Date of Award

Fall 12-20-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


War and Society

First Advisor

Gregory Daddis

Second Advisor

Robert Slayton

Third Advisor

Alexander Bay


This thesis examines the nature and impact of the Reagan administration’s self-described projection of “peace through strength.” It argues that Reagan’s defense spending surge, “Star Wars” (SDI) missile shield policy, and 1983 invasion of Grenada gave the president confidence and political cover that allowed him to withdraw U.S. Marines from Beirut in early 1984. Analysts and commentators focus on his muscular power projection like defense spending, SDI, and the invasion of Grenada, but in practice Reagan exercised a high level of restraint in troop deployment. These projections of power and the avoidance of protracted war in Lebanon gave Reagan further confidence and cover to pursue arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, against the protestations of anti-Soviet hardliners.

Although Reagan supporters have credited the administration with either frightening or bankrupting the Soviets into disarmament, these policies—particularly his military restraint in Lebanon—did more to bring Reagan himself to the negotiation table. These power projection measures contributed to a “peace through strength” narrative embraced by much of Reagan’s domestic audience, allowing him to fend off accusations of Munich-style appeasement. While the defense spending surge helped give Reagan the confidence to ink an arms control agreement, the buildup created nonlinear consequences that will outlive arms control treaties.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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