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What were the causes of Détente?
The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) highlighted the underlying tensions between the USA and the
It also helped to accelerate the moves towards reducing these tensions
Détente was a more permanent relaxation of relations and was to develop after 1962
It was encouraged by both international tension and the domestic considerations of the two
Stimulated by initiatives taken by European leaders keen to reduce tension in Europe
Détente was to gather enough momentum to produce agreements that offered some
tangible evidence of greater cooperation
1. Fear of war
a. How did the Cuban Missile Crisis lead to détente?
It highlighted the danger of a superpower confrontation resulting in nuclear war. President
Kennedy's threat to use American nuclear missiles if Soviet missile bases were not withdrawn from
Cuba had cause anxiety across the world. With the nuclear arms race leading to the development of
ever more efficient missiles the fear of future war continued to increase.
b. What was MAD and explain how this contributed to Détente?
By 1969 the USSR had matched the capability of the USA for mutually assured destruction: each
superpower now had enough nuclear missiles to destroy the other in the event of a first strike by the
opponent. This situation not only posed a threat to the economic well-being of both superpowers
but also provided a balance of power that would, it was hoped, act as a deterrent. The necessity of
reducing the risk of future nuclear war pushed both East and West towards Détente.
2. The needs of the USSR how did the following all encourage the USSR to pursue a policy of
a. National security interests took priority over ideological considerations
Although ideological considerations pointed towards the inevitability of conflict between the powers
of communism and capitalism, national security interests were to be the overriding factor
determining Soviet foreign policy, and this pushed the USSR towards Détente.
b. The perceived weakness of the USA
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, due to America's failure to win, the US was perceived as being
far weaker. Moreover, the USSR had also achieved a greater degree of parity in nuclear weapons at
this time, which allowed it to contemplate arms limitation agreements from a position of strength.
c. Eastern bloc concerns including the Czechoslovakian crisis in 1968 and strikes in the
Polish city of Gdansk
Accommodation with the USA would help stabilise the Soviet hold over Eastern Europe. Romania's
development of a more independent foreign policy, the Czechoslovakian Crisis of 1968 and strikes in
the Polish city of Gdansk in 1970 were signs that the Soviet hold on Eastern Europe needed
d. Sino Soviet split
If conflict was to occur with China, then the USSR wanted to ensure that the USA would not get
involved and that Western Europe was stable. Détente could help achieve this.
e. Low living standards in the USSR
The Soviet Politburo faced mounting economic problems and needed to divert resources away from
the military sector of the economy to deal with these. The Soviet population had failed to gain the
improvement in living standards they had been led to expect by Khrushchev and Brezhnev. With the
continuation of the arms race, the Soviet government found it difficult to transfer production capacity
in industry to consumer goods. Détente would provide the international background necessary to
make this possible.
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