Reagan on War
A Reappraisal of the Weinberger Doctrine, 1980-1984
6 x 9, 272 pp.
11 b&w photos. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 12/15/2011
Foreign Relations and the Presidency
Price:        $35.00

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Reagan on War

A Reappraisal of the Weinberger Doctrine, 1980-1984

Gail E. S. Yoshitani

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.

GAIL E. S. YOSHITANI, a lieutenant colonel in the US Army, is an Academy Professor of History at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York


What Readers Are Saying:

"With current American strategy in Afghanistan in tatters from the imbalance between the limited political ends sought and the maximalist means used to achieve them, Gail Yoshitani’s superb study of the Weinberger doctrine comes at a crucial time.  Reagan on War brings to the fore the underlying theories, ideas, and experience of President Reagan and Caspar Weinberger who combined to create a framework of strategy and policy for an enduring American role in the world.  As policy makers and military leaders confront tectonic shifts in the Middle East, a rising China, and many other challenges to American security and interests, Yoshitani’s book should be at the top of all of their reading lists." --Gian Gentile, professor of history, United States Military Academy at West Point

"Yoshitani teaches history at the U.S. Military Academy...To say that she made intense use of the Weinberger papers at the Reagan Library is an understatement...As Col. Yoshitani makes clear, much of the credit goes to the Weinberger Doctrine."--Joseph C. Goulden, author of "A Dictionary of Espionage," The Washington Times

"The book provides a fascinating study."--David Ryan, International Affairs

“In this well-organized study of three separate foreign policy problems through which the new policy evolved, the author focuses more on how Reagan’s team decided to act and why and less on how each crisis actually unfolded. Scholars of political, military, and diplomatic history will be impressed by this book’s solid research and careful analysis. Still, Reagan on War is a clear, thoughtful, and disciplined discussion of the making of foreign policy in the executive branch and a solid contribution to the study of civil-military relations in the wake of the Vietnam War.”—Brian Madison Jones, The Historian


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