A new world a new American foreign policy: the Carter administration, Nicaragua, and the legacy of the Vietnam War, 1977-1981

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McLaughlin, Ivan Eugene
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University College Cork
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The impact of the Vietnam War conditioned the Carter administration’s response to the Nicaraguan revolution in ways that reduced US engagement with both sides of the conflict. It made the countries of Latin America counter the US approach and find their own solution to the crisis, and allowed Cuba to play a greater role in guiding the overthrow of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. This thesis re-evaluates Carter’s policy through the legacy of the Vietnam War, because US executive anxieties about military intervention, Congress’s increasing influence, and US public concerns about the nation’s global responsibilities, shaped the Carter approach to Nicaragua. Following a background chapter, the Carter administration’s policy towards Nicaragua is evaluated, before and after the fall of Somoza in July 1979. The extent of the Vietnam influence on US-Nicaraguan relations is developed by researching government documents on the formation of US policy, including material from the Jimmy Carter Library, the Library of Congress, the National Security Archive, the National Archives and Records Administration, and other government and media sources from the United Nations Archives, New York University, the New York Public Library, the Hoover Institution Archives, Tulane University and the Organization of American States. The thesis establishes that the Vietnam legacy played a key role in the Carter administration’s approach to Nicaragua. Before the overthrow of Somoza, the Carter administration limited their influence in Nicaragua because they felt there was no immediate threat from communism. The US feared that an active role in Nicaragua, without an established threat from Cuba or the Soviet Union, could jeopardise congressional support for other foreign policy goals deemed more important. The Carter administration, as a result, pursued a policy of non-intervention towards the Central American country. After the fall of Somoza, and the establishment of a new government with a left wing element represented by the Sandinistas, the Carter administration emphasised non-intervention in a military sense, but actively engaged with the new Nicaraguan leadership to contain the potential communist influence that could spread across Central America in the wake of the Nicaraguan revolution.
American foreign relations , US-Nicaraguan relations , The Carter Administration , The legacy of the Vietnam War , Inter-American relations
McLaughlin, I.E. 2012. A new world a new American foreign policy: the Carter administration, Nicaragua, and the legacy of the Vietnam War, 1977-1981. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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