When dos Santos became president the country was going through post-colonial reconstruction. Productivity was low and political institutions were weak or nonexistent. Committing to improve both productivity and the structure of political institutions, dos Santos tightened military security and resisted international efforts to undermine the regime. However, economic progress throughout his tenure has been hampered by a paucity of skilled manpower and undermined by the war.
Despite his revolutionary rhetoric, dos Santos has been a pragmatist more than an ideologue. He wooed both East and West for assistance, and in the early 1980s Cuban troops were defending U.S. oil installations against attacks from UNITA guerrillas supported by South Africa (with U.S. backing). With the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the USSR, dos Santos no longer could play the superpowers against each other. Economic and institutional interests took a back seat to the civil war, and dos Santos made the survival of his regime a priority. He has indicated that he will not seek reelection in Angola's next elections, which were expected to take place in late 2003 or 2004.