Led by Professor William Inboden, former National Security Council official and author of the new history, The Peacemaker, this four-week course will examine how Ronald Reagan and his national security team confronted the Soviet Union, reduced the nuclear threat, won the Cold War, and supported the spread of freedom around the world.

Even as Reagan waged the Cold War, his administration faced multiple competing foreign policy crises — from the emergence of global terrorism to wars in the Middle East, the rise of Japan, the awakening of China, and proxy conflicts in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In studying how Reagan and his administration tackled these challenges, fellows will gain a stronger understanding of presidential leadership and how the pivotal decade of the 1980s shaped our world today.

Will Inboden & H.R. McMaster on Reagan


William Inboden

William Inboden is Executive Director and William Powers, Jr. Chair at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas-Austin. Previously he served as Senior Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Council at the White House.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session


  • Inboden, The Peacemaker, pp. 1–186
  • Watch or read: Reagan, Westminster Address, June 8, 1982, Watch here


Reading Questions & Writing Prompts:

  1. What were the main features of Reagan’s Cold War strategy, and in what ways did it depart from past presidencies? [Assume the role of National Security Advisor Bill Clark. You are going to appear on “Meet the Press“ in May 1982 to describe Reagan’s Cold War strategy. Write out your opening statement of no more than 500 words.]
  2. If “personnel is policy,” what personnel picks did Reagan get right and get wrong in his first 18 months as president? [Write a candid one-page memo to President Reagan from the Director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office in January 1982 evaluating his main Cabinet secretaries and advisors.]
  3. Did Reagan change or evolve during his first 18 months in office on the question of promoting democracy and human rights? [Write a short op-ed to be published on June 15, 1982 arguing for whether you think the Westminster Address marked a significant change in policy or not.]


  • Inboden, The Peacemaker, pp. 187–290
  • Watch or read: Reagan, “Evil Empire” Speech, March 8, 1983, Watch here
  • Watch or read: Reagan, “Strategic Defense Initiative” Speech, March 23, 1983, Watch here


Reading Questions & Writing Prompts:

  1. Who were the multiple audiences for Reagan’s speeches? [Assume the role of a Polish Solidarity activist who has just listened to Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech on Voice of America. Write a letter to President Reagan telling him what you think of the speech.]
  2. What was notable about Reagan’s approach to nuclear weapons, especially SDI and the INF deployments? [Assume the role of the KGB Rezident in Washington, DC in December 1983, and write a one-page memo to Moscow Center describing Reagan’s nuclear doctrine.]
  3. Which doctrine is more correct on the use of force, the Shultz Doctrine or the Weinberger Doctrine? [For two writers: Write opposing memos to British PM Margaret Thatcher, summarizing and evaluating both doctrines.]


  • Inboden, The Peacemaker, pp. 290–424
  • Watch or read: Reagan, “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” Speech, June 6, 1984, Watch here.


Reading Questions & Writing Prompts:

  1. What role did allies play in Reagan’s overall worldview and foreign policy? [Assume the role of an advisor to newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in December 1984. Write him a one-page memo describing how US President Ronald Reagan views allies.]
  2. What were the main features of Reagan’s Asia strategy? [Assume the role of a civilian advisor to the PACOM Commander based in Honolulu in 1984. Write a one-page memo to the Commander outlining the features of Reagan Administration’s Asia-Pacific posture.]
  3. Was Gorbachev a genuine reformer? [For two writers: Write opposing memos to President Reagan in November 1986 arguing for and against the proposition that “Gorbachev can be trusted as a genuine reformer and partner for peace.”]


  • Inboden, The Peacemaker, pp. 424–479
  • Watch or read: Reagan, Berlin Wall Speech, June 12, 1987, Watch here
  • Watch or read: Reagan, Moscow State University Speech, May 31, 1988, Watch here
  • Mike Gallagher, “The Lost Art of Ideological Warfare,” July 2019
  • Henry Kissinger, Keynote Speech Commemorating Reagan’s 112th Birthday, February 6, 2023


Reading Questions & Writing Prompts:

  1. Did Reagan’s staff have good reasons to oppose including the phrase “Tear Down This Wall” in his iconic speech? What was the strategic significance of the speech? [For two writers: Assume the role of an NSC staff member. Write opposing one-page memos to President Reagan on June 10, 1987 explaining why he should – or should not – say “Tear Down this Wall” in his Brandenburg Gate speech.]
  2. What does the INF Treaty reveal about the integration of force and diplomacy, and the conduct of coercive diplomacy? [Assume the role of President Reagan, who was a devoted daily diarist. Write a diary entry from the day that you signed the INF Treaty, reflecting on how you succeeded six years after first announcing the “zero option.”]
  3. If the United States won the “battle of ideas” in the Cold War, why in the year 2023 do Moscow and Beijing think and act otherwise? [Assume the role of a senior advisor to Xi Jinping, and write him a one-page memo on the lessons from the end of the Cold War for the Chinese Communist Party today.]

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