US Foreign Policy, Human Rights and Multilateral Assistance

  • Michael Stohl
  • David Carlton
  • Mark Gibney
  • Geoffrey Martin
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


Throughout the 1980 presidential campaign, candidate Ronald Reagan clearly and sharply criticised the Carter human rights policy, arguing that it was morally unsound, ineffective, and threatening to United States’ security interests. According to the Reagan view, the policy was morally tenuous because it created a double standard, condemning minor human rights violators while overlooking major offenders. It was considered ineffective because it actually reduced United States influence in the targeted nations. Moreover, Carter’s policy was said to threaten United States security interests because it seriously undermined regimes which, while imperfect, were at least pro-Western. In contrast to Carter, Reagan promised that he would initiate a more realistic human rights programme. By avoiding the pitfalls of the Carter policy and properly understanding the moral questions involved, he would enact a policy that was both ethically sound and politically effective.1


Foreign Policy Asian Development Bank Fiscal Year Reagan Administration Foreign Assistance 
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  1. 1.
    On the Reagan position on human rights in the campaign see Tamar Jacoby, ‘The Reagan Turnaround on Human Rights’, Foreign Affairs, 64, 5, (Summer 1986), pp. 1066–86, who on this issue claims ‘his campaign rhetoric was unmistakable’ and quotes a Haitian analyst with respect to the authoritarian receivers of the message, ‘they thought human rights was over’. Both citations are from p. 1068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    The first citation is from Michael Novak, ‘Human Rights and Whited Sepulchres’, in Howard J. Wiarda (ed.), Human Rights and US Human Rights Policy (Washington DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1982) p. 82; and the second from A Conversation With Michael Novak and Richard Shifter: Human Rights and the United Nations (Washington DC: The American Enterprise Institute, 1981) p. 17.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Kirkpatrick and Novak were not the only administration spokespersons to enunciate the criticisms discussed. For discussions by other administration officials, see Elliott Abrams, ‘Human Rights and the Refugee Crisis’, Department of State Bulletin, 82, 2069 (September 1982) pp. 43–5;Google Scholar
  4. William P. Clark, ‘Personal Liberties and National Security’, Department of State Bulletin, 82, 2069 (December 1982) pp. 35–8;Google Scholar
  5. and George Shultz, ‘Human Rights and the Moral Dimension of US Foreign Policy’, Department of State Bulletin, 84, 2085 (April 1984) pp. 15–19.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    It is this point that separates the Reagan administration’s discussion and use of the concept of totalitarianism from the far less polemically grounded work on the subject by Carl Friedrich, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Hannah Arendt, Leonard Shapiro, and others. See, for instance, Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968);Google Scholar
  7. Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956); ‘Excerpts from Haig’s Speech on Human Rights and Foreign Policy’, New York Times, 21 April 1981, p. A6.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See also David P. Forsythe, ‘Congress and Human Rights in US Foreign Policy: The Fate of General Legislation’, Human Rights Quarterly, 9, 3, (August 1987) pp. 382–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 10.
    See Michael Stohl, David Carleton and Steven E. Johnson, ‘Human Rights and US Foreign Assistance: From Nixon to Carter’, Journal of Peace Research, 21, 3 (September 1984) pp. 215–26;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. David Carleton and Michael Stohl, ‘The Foreign Policy of Human Rights: Rhetoric and Reality from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan’, Human Rights Quarterly, 7, 2 (May 1985) pp. 205–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. David Cingranelli and Thomas Pasquarello, ‘Human Rights Practices and the Distribution of US Foreign Aid to Latin American Countries’, American Journal of Political Science, 29, 3 (August 1985) pp. 539–63,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. argue differently, but see David Carleton and Michael Stohl, ‘The Role of Human Rights in US Foreign Assistance Policy: A Critique and Reappraisal’, American Journal of Political Science, 31, 4 (November 1987) pp. 1002–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. A. Glenn Mower, Jr., Human Rights and American Foreign Policy: The Carter and Reagan Experiences (New York, Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood Press, 1987);Google Scholar
  14. David P. Forsythe, Human Rights and US Foreign Policy: Congress Reconsidered (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  15. 12.
    US National Advisory Council on International and Financial Policies, Annual Report 1984–1985 (Washington: GPO, 1986) pp. 286, 294.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    US Department of the Treasury, United States Participation in the Multilateral Development Banks in the 1980s (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1982).Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    The Watch Committees, The Reagan Administration’s Record on Human Rights in 1986, February 1987, p. 11.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    See Nicolai N. Petro. The Predicament of Human Rights: The Carter and Reagan Policies, vol. V (New York: University Press of America, 1983) p. 58. The creative use of the extraordinary circumstances clause and strained interpretations of legislative language is not unique to the Reagan administration, however.Google Scholar
  19. 26.
    US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1981, February 1982, p. 11.Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    See Stanley Hoffmann, ‘Reaching for the Most Difficult Human Rights as a Foreign Policy Goal’, 112, 4 Daedalus (Autumn 1983), p. 44; Elizabeth Drew, ‘A Reporter at Large (Human Rights)’, The New Yorker, 18 July 1977, p. 59; Anthony Lewis, ‘A Question of Humanity’, New York Times, 28 February 1977, p. 27.Google Scholar
  21. 32.
    Joseph Lelyveld, ‘For Pretoria, Laws are Basic to Keeping Blacks in Check’, New York Times, 10 October 1983, 1, p. A6. Roger Omond, The Apartheid Handbook (2nd edn) (New York: Viking Penguin, 1986).Google Scholar
  22. 33.
    Michael Walzer, ‘Totalitarian vs. Authoritarianism: The Theory of Tyranny, The Tyranny of Theory’, Dissent, 28 (Autumn 1981) p. 403.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David P. Forsythe 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Stohl
  • David Carlton
  • Mark Gibney
  • Geoffrey Martin

There are no affiliations available

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