7) The European Détente



This actual détente, in comparison to the little détente which isn't always recognised in historiography, produced tangible results. There was the European détente which lasted from 1962-1975, and the superpower détente which lasted from 1969-1979. The European détente was failing in the middle of 1975, but it collapsed towards the end of the 1970s because of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the US' actions in Vietnam. The superpowers increasingly recognised the role of the European actors, although this was limited. The Sino-Soviet split made the USSR more compromising, allowing the powers to all accommodate each other and allow limited agreements to be made.

The superpower détente showed a relaxation in tensions between the US and the USSR and followed the precedent the Limited Test Ban Treaty established in 1963. This treaty prohibited nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. The only place allowed was underground. But, tensions renewed in the 1960s largely because of the US' actions in Vietnam. The 1970s did see a warming of tensions again though due to the progress in arms control talks. The détente came about due to the cost of the nuclear arms race, domestic economic difficulties, the Sino-Soviet split, and the US' actions in Vietnam.

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The superpower détente led to formal agreements on arms control and the security of Europe. E.g. the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968 which helped to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and made non-nuclear powers/nations pledge not to develop a nuclear programme in the future. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) took place in 1969 which tried to improve arms control. The Antiballistic Missile Treaty was signed in 1972 where it was hoped that neither country would launch a nuclear attack because neither country could really defend themselves. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) ultimately led to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. The Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (SALT II) in 1979 didn't mean that the superpowers didn't still have lots of nuclear warheads though, and the treaty was never ratified.

The détente found its demise as each superpower had different visions of what détente was and the underlying antagonism remained. The Cold War in the Third World also remained.

The European détente stimulated the superpower détente and was influenced by them, but it was a European project. It took shape in the early 1960s, and after its end in 1975, it still left an underlying dynamic in the 'Second Cold War'. The European détente began due to the European challenge to the excess of bipolarity, effectively starting as a nationalistic project, like de Gaulle's challenge to the US. Nationalistic needs were combined with a European agenda.

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The Europeans attempted to take their future and security into their own hands with the European détente and they were largely undeterred by the Soviet Union's crushing of the Prague Spring. West Germany, the EEC countries, the Neutrals (who played an important facilitating role), the Eastern European countries (who wanted to increase trade with the west), and the US and the Soviet Union were the protagonists. The détente concluded with the CSCE in 1975.

The consequences of the détente included an increase in economic exchanges between the East and the West which had been very limited previously, an emergence of the issue of human rights as these weren't very important before, and the exposure of the failings of the communist system. The economic differences between the East and West were now far more visible to those living in the Eastern Bloc.

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Early Attempts

In early 1960s Europe, the 2 superpowers were negotiating above the heads of the European leaders which was annoying as it was their national security being negotiated. The Europeans had somehow descended to be bystanders in their own national security. They were declining in importance. They were increasingly becoming under the power of a triangular leadership where the superpowers were calling the shots. There was a lack of consultation even between Washington and its European allies and the Europeans were worried about being caught in the crossfire of a nuclear superpower war. But, they were still heavily dependent on the US' financial aid.

Yet, the Cold War hierarchies aren't as clear-cut as they appear. The smaller powers did sometimes seem to be in a position to influence the superpowers. For example, there was European influence evident in the twin crises. The European détente wasn't just about challenging, it was also about influencing the superpowers, the Cold War and, ultimately, the European and international order.

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De Gaulle wanted an independent Europe under French leadership, but this resulted in a double failure. He couldn't make Europe independent from the US and he couldn't create a clear leadership position for France in Europe. But, his challenge did leave a long-lasting impact. Although this was only because there were also other challenges to the bipolarity in western Europe. It formed a 'catalyst' of some sorts. West Germany policymakers did have doubts about the US leadership, but they didn't have 'Gaullist' pretensions, although they did also hold a nationalist goal of reunification. They thought the US leadership was largely fine, they just wanted some changes.

West Germany moved towards the policy of Ostpolitik due to the building of the Berlin Wall which physically split Germany rather than just ideologically. The lack of support from western allies for German reunification and the failure of the Hallstein Doctrine as a means towards reunification also led to the policy. West Germany didn't feel supported by the world. The US grew concerned when they became aware of the dissatisfaction of the FRG and the fact that the FRG were also losing faith in NATO. The influence of de Gaulle and the Paris-Bonn axis, the American 'distraction' from Europe in the Third World (like with Vietnam), the Sino-Soviet split pushing Moscow towards a more conciliatory approach with western Europe, and the unification and neutralisation being suggested by the superpowers was all affecting Germany.

