Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Heather Marie Stur

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Andrew A. Wiest

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Brian LaPierre

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Joseph Weinberg

Committee Member 4 School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Member 5

Dr. Tom Lansford

Committee Member 5 School

Social Science and Global Studies


Over the course of the 1970s, détente was the principal guiding policy for Soviet-American relations. Examining 1974 through 1981, this dissertation surveys foreign policy measures as Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter grappled with détente and human rights. In the wake of the Vietnam War, Ford took the reins of the country as an unelected leader without an agenda but promised to move forward and heal the nation. He responded to the Vietnamese refugee crisis and signed the Helsinki Final Act, both of which laid the roots for the integration of human rights into American foreign policy. Ford’s main foreign policy aim was to achieve a SALT II agreement, which led him to pursue détente. Congressional leaders and the American public pitted détente and human rights as an either-or policy and Ford struggled to balance the two.

Promising to inject morality into foreign policy, President Jimmy Carter entered office with the goal to promote human rights globally. In order to accomplish this sweeping goal, he encouraged non-interventionism and tried to shed the image of American paternalism in third world countries. Though successful to some degree, Carter soon discovered that his comprehensive human rights policy could not be executed across the board. He was able to target Nicaragua’s human rights violations because the country was not significant in the grand scheme of American national security. Hypocritically, he held back criticizing Israel, China, and Iran, who all had their own human rights abuses — these countries proved to be more significant to American global aims. Whether it be geopolitical stability, oil resources, or weakening Soviet influence, Carter sided with national security over human rights. By 1979, Carter reverted to traditional cold warrior and laid the groundwork for reigniting the Cold War.

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