Department of History

The United States, Great Britain, and Intermestic Politics, 1977-85

Project summary

This EU-funded project examines US and British foreign policy during the late Cold War era. In particular, it analyses the role of Congress and Parliament in shaping external decisions, and investigates how domestic variables such as interest groups, party politics, and electoral strategising helped determine policy outcomes.

Carter and Reagan shake hands


The ‘transnational turn’ in history over the past quarter-century has spawned some excellent international studies, expanding our knowledge of how actors, state and non-state, influenced the Cold War. Lost in the discourse, amid the global tide, has been the role of domestic politics. All too often, politics and policy are treated as separate entities, with little apparent interaction. The result is a distorted portrayal of the context in which decisions were reached. Studies which privilege the foreign over the domestic run the risk of becoming ahistorical – by granting greater importance to various overseas actors than they in fact warrant. Too much agency becomes assigned to international circumstances, without a corresponding examination of domestic forces, and the parameters they set for foreign policy. What is lost, as Fredrik Logevall (Harvard University) argues, is the ‘intermestic’ dimension of policy, where the international and domestic agendas become entwined. The project explores this international-domestic nexus, demonstrating the ways in which it shaped external policy and bilateral relations.

The study is set against an era which saw sweeping legislative changes in the United States (post-Vietnam), restricting the executive’s room for maneuver in foreign affairs, and the establishment of departmental select committees by the British Parliament. It looks primarily at the end of détente and the onset of a ‘Second’ Cold War (circa 1979-85), examining issues such as East-West relations, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the debates on nuclear disarmament. Taking the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and the premiership of Margaret Thatcher as case studies, this project explains the politics behind policy, drawing on archival material in US presidential libraries, the UK National Archives, and politicians’ private papers. Causal force, and the question of what drives decision-making, is critical to the study of foreign policy. Focusing on themes such as timing, risk, and credibility, this project shows how domestic imperatives figured every bit as much in policymakers’ decision calculus as did proximate external factors.


Who's involved

Dr Aaron Donaghy


Horizon 2020


Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Contact details