E. S. Yoshitani

Publication Year: 2011

Even at the time it was announced near the end of the first term of the Reagan administration, such luminaries as William Safire mischaracterized the Weinberger Doctrine as a conservative retreat from the use of force in U.S. international relations. Since that time, scholars have largely agreed with Safire that the six points spelled out in the statement represented a reaction to the Vietnam War and were intended to limit U.S. military action to “only the fun wars” that could be relatively easily won or those in response to direct attack. In this work of extensive original scholarship, military historian Gail Yoshitani argues that the Weinberger Doctrine was intended to legitimize the use of military force as a tool of statecraft, rather than to reserve force for a last resort after other instruments of power have failed. This understanding sheds much clearer light on recent foreign policy decisions, as well as on the formulation and adoption of the original doctrine. With the permission of the family of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Yoshitani gained access to Weinberger’s papers at the Library of Congress. She is the first scholar granted access to General (ret.) John Vessey’s archive at the Library, and her security clearance has made it possible for her to read and use a large number of materials still classified as secret or top secret.   Yoshitani uses three case studies from the Reagan administration’s first term in office—Central America and two deployments in Lebanon—to analyze how the administration grappled with using military force in pursuit of national interests. Ultimately, the administration codified the lessons it learned during its first term in the Weinberger Doctrine promulgated by Secretary of Defense Weinberger in a speech on November 28, 1984, two weeks after Reagan won reelection in a landslide. Yoshitani carefully considers the Weinberger Doctrine’s six tests to be applied when considering the use of military force as a tool of statecraft.   Just as the Reagan administration was forced to dance an intricate step in the early 1980s as it sought to use force as a routine part of statecraft, current and future administrations face similar challenges. Yoshitani’s analysis facilitates a better understanding of the Doctrine and how it might be applied by American national security managers today. This corrective to the common wisdom about the Weinberger Doctrine’s goals and applicability to contemporary issues will appeal not only to diplomatic and military historians, but also to military leaders and general readers concerned about America’s decision making concerning the use of force.  

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Foreign Relations and the Presidency Series

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

While waiting for a plane in Kansas City in 2006, my reading was interrupted by an adjacent gentle man who observed aloud, “Your eyes need to be balanced.” I was immediately intrigued by this observation because my eyesight indeed had been giving me...

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pp. xv-xvii

I would like to start by thanking the Lord for bringing all the people acknowledged here into my life. It is humbling to reflect upon how many hands and minds were brought together over distant time and space to create this book...

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1. Defining and Challenging the Vietnam Syndrome

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pp. 1-18

On 20 January 1981, Ronald Wilson Reagan was sworn in as the fortieth president of the United States. While every orderly transfer of power is a testament to the American democratic system, this inauguration possessed its own dramatic...

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2. A Short Primer on Domestic Political Realities

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pp. 19-32

While Ronald Reagan and the key leaders in his administration may not have entered office with a codified doctrine regarding when and how to use military power as a tool of statecraft, they did arrive with strong...

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3. The Casey Doctrine: Using Proxy Forces in Central America

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pp. 33-59

One of the Reagan administration’s first foreign-policy challenges arose in Central America, a situation inherited from the Carter years. As officials attempted to gain flexibility for action by reducing legal...

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4. The Pentagon Doctrine: Using American Military Power Decisively in Lebanon

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pp. 60-83

Even as the Reagan administration wrestled with policy for Central America, it also faced decisions for a different region halfway around the world—the Middle East. In keeping with his promise to provide leadership on the international...

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5. The Shultz Doctrine: Using American Military Power to Support Diplomacy

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pp. 84-112

In 1981, during the early weeks of the Reagan administration, Secretary of Defense Weinberger argued that domestic political realities made it unwise to use military power to overtly coerce Cuba. Specifically, he contended that public...

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6. The Weinberger Doctrine: A New Pattern for Civil-Military Relations

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pp. 113-142

As the Reagan administration worked to relate military power and diplomacy to achieve its policy objectives in Lebanon, a formal reappraisal of its strategy occurred in two instances, resulting in adjustments to the manner in...


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pp. 143-214


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pp. 215-239


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pp. 241-250

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781603445771
E-ISBN-10: 1603445773
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442596
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442596

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 11 b&w photos. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Foreign Relations and the Presidency Series
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OCLC Number: 808337196
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reagan on War

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Military policy.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1977-1981.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1981-1989.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Philosophy.
  • Intervention (International law).
  • National security -- United States -- Decision making.
  • Civil-military relations -- United States.
  • Weinberger, Caspar W.
  • Reagan, Ronald.
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