GCSE History: Superpower Relations and the Cold War- Key Topic 3


Détente- easing in tension in the 1970s

  • The 1960s were marked by crises, including some of the most tense points in the Cold War, so both the USA and the USSR wanted to avoid other near misses
  • Both sides recognised that a new strategy was needed because boosting military power hadn't succeeded in reducing tensions
  • Both countries also wanted to reduce their military spending- the arms race was extremely expensive and led to falling standards of living
  • Under detente, the two superpowers developed closer relations.  The most significant progress was achieved through diplomacy
  • SALT 1- treaty signed in 1972 by the USA and the USSR. 
  • It limited the number of anti-ballistic missiles each country could have and placed a temporary limit on the number of ICBMs on both sides.
  • ABMs were designed to intercept incoming missiles and had the potential to upset the 'nuclear balance' between the two sides. 
  • The treaty was a success in the short term because it slowed down the arms race.
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Detente- Helsinki Agreement and SALT 2

  • Helsinki Agreement- 1975
  • Pact between the USA, the USSR, Canada and most of Europe.  All countries agreed to recognise existing Europena borders and uphold human rights
  • Both superpowers accepted the division of German and the USSR's influence over Eastern Europe
  • The West saw the USSR's agreement to uphold human rights as great progress, but the USSR didn't stick to its word.  It didn't grant freedom of speech or freedom of movement to its citizens.  This undermined the agreement and made the USA distrust the USSR.
  • SALT 2- 1979
  • The treaty banned the USA and the USSR from launching new missile programmes and limited the number of MIRVs each country could have
  • However the treaty was never approved by the US Senate, so it didn't come into effect
  • Both superpowers took important steps towards limiting their nuclear arms during detente, but both countries continued to hold vast stockpiles of weapons
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The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

Turning Point for Detente in the 1970s

  • Civil war broke out in 1978 in Afghanistan and the Afghan goernment requested hekp from the USSR, which invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.  The USSR used the Brezhnev Doctrine to justify the invasion.  It was also concerned by the idea of an anti-Soviet government in Afghanistan as the countries shared a border
  • The USSR found itself in a seemingly unwinnable conflict and had to fight in difficult mountainous terrain against determined opposition, who were supplied with weapons by the USA
  • The USSR couldn't win, despite spending huge amounts of money and 15000 Soviet troops being killed
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Effects of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

  • The Soviet-Afghan War led to a loss of public support in the USSR for the communist regime, as the Soviet people were angry at falling living standards, which had deteriorated as a direct result of high spending in Afghanistan
  • The war was an embarassment for Brezhnev and undermined the USSR's strong military reputation, which was essential for keeping its satellite states under control
  • Jan 1980- the UN condemned the invasion and proposed a resolution demanding Soviet withdrawal, but the resolution was rejected by the USSR
  • 1980- the USA and over 50 other countries boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games, in protest at the Soviet-Afghan War
  • The war caused tension between the USSR and the USA to resurface, making the situation dangerous
  • The USA interpreted the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as an act of communist expansion.  In 1979, the US President Carter was so alarmed he stopped the SALT 2 Treaty being debated by the US Senate, meaning that it could never come into effect.  He also called for an increase in the defense budget
  • The USA was worried that the USSR was trying to gain influence in the Persian Gulf, close to the Afghan border.   The oil-rich area had formed close economic ties with the West, and Carter thought the Soviet influence in Afghanistan threatened US interests there
  • Carter warned that the USA would use force to prevent the USSR from gaining control of the Gulf Region- the Carter Doctrine, which was the first threat of aggression between the two sides since detente.
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The Second Cold War

  • After the invasion, detente was badly damaged, but the situation was made worse when President Reagan succeeded President Carter in Jan 1981
  • Reagan was a hardline anti-communist and his speeches increased hostility between the two superpowers, as they were often filled with anti-Soviet rhetoric
  • He didn't believe in the policy of detente and was willing to negotiate with the USSR, but only from a position of strength
  • He wanted to increase American defences, as American intelligence gathered in 1976 also suggested that the USA had underestimated the USSR's nuclear strength and the USA felt it had to catch up
  • Reagan started the biggest arms build up in American history, which worried the USSR because it couldn't afford to match Reagan's spending
  • Reagan also re-authorised some weapons programmes that had been abandoned during detente, including the USA developing the neutron bomb, which was designed to cause maximum loss of life and minimum damage to property
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Strategic Defence Initiative

