Detente & Renewed Cold War


Early years of Detente - Richard Nixon

  • Nixon elected 1968 - Re-elected in 1972 - Second term ended in 1974 - Watergate scandal
  • Foreign policy successes = ended direct US involvement in the Vietnam war, America started normalising relations with China, policy of detente - lowering tensions with the USSR.
  • Nixon and Henry Kissinger - world is moving from a bi-polar world (US and USSR) to a multi-polar world (US, USSR and China). Need for US to improve relations with China. 
  • Despite lowering of tensions (detente of 1970s), renewed cold war. Things reverse themselves. Good or bad thing? detente was never going to end the cold war. 
1 of 14

Conclusion of the Vietnam War

  • A solution to the Vietnam War was Nixon's priority - claimed he had a secret plan to end the conflict during his presidencial campaign.
  • VIETNAMIZATION - America would train, finance and equip the south vietnamese military. South Vietnam would take control, meaning the US could withdraw.
  • Escalated the war at the same time as trying to end it by striking communist stage areas of Cambodia. March 1969 - US authorised secret bombings of Cambodia, did not become public knowledge until 1973 - caused political damage to Nixon.
  • 30th April 1970 - Nixon sends US and South Vietnamese forces into cambodia to attack communist bases - changed how the war was fought.
  • Dec 1970 - Congress repeals Gulf of Tonkin resolution - US no longer had a legal right to carry on fighting - Nixon claims he has the authority to continue in order to protect US troops.
  • Despite promising to end the war, and although Nixon withdraws lots of troops, US not in a position to withdraw completely. 
2 of 14

Ceasefire and Paris Peace Accords

  • US Negotiated with North Vietnam for a ceasefire
  • 26 Oct 1972 - Kissinger announced 'peace is at hand'
  • US and North Vietnam plan for ceasfire - South Vietnams president refuses to accept the plan because it leaves a lot of North Vietnamese troops still stationed in South Vietnam.
  • Dec 1972 - Talks break down even further - US bombs North Vietnam visciously
  • Jan 1973 - North Vietnam return to negotiating table - did not make concessions even after being bombed furiously
  • 27 Jan 1973 - signing of the Paris Peace Accords - immediate ceasefire - US would withdraw the remaining 24,000 troops and north vietnam would release 600 POWS. Did not stipulate withdrawal of North Korean troops from South Vietnam.
3 of 14

Gerald Ford & Vietnam

  • Paris Peace Accords ended direct US involvement in Vietnam - US hoped south vietnam would be able to survive with the trainging they had recieved. 
  • Spring 1975 - North Vietnam intensifies attacks on South Vietnam - South Vietnamese resistance collapses
  • Ford urges congress to provide more aid for south vietnam - congress refuses
  • April 1975 - last american leaves Saigon - North Vietnamese take control of the city, Vietnam war had ended, the north had won. 
  • American power showed itself to have been limited - beaten by communist guerilla fighters.
4 of 14

Nixon and China

  • China communist since 1949 - Peoples Republic of China (PRC) - Mao defeated Chinese nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-Shek. America initially refused to recognise PRC - saw communists as illegitimate. Continued to regard Kai-Shek as the real government of China - favoured one side over the other. 
  • Nixon was severely anti-communist - the gestures towards PRC would carry a lot of weight
  • Nixon and Kissinger wanted a better relationship with PRC - would counterbalance USSR - encourage the USSR to be less provocative with the US.
  • China becoming another pole in a bi-polar world - powerful under Mao
  • Opened opportunities to cause trouble with USSR
  • Trying to play China off USSR - PRC and USSR had a long standing antagonistic relationship - worsening from the 1960s
  • 1969 - troops clashed on border and Moscow considered nuclear strike on China - not a monolithic communist plot, USSR not controlling PRC. If US improved relations with PRC, Mao wouldnt move to USSR and communist would be less likely to spread through Asia.
  • July 1971 - Kissinger secretly visits PRC to pave way for a public visit by Nixon
5 of 14

Nixon and China (cont.)

  • Autumn 1971 - US end opposition of China's membership of UN
  • Feb 1972 - Nixon visits PRC
  • Included American acceptance that there is only one China - communist China. Promised to stop stationing US troops in Nationalist China (Taiwan) turning its back on Nationalist China.
  • Nixon and Mao stopping the spread of Soviet influence together
  • Secret and un-democratic diplomacy - few knew of Nixons visit until he appears on TV in China. Lots of power in Nixon's hands.
  • China doesnt become aligned with the US, stays seperate. Didnt want to provoke the USSR.
  • US Closer to China, helps the detente - policy successful. 
6 of 14

Detente & The Soviet Union

  • BG - Lyndon Johnson - efforts to ease tensions with the USSR. Agreements on Trade relations, weapons in outer space and nuclear proliferation - beginning of Detente, Nixon following in Johnsons lead
  • 1970 – Soviet Union has same amount of weapons as US does. Vietnam war still ongoing, saps any popular desire to engage in another confrontation with the USSR. Inflation at 5% - economic pressures on administration aswell.
  •  Needed a new approach in foreign policy – need to extend détente and lower the international tensions.
  • Nixon and Kissinger did not want to ‘smash’ communism. As long as the global balance of power was maintained, a country could be communist: live and let live.
  • Crux of détente – reducing international tensions – don’t need to challenge the internal makeup of communist countries
7 of 14

Detente & The Soviet Union (cont.)

