Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Ronald Reagan. The subseries will present a documentary record of major foreign policy decisions and actions of President Reagan’s administration from 1981 to 1989.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1981–1989, Volume XLI

The compilations included in this volume illustrate the formulation of U.S. policy toward seven distinct global issues: law of the sea, human rights, African famine, AIDS, international population policy, whaling, and the ozone layer. The compilation on the Law of the Sea treaty examines the Reagan administration’s decision not to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the subsequent Rumsfeld mission and reciprocating states agreements. The compilation on human rights looks at general, rather than bilateral, human rights issues with one exception: U.S.-Soviet human rights negotiations are presented in detail, as they were the major focus of the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the Department of State. The compilation on the famine in Africa delineates the Reagan administration’s response to African and Third World hunger from a thematic and regional perspective rather than examining feeding efforts in individual countries. The compilation on AIDS looks at how policymakers used foreign policy in response to a frightening epidemic, from immigration and visa issues to the Soviet disinformation campaign on AIDS. The population compilation examines the Reagan administration’s decisions regarding funding population programs in other countries, with an emphasis on the United Nations International Conference on Population (ICP) in 1984. The whaling compilation decribes efforts to manage the 1982 ban on commercial whaling enacted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1982, which affected relations among the United States and Norway, Iceland, Japan, and the Soviet Union. The compilation on ozone looks mainly at the negotiation of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer rather than examining all international air pollution issues, such as the U.S.-Canadian consultations on acid rain, which will be discussed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume VII, Western Europe, [Page X] 1981–1984 and Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume VIII, Western Europe, 1985–1988 as a bilateral issue.

Throughout Reagan’s term in office, there was considerable tension between the Department of State and the White House on foreign policy matters. This tension was the most visible during the debate over what is now considered the “Mexico City Policy,” which placed restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance to non-governmental organizations and some states that performed or supported abortion services. In 1984, shortly before the ICP conference which took place in Mexico City, the Department of State, the Agency for International Development, the National Security Council, and the White House staff each circulated plans that aimed to redefine U.S. population policy. After intense bureaucratic infighting, the details of these plans were leaked to the press, the bulk of the White House’s plan became policy, and Richard Benedick, the Department’s Coordinator for Population Activities, requested reassignment.

The tension between the White House and the Department is, in fact, a theme of many of the compilations in this volume. Counselor to the President (1981–1984) and Attorney General (1985–1989) Edwin Meese was the prime mover in an effort to keep the United States and other Western nations from signing the Law of the Sea treaty, and Meese opposed the Department when he pressed for stringent testing requirements for immigrants at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Although Meese is best known for his input on domestic issues, this volume will show that he played an important role in the creation of foreign policy, particularly when international problems with domestic ramifications arose.

This volume highlights the contributions of several key policymakers. Elliott Abrams, perhaps best known for his involvement in Latin American issues, served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs during Reagan’s first term in office and was key to the salvation of human rights policy during Secretary Haig’s tenure. Abrams and Director of Policy Planning Paul Wolfowitz each sent memos that laid the foundation for the Reagan administration’s approach to human rights. Abrams also helped to initiate the Reagan administration’s concern for Soviet Jews, which became a central feature of U.S.-Soviet dialogue during Reagan’s second term. The aforementioned Richard Benedick also helped to negotiate much of the Department’s ozone policy and was a strong advocate for a treaty which banned the manufacture of chlorofluorocarbons, a goal which was eventually realized with the ratification of the Montreal Protocol. M. Peter McPherson, the Administrator for the Agency for International Development, played a central role in several policy discussions involving global issues. McPherson fought to be the point of [Page XI] contact during the famine in the Horn of Africa, and his actions following the International Conference on Population helped to cement the Mexico City Policy.

Overall, the Reagan administration’s record toward public health and the environment was complicated, and contradictory impulses existed throughout the bureaucracy. Although the Department of State advocated for an international ban on whaling in 1982, Department officials also allowed Icelandic officials to conduct scientific whaling expeditions and negotiated with the Department of Commerce so that Iceland would avoid sanctions under the Pelly Amendment. The Reagan administration’s international response to the AIDS epidemic originated from the bottom-up, when Foreign Service officers expressed concern about the virus at a conference in 1983. It was not until Reagan’s second term when policymakers outside of the Department, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began to focus on the global dimensions of the crisis. On the other hand, the administration’s generally positive response to the Vienna and Montreal Protocols may surprise some environmentalists.

Finally, the breadth of some of these global issues required an astonishing level of interagency coordination. The decision not to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty required a year and a half of cooperation, or at the very least, resignation, from the National Security Council; the Departments of State, Commerce, Defense, and the Interior; the White House staff; and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Responding to the African famine proved even more complex, as numerous presidentially mandated studies, interagency groups, and agency turf battles made ameliorating the catastrophe a very difficult affair. There were no simple answers to the global problems of the 1980s, and it is unsurprising that the dialogue surrounding these problems was complex as well. This volume illuminates the bureaucratic maelstrom from which policy emerged.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, as well as Myra Burton, David Geyer, Carl Ashley, Adam Howard, Stephen Randolph, Cate Sewell, Lisa Jones, Mark Patrick, Greg Murphy, Alan Lipton, Mark Ellcessor, Jim Graybill, Tina Spiker, Renée Goings, Michael McCoyer, James Graham Wilson, Elizabeth Charles, Forrest Barnum, Kristin Ahlberg, Laura Kolar, Madeline Poster, John Poster, Peter Hahn, and Robert McMahon. The editor gives special thanks to his wife Leslie, who has brightened his spirit in innumerable ways.

The editor collected and selected documentation and edited the volume under the supervision of Myra Burton, Chief of the Africa and [Page XII] Americas Division, and Adam Howard, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. Kerry Hite coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Coordination Division. Heather McDaniel completed the copy and technical editing under the supervision of Mandy Chalou, Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division.

Alexander O. Poster