"Morally wrong and politically unacceptable" : Ronald Reagan and constructive engagement, 1981-1988
Jessica Lynn Day-Lucore
May 9, 2018
Department or Program
From 1981-1988, the administration of Ronald Reagan adopted a policy of constructive engagement toward apartheid South Africa. Constructive engagement was formulated in order to achieve three goals, both strategic and moral: to maintain a good relationship between Washington and Pretoria, which the strongly anti-communist Reagan administration viewed as vital in terms of strategic resources and the Cold War; to gently encourage the brutal and racist South African government into a gradual reforming of apartheid; and to use the policy of linkage to resolve regional disputes in Angola, Namibia, and Mozambique. Over the course of the Reagan presidency, however, it became clear that both constructive engagement and linkage were structurally flawed and rested on incorrect assumptions. Exacerbating this problem was an outpouring of domestic and international outrage at the policy’s immorality and constant failures. Ultimately, by 1988, constructive engagement had mostly failed to accomplish either its strategic or moral goals.