Kirkpatrick Doctrine

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The Kirkpatrick Doctrine was a political doctrine expounded by United States Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick in the early 1980s which attempted to justify U.S. support for right-wing, anti-Communist dictatorships in the Third World in the context of the Cold War. Kirkpatrick claimed that pro-Soviet communist states were totalitarian regimes while pro-Western anti-Communist Third World dictatorships were authoritarian ones. Kirkpatrick claimed that totalitarian regimes were more stable than authoritarian regimes, and thus had a greater propensity to influence neighboring states (see "domino theory.")

Kirkpatrick's tenet that totalitarian regimes are more stable than authoritarian regimes has come under criticism since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, particularly as Kirkpatrick predicted that the Soviet system would persist for decades, even centuries. Others counter that the Soviet Union fell only amid steady U.S.-led Western opposition to Communism during the Cold War. Still others argue that the transition from totalitarianism to democracy in the Eastern Bloc has not been nearly as smooth as several authoritarian states' transition to democracy.

According to Kirkpatrick, authoritarian regimes merely try to control and/or punish their subjects' behaviors, while totalitarian regimes moved beyond that into attempting to control the thoughts of their subjects, using not only propaganda, but brainwashing, re-education, widespread espionage on private citizens, and mass political repressions based on ideology. The Soviet Union (particularly during Joseph Stalin's rule) and Nazi Germany are archetypical examples of totalitarian regimes.

Totalitarian regimes also often attempt to undermine or destroy community institutions deemed ideologically tainted (e.g., religious ones, or even the nuclear family), while authoritarian regimes by and large leave these alone. For this reason, she argues that the process of restoring democracy is easier in formerly authoritarian than in formerly totalitarian states, and that the former are more amenable to gradual reform in a democratic direction.

The Kirkpatrick Doctrine was particularly influential during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration gave varying degrees of support to anti-Communist dictatorships, including Guatemala, the Philippines, and Argentina, and armed the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, UNITA in Angola, and the Contras in Nicaragua as a means of ending Communist rule in those countries.

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