Detente 1969-80

  • Created by: Megan
  • Created on: 05-06-15 10:32

The Origins

Why Brezhnev sought better relationship:

  • Soviet Union had achieve nuclear parity and could negotiate from a position of strength
  • Economic problems; economy 1/6th of US economy
  • Wanted to buy cheap grain from West
  • Access to superior technology
  • Deteriorated relations with China

Why Nixon sought better relationship:

  • Wanted to end Vietnam War
  • US economy starting to stagnate; needed to reduce defence spending

Moscow Summit 1972 resulted in:

  • SALT 1; The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and The Interim Agreement on Offensive Missiles
  • The Basic Principles Agreement

The Moscow Summit committed the superpowers to work together

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The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty:

  • The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; each superpower only allowed 2 Anti-Ballistic Missile Shields (ABMS) as it undermined the possibility of MAD and had the potential to neutralise nuclear missile attacks. It was also more likely that the US would develop an effective ABMS sooner, therefore making nuclear war more likely becuase the US would then be able to attack the USSR without fear of retaliation.
  • The Interim Agreement on Offensive Missiles; placed limits on Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and submarine launched missiles. USSR allowed advantage of a ration 3:2 but US was allowed to station shorter range missles in Western Europe.

Both agreements designed to last 5 years

SALT 1 was recognised as a temporary measure and it was hoped that a permanent treaty would be drawn up in 1977. Discussions for SALT 2 started immediately after SALT 1.

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The Basic Principles Treaty


  • The agreement set out 12 basic principles designed to govern superpower relations
  • Both sides and allies agreed to respect each other as equals, accept peaceful coexistence, to seek disarmament, to increase trade and to avoid confrontation
  • It established for the first time a framework for governing superpower relations
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The OPEC crisis 1973

Impact on West:

  • created an oil shortage
  • Led to atmosphere of crisis
  • US economic growth relied on cheap oil
  • Threatened car and freeway use
  • Led to a feeling that the US was in decline

Impact on Soviet Union:

  • Oil-exporting state, could raise money from selling oil
  • Prospect of reversing Soviet economic decline


  • Economies rebounded quickly 
  • Creation of G7 in 1975 restored confidence and economic stability
  • Technical innovation led to more fuel-efficient engines
  • Crisis was short lived, oil price remained stable from 1974-78
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Impact of the 1973 OPEC crisis


  • Widespread perception particuarly right wing of US politics that the US was vulnerable and led to criticisms of detente
  • Many demanded a more assertive foreign policy
  • It also emphasied the importance of safe guarding oil reserved which turned attentuon to the Middle East
  • This made US leaders concerned about Soviet expansion and influence in the Middle East
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The policy of Ostpolitik was advance by Willy Brandt, West German leader. It was designed to improve relations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.


  • Brandt wanted reunification of Germany
  • He felt contact with the Eastern bloc was the best way to stabilise relations
  • He signed the Treaty of Moscow 1970 and the Basic Principles Treaty in 1972
  • He accepted the existing borders between East and West Germany.
  • For Brandt it was the first stage in a dialogue with East Germany

Eastern Europe:

  • Eastern bloc welcomed Ostpolitik
  • It would help trade with West and give them access to Western technology
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The Helsinki Accords 1975

International conference involving 33 countries. It focussed on security and co-operation in Europe and consisted of three baskets.

Basket 1: 

All European nations recognised the Soviet bloc

Basket 2:

All nations agreed to expand trade and share technology

Basket 3:

Respect human rights but unenforceable 

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Significance of the Helsinki Accords 1975

Reagan criticised the Helsinki Accords for compromising too much although in the long run it undermined communism in the Easter Bloc.

