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  • Editor’s Note

This issue begins with an article by Robert P. Hager, Jr., and Robert S. Snyder discussing why a conflict erupted between the United States and Nicaragua in the 1980s after a brief interregnum of relative calm (or at least non-conflictual relations) in the wake of the victory by far-left Sandinista guerrillas over the long-time dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza Debayle. For many years, the United States had supported the Somoza regime and had helped it in its fight against Marxist-Leninist insurgents, but after the regime collapsed in July 1979 the Carter administration initially eschewed any frontal challenge to the Sandinistas. This phase in bilateral relations, lasting roughly a year, stands in marked contrast to the bitter confrontation between the United States and Nicaragua during most of the 1980s. Hager and Snyder consider two explanations that have often been proposed to explain why U.S.-Nicaraguan relations dissolved into hostility after mid-1980: (1) that the Reagan administration, unlike the Carter administration, was intent on undermining Marxist-Leninist regimes in Latin America; and (2) that the deterioration of bilateral ties reflected the pattern that usually develops between a status-quo great power and a smaller state that has just undergone violent revolutionary change. This latter argument is derived from notions of a “security dilemma” whereby a status-quo great power increasingly sees the revolutionary state as a threat and takes steps to neutralize the threat. The historical evidence presented by Hager and Snyder undercuts both of these possible explanations and points to a reverse direction of causation. They argue that the initiative in this case (and other recent cases of revolutionary aftermaths) was taken not by the large status-quo state but by the revolutionary state. The Sandinistas wanted to overthrow the existing international order and therefore began providing military assistance to Marxist-Leninist guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala. This policy, Hager and Snyder show, angered U.S. officials and brought Nicaragua into conflict with the United States.

The next article, by James Stocker, examines U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy and its effect on U.S. officials’ perceptions of the desirability of nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) in select regions of the world. When proposals for NWFZs in Latin America and other regions were first bruited in the 1950s, the U.S. government reacted coolly and tried to deflect the idea, based on concern that adoption of an NWFZ in even a peripheral region would set a precedent that might eventually endanger U.S. nuclear deployments and strategy in Europe and East Asia, the regions of primary concern. These reservations about NWFZs reflected U.S. national security priorities at the time. Although officials in Washington wanted to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, they were intent on avoiding any measures that could erode U.S. efforts to deter military threats from the Soviet bloc and Communist China. U.S. policymakers [End Page 1] were particularly worried that proposals for NWFZs would gain popularity in Europe in the wake of the scheme put forth by Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki in 1957, which would have left the Soviet Union with a large advantage in conventional forces and the ability to pressure U.S. allies. Many in Washington also feared that the establishment of NWFZs in certain regions of the world would raise questions about U.S. nuclear practices more generally, including transit and deployment rights. These misgivings persisted until well into the 1960s. Not until the end of the decade, amid mounting concerns about nuclear proliferation, did U.S. officials conclude that an NWFZ in Latin America (established by the Treaty of Tlatelolco) would be desirable and would not pose an undue risk to U.S. defense capabilities in Europe and East Asia.

The next article, by Michelle Denise Getchell, discusses the Soviet Union’s perspective on the U.S.-backed coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954 that overthrew the left-wing government headed by Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. The Soviet Union had actively supported Communist parties in the region since the 1920s. The Árbenz government, which included Communist elements and leaned toward the USSR, was hoping that the Soviet Union would help...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-3298
Print ISSN
1520-3972
Pages
pp. 1-2
Launched on MUSE
2015-05-24
Open Access
No
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