The National Security State in the 1970s and 1980s

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The National Security State was challenged in the 1970s due to the diminished capacity of the United States to control world events, made evident by the defeat in Vietnam, and the unsustainable economic development that had started with president Lyndon B. Johnson and continued with president Richard Nixon. This challenge also impacted the Nixon administration and its decision-making process, including abuse of executive power, misleading the public, wiretappings of National Security Council employees, and justified it by saying “(…) freedom must sometimes be sacrificed for security.”

When Ronald Reagan took over the presidency after Jimmy Carter, he continued the defense buildup throughout the 1980s. The Reagan administration worked to reintroduce the use of force in pursuit of foreign policy goals , and did so directly and indirectly in Central America and in the Middle East. The Iran-contra affair and the Kirkpatrick doctrine signifies a continuation of the Nixon era, where misconduct and abuse of executive power was used as a justification, because it was all done in the name of the security.

The purpose of this essay is to analyze the state of the national security state in the 1970s and the 1980s. The primary focus will be on how Watergate and the Iran-contra affair could occur, and how these events affected the state of the national security state. Furthermore, a structure and agency perspective will be applied to the presidencies of Nixon and Reagan in order to investigate which parameters influenced the presidents to act as they did.

The United States as a hegemonic power was challenged in the 1970s due to a number of changes occurring all over the world. The Western European market was emergin...

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...ustified their misconduct and abuse of power, by arguing that they did it because of the National Security State, but what they really did was to undermine the importance of telling the truth, in a world built on mutual trust and respect.


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Clyne-Canham, John. “Business as Usual: Iran-Contra and the National Security State”. World Policy Journal, vol. 9, No. 4. 1992, pp. 617-637

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Morgan Ruth P. “Nixon, Watergate, and the study of the Presidency”. Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1, The Nixon Presidency. 1996, pp. 217-238
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