  • In doing so - detente was never going to end the cold war - kept the balance of power frozen.
  • USSR would stay a major force in the world and the US would have to live with it. Detente = making sure the two powers had a better and more stable relationship.
  • Key features of Detente: Arms treaties - since 1969 negotiations ongoing for an arms limitation treaty (SALT I) Moscow 1972 - Signing of SALT I treaty - removed incentive for superpowers to buy superiority. No limit on amount of warheads on a missile - SALT I did nothing to end the arms race - moved it in a different direction. Why did the US accept the SALT I treaty? improved relations with US and PRC. if PRC fully allied with US, USSR would be in a vulnerable position. USSR needed to import technology and grain from US - would make sense to stabilise relations. 
  • Many republicans considered detente no different to Appeasement - USSR could still pose a threat to US interests.
  • Brezhnev visits US in June 1973 - Nixon returns to Moscow in July 1974 - No further progress in limiting Arms - effort to improve relations even if not much was done - increased contact = stability in the cold war.
  • March 1972 - North Vietnamese strike on south threatens to upset the signing of the SALT I treaty, showed commitment to reducing tensions - summit went ahead. realised the need for detente.
8 of 14

Detente & The Soviet Union (cont.)

  • What was detente supposed to do? Policy aimed at containing the USSR whilst the US strengthened itself? 
  • Detente meant peaceful co-existance with the USSR - no side would try use force or seek superiority. 
  • Detente stabilised relations - both US and USSR got benefits, however long term goals never realised (spread of communism for USSR) 
  • Human rights issues in USSR - right time to raise them? didnt matter what went on inside the countries as long as stability was guaranteed
  • If the nuclear threat is lowered - should start talking about human rights
  • Detente kept the communist regime in place - government elites decided the fates of millions
9 of 14

Ford, Carter and Detente

  • Late 1974 - Ford meets with Brezhnev to agree a new SALT treaty.
  • Mid 1979 - Jimmy Carter meets Brezhnev in Vienna to sign the treaty - SALT II meets severe opposition from the republicans
  • Reagan also criticises the SALT treaties - detente starts to fall to pieces by the end of the 1970s.
10 of 14

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

  • Cold war tensions coming back - detente had not worked
  • December 1979 - invasion to defend the weak communist government of Afghanistan. 
  • Carter imposes economic sanctions on the USSR
  • Boycotts 1980s Moscow olympics and withdraws SALT II treaty from senate consideration
  • Strong signs that the cold war is back - renewed cold war underway.
11 of 14

Ronald Reagan

  • Argued that the US had fallen behind USSR in terms of military power. Increased US military spending radically - $1.7trillion over 5 years. Funded new weapons such as the stealth aircraft and D5 trident missile. Did nothing to continue or revive the SALT II treaty
  • 1983 - Reagan administration pushed development of SDI (Star Wars) - Space Based anti-missile system - never actually produced
  • Reagan accelerating the arms build up - hiding the tensions
  • Reagan FIRMLY against detente as foreign policy - not interested in maintaining a good relationship with USSR - wanted to pile pressure on USSR
  • Reagan signalled a move away from detente - although there were some successes of detente - cold war still went on underneath the mask of detente. 
  • Moral stance against the USSR - wanted to end the regime. 
  • Argued that USSR was a cause to all the unrest in the world - would be wrong to give USSR legitimacy as a superpower. Similar stance taken with Thatcher - if US built up its arms, USSR would be forced in to an agreement. cant keep up - USSR's economic problems would make it weak
  • USSR would ultimately lose and cold war would come to an end. 
12 of 14

Ronald Reagan (cont.)

  • Reagans aim - secure capitalism over communism
  • US and USSR relations strained under reagan 
  • Strikes in Poland by shipyard workers - polish government allows for recognition of a non-communist trade union 'solidarity' 1981 - martial law imposed to destroy challenge faced by the union. 
  • US places economic sanctions on Poland - growing unrest in eastern europe
  • 1970s - USSR in terminal decline - continues throughout the 1980s - masked by detente
  • Soviet Bloc falls to pieces in 1980s - Reagan not a warmonger - did not believe in theory of Mutually Assured Destruction - wanted the complete abolition of nuclear weapons
  • High tensions in early 1980s - Yuri Andropov points to worsening relations in 1983
  • Sept 1983 - USSR shoot down Korean passenger jet - 'strayed into soviet airspace' - US Killed - Reagan accuses USSR of murder
  • Fading away of detente revealed the same tensions that had existed throughout the cold war
  • Reagan realises he is being too provocative.
13 of 14


  • Nixon - accomplished a great deal in foreign policy - learning to live with the USSR in the 60s and 70s, policy of detente didnt aim to end the cold war - stability
  • Soviet Bloc wasnt monolithic - moscow did not control all the communist countries
  • America needed a more pragmatic response - why US improved relations with PRC
  • Reagan - tensions with USSR continued under detente - reagan wanted to end the cold war - denounced detente - cant be pinned completely on Reagan - invasion of Afghanistan shows the USSR's role in denouncing detente - poland etc. Sets a stage for the collapse of USSR and end to the cold war
  • Detente a success in reducing tensions in the 60s and 70s - criticised that it did nothing for human rights - not designed to end cold war - left the people of eastern europe to do their own thing. detente did nothing for human rights so people took matters upon themselves - solidarity crucial in end of cold war (velvet revolutions)
  • Jimmy Carter more interested in human rights than Nixon and Gerald ford had been - US had been through Vietnam and Watergate - had to boost americas moral standing in the world
  • Carter tries to carry on detente at the same time - publically highlights the USSRs public rights record -Breshnev rejects. History moves away from Detente in the Reagan presidency - more stubborn.
14 of 14


No comments have yet been made

Similar All resources:

See all All resources »