Detente (1969-79)

  • Created by: TessBlyth
  • Created on: 02-05-19 18:35

Why did the USA and USSR want detente at this time

The arms race meant that each side had spent years and billions developing nuclear weapons that equalled their opponents. Soon, both the USA and Soviet Union had enough weapons to completely destroy their rivals but guaranteed Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). So, neither country's leaders wanted to risk a war that would lead to their own destruction.

In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president of the USA and was determined to take his country out of the Vietnam war, which had cost the USA billions of dollars and resulted in the deaths of almost 60,000 soldiers. 

There had also been large-scale demonstrations against the war in America and many thought that they should take a less active role in international affairs. The USA also had many social problems. Inequality between rich and poor, black and white led to urban rioting on a massive scale in 1968.

The Soviet Union was facing economic problems and wanted to cut spending on weapons and devote more resources to improving living standards and updating its economy.

The Soviets also felt this was a relatively good time to look for better relations with the USA. They felt they were their equals in nuclear weapons capability. Improving relations and spending less on weapons would be a 'safe' policy.

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Perhaps the most important agreement between the USA and USSR during detente was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, signed in May 1972. 

  • The anti-ballistic missile treaty stated that ABMs were allowed only at two sites and each should have a maximum of 100 missiles.
  • The interim treaty placed restrictions on the numbers of ICBMs and SLBMs each country could have. The USA was allowed 1054 ICBMs and 740SLMBs. The Soviet Union was allowed 1618 ICBMs and 740LBMs. They were allowed more ICBMs because the USA already had more strategic bombers.
  • The basic principles agreement laid down rules for the conduct of nuclear warfare and set out steps for avoiding nuclear war.

SALT 1 had a number of weaknesses as it was unrealistic to expect war could be avoided just because each side signed a piece of paper. The treaties also didn't cover the latest technological developments.

SALT 1 however had a significant impact on international relations - both sides wanted to reach agreement and disaplay their better relations publicly. Negotiations for SALT 2 followed shortly after, in 1974, it was hoped that agreement would be found on unresolved matters in SALT 1.

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The Helsinki Accords, 1975

In 1973, 33 nations from NATO and the Warsaw Pact met to build on the spirit of co-operation which had been established in SALT 1. In August 1975, agreement had been reached in 3 areas, described as 'baskets'.

  • European Borders - borders are inviolable and cannot be altered by force.
  • International co-operation - continue to work for closer realtions between western and soviet-controlled countries. This will include trade agreements, technology exchanges and a joint space mission.
  • Human rights - they will respect human rights and individual freedoms such as free speech, religion and free movement across Europe.

Basket 1 was significant as this was the first time the boundaries between east and west Germany and the existing boundaries of the Soviet Union had been formally accepted. 

The spirit of cooperation described in Basket 2 was followed up the next year with a joint US-Soviet space mission.

The Helsinki Accords was the peak of detente and marked the dawn of a new approach to international relations. 

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Talks working towards SALT 2 continued until 18 June 1979 when Carter and Brezhnev signed a highly complex and technological agreement. It included restrictions on missile launchers and strategic bombers, as well as a ban on testing of deploying new types of ICBM.

However, imrpoved relations were beginning to fade.

  • In the USA, there was growing belief amongst the Democrats and Republicans that the Soviet government was not to be trusted. There had been an increase in Soviet support for communist groups in countries such as El Salvador. Agreements with the USSR were seen as weak.
  • In November 1979, Islamic militants captured the American embassy in Tehran. American diplomats and their families were publicly humiliated and more than 60 of them held hostage for 444 days. Many Americans wanted to see an end to detente and for America to restore its position as a powerful nation.
  • Advisers of President Carter also called for a stronger stance to be taken against the Soviet Union.
  • In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which borught the period of detente to an end. 
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