  • Relations worsened when Reagan announced SDI
  • The program would develop weapons that would be deployed in space and could destroy nuclear missiles after they had been launched
  • It would be the ultimate defence system- even nuclear missiles already heading towards the USA could be stopped
  • If successful, the SDI would shift the balance of the Cold War in the USA's favour.  Detente was truly over by 1983.  
  • The SDI was a means of defence for the USA, but the USSR viewed it as an act of aggression
  • Reagan reassessed his attitude towards the USSR when Gorbachev became the leader of the USSR in March 1985
  • Reagan's Change in Attitude after 1985
  • Gorbachev proposed radical reforms and was far more open towards the West than previous Soviet leaders.  Reagan recognised that the USSR was being steered in a different direction
  • The USA realised that this change could be good and although initiatives weren't scrapped, Reagan thought negotiation was now the best way to protect American interests
  • The two leaders got on well, creating a better relationship between the two superpowers
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Gorbachev's 'New Thinking'

  • Laid the foundations for the collapse of the USSR- one of the biggest turning points in the Cold War
  • The Soviet economy couldn't support the level of spending of the arms race with the USA and the war in Afghanistan
  • Soviet goods were poor quality and Soviet farming was inefficient- there wasn't enough food, so grain had to be imported from the USA
  • The communist government was becoming more corrupt and was unable to give the Soviet people the same high living standards as in the West
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Gorbachev's Policies

  • Gorbachev was more open to the West and admitted that the Soviet system had problems, his two major policies were:
  • Perestroika (restructuring)- wanted to make the Soveit economy more efficient, moved away from the centralisation of industry (more independence for businesses) and trading with Western powers was allowed, as well as private business ownership
  • Glasnost (openness)- Soviet people had new rights, thousands of political prisoners were released, free speech was allowed, censorship was relaxed and in 1989 the USSR's first elected parliament was created
  • Gorbachev improved relations with the West, and he met Reagan several times.  His open attitude softened Reagan's hard approach.
  • 1987- a disarmament treaty was signed- the INF treaty
  • 1988- the first missiles were dismantled and both countries actively reduced weapons for the first time
  • 1988- all Soviet troops would withdraw from Afghanistan
  • 1988- Gorbachev also announced the immediate reduction of the USSR's weapon stockpile and the no. of troops in the Soviet armed forces
  • Gorbachev also abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine and told the UN that  Eastern Europe now had a choice and the USSR wasn't going to control it any longer
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Eastern Europe Pulls Away

  • The abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine led to the USSR losing control of its satellite states.  The USSR would no longer use force to uphold communism, and the fear of Soviet military intervention that had kept opposition movements under control within the USSR's satellite states was now gone
  • The policies encouraged reformist movements within Eastern Europe.  It also caused splits in the Soviet Communist Party, making control of Eastern European countries from Moscow more difficult
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Political Crisis in the USSR

  • By 1990, Gorbachev faced opposition from within his own party and the public.  The Communist Party divided and some members wanted more drastic reform, whereas others wanted a return to former Soviet policies.  The public were unhappy because Gorbachev's reforms hadn't lived up to their high expectations
  • More traditional Soviet communists were worried that the Communist Party was so divided that it was going to split up
  • They thought Gorbachev's reforms had gone too far and plotted a coup against the government in Aug 1991
  • They arrest Gorbachev and tried to force him to resign, as well as sending tanks onto the streets of Moscow to deter protesters
  • The coup was condemned by Boris Yeltsin, a Soviet politician who opposed Gorbachev and wanted the USSR to adopt capitalism
  • Yeltsin went onto the streets to rally opposition against the coup.  There were mass protests in major cities, showing that Soviets had clearly rejected communism and the coup failed
  • 25th Dec 1991- Gorbachev resigned
  • 26th Dec 1991- USSR was dissolved
  • The republics that made up the Soviet Union had become independent states
  • The biggest of the republics was Russia, Yeltsin was elected leader and adopted capitalism
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