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East Meets West

The East and the West began meeting more and trading with each other due to the room for manoeuvre left behind by the détente as well as the further independence gained by western Europe. They met in 2 senses. The first was the evolutionary process where both western and eastern European countries had more room for manoeuvre within their respective blocs and with each other. The second was an actual increase in contacts in the wake of détente. In West Europe, France and the FRG were the main challenges to US dominance, and there was a loosening of the US' grip. Washington's control over western trade policy decreased, the CoCom export control regime was challenged, and there were calls for improved political relations and more extensive trade relations with the Soviet Bloc.

Eastern Europe saw an emergence of limited, but real room for manoeuvre, as can be seen by Albania and Romania in the 1960s. Comecon's failure as an engine for economic growth and prosperity was realised, and a competition began between Comecon countries over Soviet subsidies which they were dependent on. They envied the EEC's economic success and thus desired to improve their economic situation and reduce their dependency on the Soviet Union through increased economic and trade links with Western Europe. So, Eastern Europe was becoming increasingly open to Western advances. To allow trade with West Europe, the Soviet Union would have to loosen their grip on Eastern Europe which they didn't want to do.

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Changes in the East were noticed in the West. The democratic administrations of Kennedy and Johnson led to a build-up of momentum towards peaceful engagement. The apparent loosening of the Soviet Bloc and the resulting room for manoeuvre for Eastern European countries was realised in the West. There were then calls for building bridges. But, in 1966, Congress put an abrupt stop to such plans. The Global Cold War then escalated which thus left the practical steps to realise détente to the West Europeans.

A West European bridge-building followed in the 1960s. For example, in 1964, Britain signed a credit agreement with the USSR; in 1965, there were French trade and technological exchanges with the USSR; in 1966, de Gaulle visited Moscow; and in 1967, the Soviet President, Nikolai Podgorny visited Rome.

The alliance blocs (NATO and the Warsaw Pact) also moved towards détente. The Harmel Report (NATO) of 1967 resulted from the growing western interest in détente. It gave a review of the future tasks facing the alliance and established a 2-pronged approach to enhance European security through military preparedness and engagement and negotiations with the Warsaw Pact. It also led to a 'Multilateralisation of Détente'. They were engaging with the Soviet Bloc while also maintaining unity with NATO. They were creating a unified approach and bringing the US into the process of détente. The Bucharest Declaration (Warsaw Pact) of 1966 called for the simultaneous dissolution of the 2 military blocs, the recognition of both German states, the development of agreements on disarmement in Germany and Europe, the convening of a general European conference to discuss the problems with ensuring security in Europe and establishing general European cooperation.

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The sincerity of the Alliances and their members, especially of the Warsaw Pact, could be questioned. But, both Alliance blocs confirmed their calls for engagement and détente in the following years. The crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 was a reminder of the limited room for manoeuvre of the Soviet satellites and it put a temporary halt to the West European bridge-building and Soviet receptiveness. But, ultimately, the momentum was on the side of the détente.

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The aftermath of the Prague Spring meant that both blocs reaffirmed their willingness to engage. But, the major moves to advance détente were at a bilateral and not a multilateral level with Ostpolitik. In October 1969, Willy Brandt became the Chancellor of the FRG. He and Egon Bahr had been calling for participation in Ostpolitik since the early 1960s. Once in power, the practical steps to realise Ostpolitik were in place, and there was a unilateral recognition of the territorial status quo in Europe and an acknowledgement of the existence of the GDR. Bahr and Walter Scheel initiated contacts with the Soviet Union and its satellites with the knowledge, although not necessarily the approval, of Washington.

Extensive and diplomatic activities began. For example, the Treaty of Moscow was signed on the 12th August 1970 and the Treaty of Warsaw was signed on the 7th December 1970. But, there were mixed feelings in Bonn and Washington. In Bonn, there was too much rapproachment for too little change and they seemed to be abandoning the prospect for German unity (and territory). Although Brandt claimed there was nothing surrendered that hadn't already been lost after WWII. Ostpolitik seemed to be a long-term policy to erode the GDR from below through increased contacts and exchanges. But, in Washington, Nixon and Kissinger feared western disunity and seeing 'their' superpower détente overdshadowed. Brandt said there were efforts to align Ostpolitik with US and NATO policies.

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The GDR was originally a stumbling block to further the progress. In March and May 1970, Willy Brandt and Willi Stoph first met in East and then West Germany. There were unfruitful negotiations due to the dogmatic East German leadership. But, Ulbricht was soon replaced with Erich Honecker as the SED General Secretary in May 1971. The Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin involving France, the UK, the US and the USSR soon followed on the 3rd September 1971. This was facilitated by the East German leadership change and it led to a degree of 'normalisation' for West Berliners and defused the German question.

The Basic Treaty was signed on the 21st December 1972 which included the recognition of their mutual border, a 'normalisation' of relations between the FRG and the GDR, and further development of political, economic, social and cultural relations between the 2 states. Both Germanies were admitted to the UN in September 1973. The success of Brandt's foreign policy of Ostpolitik was very popular with the West German people and was welcomed by the USSR, the GDR and other Warsaw Pact countries. But, there were different motives in the East and the West as Brandt was trying to step towards the end goal of German unification, and the East were aiming for the recognition of the GDR, post-war borders, the division of Germany, and they wanted access to western technology.

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The Road to Helsinki

A Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiated reducing armed forces, although no formal agreements were made. But, the conference holds a disputed legacy as some believe it undermined the Cold War whilst others believe it stabilised it. It was a political conference/process on an enormous scale as 35 nations were present, and most were eventually represented by their heads of state making it the biggest European multilateral gathering since WWII. It marked a new stage in the Cold War with Europe no longer being exclusively dominated by East-West rivalries.

In 1954, the Soviet Foreign Minister, Molotov, proposed a Pan-European security conference, but the intentions at the time were different, and the US and Canada hadn't been invited to take part. The idea was that the Soviets would organise European architecture and keep the Americans out by making the rest of Europe not want them anymore. But, the NATO countries turned it down as they relied on NATO for security. Similar appeals were made in the mid-1960s but were also turned down as the Soviets still didn't want to include the US. The Warsaw Pact's Budapest Appeal in 1969 called for such a security conference without any stringent pre-conditions and the exclusion of certain countries like the US. The Soviets urged the leaders of the neutral countries, specifically Finland, to act as a go-between, and the Finnish President offered Helsinki as a neutral site to discuss and move towards the idea of a European security conference. Invitations were extended to all European countries as well as the US and Canada. The Multilateral Preparatory Talks in Helsinki opened in November 1972. Between 1972 and 1975, the negotiations in Geneva and Helsinki took place. The beginning of the last act occured on the 30th July 1975 with the opening of a 3-day summit in Helsinki. On the 1st August 1975, the Helsinki accords were signed, the final act.

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The Helsinki Accords

The Helsinki Accords was split into 4 sections, or 'baskets':

  • Basket I mainly dealt with traditional security issues, but also had a human rights dimension. It discussed the inviolability of borders and that they shouldn't be forcibly changed. A respect for territorial integrity and political independence of states should be held. Borders could be changed peacefully in accordance with international law. The Soviet Union and their satellites also had to subscribe to the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms. They also had to act in conformity with the UN charter and the universal declaration of human rights.
  • Basket II called for exchanges with an underlying human rights dimension. This involved increasing exchanges of people, goods, visits and technology. People increasingly had to move between East and West allowing a movement and exchange of ideas.
  • Basket III concerned cooperation in humanitarian projects and other fields. It committed to facilitate freer movement and contacts among persons, institutions, and organisations of participating states.
  • Basket IV stipulated that the whole process wouldn't stop in Helsinki, there would be follow-up conferences that would carry on discussing détente, how to improve relations between East and West, and how a more cooperative and secure security architecture could be built. There would be follow-up meetings in Belgrade, Madrid and Vienna in the following years.
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There was a double significance to the negotiations concerned with the process and the outcome. There was a great number and variety of countries involved, as well as both Germanies. This was a significant opportunity to discuss the division of Germany. But, there were fears that the process gave legitimacy to the GDR and to the division of Europe. The outcome was very contradictory. The US criticised that it recognised the Soviet Empire's place in Eastern Europe. Human rights provisions were also ignored by the Soviet Union which was also criticised by the West. But, it did provide a platform for an emergence of human security as an important aspect of international relations. It also provided a means for dissidents and human rights activists in the Soviet Bloc. They could now invoke the Helsinki Final Act when they posed policies. The superpowers weren't particularly bothered about the Final Act at first, but the Soviets soon grew to regret it and the US came to appreciate it as it became a useful tool to undermine Soviet dominance in the Eastern Bloc. It also led to an increase in East-West trade, and a 're-birth' of Europe.

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