  • Basket 2 gave communist countries greater access to technology showing Western superiority in this area and undermined claims that communism was a better system than capitalism.
  • Greater trade also allowed greater travel and more informal contact with Western business people who informed citizens of Eastern Europe about press freedom and democracy which encouraged them to question the repressive and undeomocratic nature of the Soviet Union.
  • Basket 3 undermined the hold of repressive regimes in Eastern Europe. The Moscow Helsinki group was founded to monitor and publicise human rights abuses. The emergence of popular movements would play a significant role in the collapse of Soviet rule later.
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SALT 2 negotiations

Further arms control proved difficult. 1976 the terms were still being discussed.

  • Growing concern over Soviet SS20 medium-range missiles; West Germany worried that arms reduction would leave them poorly defended.
  • resistence in US congress
  • The Watergate Scandal weakened negotiating position at the Vladivostok Summit 1974.
  • Nevertheless the Vladivostok agreemebr set out the basis for further negotiations and both sides agreed to equal limits for missile launchers and strategic bombers
  • But it fell short of a full treaty
  • SALT 2 negotiations continued into late 1970s
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Definition: The process of establishing a working relationship between two countries.

Nixon's and Kissingers main aim for detente was the normalisation of superpower relations.

This was achieved by the Basic Principles Agreement and the Helsinki Accords but the Basic Principles Agreement did nothing to stop superpower conflict in the Third World.

Brezhnev hoped that normalisation of the direct relationship between the superpowers would allow greater scope for indirect conflict in the Third World.

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Trade and growth

  • US defence spending dropped from $406 billion in 1970 to $284 billion in 1976
  • Soviet Imports from the US almost doubled between 1974-75
  • Economic growth remained slow in West
  • Jackson-Vanik Amendement passed by congress in 1974 placed restrictions on US-Soviet trade.
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The Third World

Angloan Civil War, 1975:  Cuban troops supported socialist MPLA against CIA backed western style group. Communist troops were successful as Ford couldnt get Congressional support.

Soviet forces also supported left-wing regime in Ethiopia, sponsoring direct involvement by Cuban forces

In Nicaragua 1979 a communist government came into power, the US had believed it to be firmly in its sphere of influence 

Communism in the Third World undermined detente. 

Right-wing US politicians argued that the Soviet Union was taking advantage of the relaxation in US policy to expand its influence.

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  • Critical of SALT 2 negotiations
  • 1977 proposed much greater cuts than those agreed in the Vladivostok agreement 1974
  • This was undermined by his decision in 1978 to invest in Trident and to build 23 new missile silos.
  • This contradictory policy confused Soviet leadership and they found it difficult to trust him.

Despite these difficulties the SALT 2 agreements were finally signed in June 1979 in the Vienna Agreement 1979. 

Each Superpower was restricted to 2250 missile launchers and it followed Carters decision to compromise and accept formula of Vladivostok agreement. He recognised that the Soviet negotiators would never accept the cuts he had proposed so he compromised.

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Invasion of Afghanistan 1979

Soviet troops invaded on 27th December 1979

They were attempting to support the left-wing government led by Muhammad Taraki. Soviet leaders feared the government would be overthrown by militant islamic groups and thought this would encourage rebellion across the Soviet Union.

Soviet leaders believed the invasion was a defensive move to protect their own interests and security but the US saw it as a plan to take control of Central Asia, an area rich in Oil.

US reaction:

  • Shocked at the invasion
  • Called detente into question
  • Carter increased defence spending by 5%
  • banned grain and technology exports
  • Announced US boycott of the Moscow Olympics 
  • Sent aid to the Mujahedin

Soviet forces were tied up in an unwinnable war for much of the 80s which drained resources

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The End of Detente

Weak leadership:

  • Brezhnev's health had declined so he was less able to provide a clear lead.
  • Nixon had resigned due to the Watergate Scandal putting Ford then Carter in a weaker position. Carters administration had been divided on detente anyway 

Human Rights:

  • Soviet Union had failed to honour agreements made in Basket 3 of the Helsinki Accords therefore it was argued that detente was a worthless policy.

Economic reality:

  • Parital revival in Western economies meant that they no longer needed detente. Detente had appealed at a time when both superpowers needed to reduce military spending. 1976 US needed detente less.
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