The book traces the role of human rights concerns in US foreign policy during the 1980s, focusing on the struggle among the Reagan administration and members of Congress. It demonstrates how congressional pressure led the administration to reconsider its approach to human rights and craft a conservative human rights policy centered on democracy promotion and anti-communism – a decision which would have profound implications for American attention to human rights.

Based on extensive archival research and interviews, I combine a comprehensive overview of human rights in American foreign relations with in-depth case studies of how human rights shaped US foreign policy toward Soviet Jewry, South African apartheid, and Nicaragua.

Tracing the motivations behind human rights activism, the book demonstrates how liberals, moderates, and conservatives selectively invoked human rights to further their agendas, ultimately contributing to establish human rights as a core moral language in US foreign policy.

Available at Cambridge University PressAmazon and elsewhere.


'In explaining how idealists in Congress forced the Reagan administration to embrace and recast human rights, Søndergaard reveals how profoundly the trajectory of US human rights policy was determined by contestation between the executive and the legislature. This richly researched book illuminates a poorly understood decade in the development of international human rights and recovers the role of overlooked actors, both in Congress and outside government.'

Barbara Keys, Durham University,

author, Reclaiming American Virtue

'An engaging and original contribution to our understanding of the place of human rights in US foreign policy in the 1980s. Rasmus Søndergaard is particularly effective in highlighting the significance of the newly-formed Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) and articulating what a 'conservative' human rights policy meant during the Reagan years.'

Sarah B. Snyder, American University,

author, Human Rights Activism

and the End of the Cold War

'Søndergaard makes an important contribution to our understanding of human rights in US Cold War foreign relations. Drawing on deep archival research, Reagan, Congress, and Human Rights convincingly illuminates how legislators on both sides of the political aisle influenced the Reagan administration's approach to the defining human rights issues of the 1980s.

William Michael Schmidli, Leiden University,

author, The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere