History Theme 6: Detente 1970 - 1979


The Berlin Agreement 1971

  • Both the USSR and the USA were keen to reach an agreement regarding Berlin and the status within East-West relations 
  • The Agreement signed in 1971 led to the Soviets guaranteeing Western access and the West German presence in Berlin was reduced, although cultural and economic ties between West Germany and Berlin were recognised
  • The West recognised that East Berlin was now an integral part of East Germany and not merely the Soviet occupational zone 
  • It was agreed that West Berlin would remain separate from West Germany and Berlin would remain occupied by the four powers
  • The Agreement effectively neutralised a continuing source of conflict between East and West and opened the way for the progress of Ostpolitik and US-Soviet detente
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The Basic Treaty 1972

  • An important moment in the development of Ostpolitik and East-West relations
  • It was an attempt to normalise relations between the two Germanies
  • The first three articles of the treaty signify its political importance:                                                                                                                           

1. The FRG and the GDR shall develop good, neighbourly relations with each other on the basis of equal rights

2. The FRG and the GDR will be guided by the aims set out by the UN Charter - soveriegn equality of all states, respect for their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity, the right to self-determination and the protection of human rights 

3. The FRG and the GDR will settle any disputes by peaceful means and refrain from the threat of force 

  • Within these articles was the commitment to potential economic relations, the recognition of sovereignity of the FRG and the GDR and their territorial inviolability
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US- Sino Detente 1971

  • America wanted detente with China because it saw detente as a way to exit Vietnam honourably (it was following a new 'peacful policy') and ensure that the Chinese would not continue to fight the capitalist South Vietnam when America had left
  • China wanted detente with China because it needed to strengthen its position against the USSR (due to the Sino-Soviet split) and the Chinese economy needed foreign investment - from America - in order for its economy to grow
  • In 1969, the USA removed some trade controls and relaxed travel restrictions with China 
  • There was a political shift towards US-Sino detente in the 1970s; China realised that America was still a threat to them but regarded the Soviet Union as a greater threat
  • In 1972, Nixon visited China and the Shanghai Communique was issued
  • The document pledged that it was in the interest of all nations for the United States and China to work towards the normalisation of their relations.The powers also agreed that neither they nor any other power should 'seek predominance in the Asia'. This was of particular importance to China, who shared a militarised border with the USSR. In terms of Taiwan, the USA acknowledged the 'One-China Policy' and agreed to cut back military installations on Taiwan. The communique included wishes to expand the economic and cultural contacts between the two nations, although no concrete steps were mentioned
  • America knew that by building a better relationship with China, they had an advantage over the USSR, whose relationship with China had deteriorated. America called this 'playing the China card'
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US-Soviet Detente


  • The USA wanted US-Soviet detente because they saw it as a way to moderate and control Soviet behaviour (according to Kissinger) 
  • If the USA began to negotiate with the USSR and brought it into the international community, it might make the USSR become more 'rational' and predictable in the short term, and in the long term the USSR may even start to question communism                                                                                                                                                                                      


  • The USSR could no longer compete in the Arms Race as it became increasingly scientific and technological
  • In 1968, the USSR gained nuclear parity and now wished to gain global recognition as a nuclear superpower 
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SALT I Treaty 1972

  • SALT negotiations which had begun in 1969 were formalised in 1972 and was formed of two agreements:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

1. The ABM Treaty 

  • This limited both powers to only two ABM fields; one around their capital and one around an ICBM site                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

2. The Interim Agreement

  • Placed a freeze on strategic missiles (N.B. these numbers have been rounded to make them easier to remember as you will need to know these!)                                                                                                                                       
  • ICBMs: USA = 1,050, USSR = 1,600
  • SLBMs: USA = 655, USSR = 740
  • Strategic Bombers: USA = 450, USSR = 140                                                                                                                                                                         

The agreement would last for five years after which SALT II was supposed to come into force - but this agreement was never ratified by Congress

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The Helsinki Accords 1975

  • Also known as the Final Act
  • The main parts of the agreement were divided up into 'baskets'                                                                                                              

BASKET 1 - Security in Europe

  • Led to the 'Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States' 
  • A further agreement was made on the obligation to provide advanced notification of large military exercises and other similar plans in order to reinforce mutual confidence                                                                                              

BASKET 2 - Cooperation in the Field of Economics, Science, Technology and the Environment

  • Addressed trade and industrial cooperation, transportation, science and technology, tourism, the environment and immigration                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

BASKET 3 - Human Rights 

  • Focused on cultural and educational exchanges and the wider issue of contacts amongsth the states
  • It sought to encourage the freer movement of people, information and ideas 
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The Powers and the Helsinki Accords 1975


  • The Soviets had three main interests in Helsinki:                                                                                                                                           

1. To expand Ostpolitik and develop wider acceptance of the status quo in central and Eastern Europe

2. To decrease barriers between the states in order to increase economic activity and trade

3. To further the process of East and West detente

  • The Soviets were less interested in human rights as they saw this as an internal issue                                                                         


  • Was not fully committed to accepting the political status quo in Eastern Europe which the Final Act seemed to recognise as a permanent reality
  • They also feared that Western Europe was becoming more secure and independent and with this would come their decreasing support for NATO
  • Despite these reservations, there was a recognition that East-West confrontation in Europe was relaxing and America welcomed this 
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Arab Israeli War 1973

  • Egypt went to war with Israel in order to end Isreal's occuption of Egyptian Sinai
  • Both the USSR and USA wanted to stay out of the war in order to maintain the detente relationship but both supplied their 'side' with arms - America backed Israel and the USSR backed Egypt 
  • A ceasefire was agreed but within hours it was broken, with Israel launching an attack on Egypt
  • The Soviets preposed sending Soviet and US troops but for America it was about reducing Soviet influence in the area, not increasing it
  • Eventually, Kissinger (the US Secretary of State) used the opportunity of unilateral Soviet intervention in order to show that the USA could and would take a stand against the USSR and threatened Israel with Soviet intervention 
  • Both actions presented the USA as the primer mover in Middle Eastern affairs and marginalised the USSR
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Angolan Civil War 1974

  • Angola was originally a colony of Portugal but the revolution in Portugal in 1974 led to the new government announcing the independence of Angola
  • Three Angolan nationalist groups began a struggle for power:                                                                  

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA)

The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA)

The National Union for the Liberation of Angola (UNITA)

  • The USA and China both backed the FNLA whilst the USSR and Cuba supported the MPLA
  • Eventually, the MPLA gained power in the region                                                                                                                                        

These wars did not end detente but they helped to expose its limits, as in both, the superpowers took opposing sides motivated by the desire to spread their influence or their ideology 

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Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan 1979

  • The Soviets invaded in December to prop up a communist regime in Afghanistan and to prevent the rise of a fundamental Islamic state on the border
  • For the USSR, this was a matter of security and was in no way against the principles of detente
  • To the USA, this was a blatent act of aggression and confirmed that the USSR had no real commitment to detente
  • In response, the USA boycotted the Moscow Oympics and held a trade embargo against grain
  • This was the excuse that America used to get out detente, something that it had wanted to do for a long time 
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Changing Attitudes in the USA

  • The Soviet Union was keen to continue detente (as it was benefitting them) however, criticism towards detente in the USA had been rapidly increasing since the signing of the SALT Treaty in 1972
  • Detente was seen as surrendering US nuclear superiority to the USSR (with the SALT Treaty)
  • The American public was referring to this as a window of vulnerability whereby the USSR had enough of a nuclear advantage to launch a first strike against the USA
  • The USA was experiencing a crisis of confidence due to Vietnam Syndrome (Vietnam was the first major loss against communism in the Cold War, and it was a drawn out, costly war for the Americans) and due to economic issues highlighted by the gas shortages that the USA was facing
  • US fears were fuelled by the belief that the USSR was using detente to strengthen itself 
  • Ronald Reagan and the Neo-conservatives used the changing attitudes towards detente to win the 1981 Presidential election by promising to pull the USA out of detente and to restore America's military strength
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