The presidency of Nixon and his adminstration
Nixon, in 1969, had become the president of America. Due to his personal aspirations of winning the election, both now and in 1972, Nixon saw the American public were wreary of the conflict that proceded the beginning of the Cold War. Detente suited these aspirations. While Nixon appeared to improve relations with the Soviets, in SALT 1 in 1972 and at the Helsinki Accords in 1975, he would gain favour with the American public for keeping his promise of 'Peace with honour'. The only way he could do this was because of his strong, anti-Communist credentials, experience (he ran for President alongside Kennedy in 1960), and the fact that he was a Republican. He would not appear 'soft' on Communism.
Kissinger was Nixon's national security advisor until the 70s when he became the secretary of state. Kissinger was a German Jew, who had to escape the prosecution of the Nazis. He understood the disadvantages of appeasement and had a detailed understanding of the importance of geopolitics. Geopolitics, or 'realpolitik', is a term used to explain the importance of political influence combined with geography, rather than idealogy and morals. In the 70s, Kissinger understood that national security and economy became importance issues for the USA, the USSR, and China, and all three worried about how long they could politically influence satellite states. In America's case, they had 'lost' China and Cuba (1949 and 159) and were worried that communism would spread in the far east and in the Americas. His influence and knowledge had changed the policy of America from containment to linkage and leverage.
The Sino-Soviet Split
In 1956 - 1969, the two Communist allies China and the Soviet Union experienced an increase in tension. The seperate of two vast countries with the same ideology was crucial in creating detente. Nixon and Kissinger realised that as long as they could "divide and conquer" China and the Soviet Union, they could boost the American economy and recover from the destruction caused in the Vietnam War. It also rendered the Soviets weak; it was a sign that their idealogy wasn't working. America would seek 'rapproachement' with China, appearing to carry out 'detente'. An alterior motive was to cause further separation between the two communist states, and strike fear in the hearts of the Soviet Union. Their two foes were negotiating with each other, and now their country was politically isolated.
In this case, 'detente' was not in its purest form, but it politically outsmarted the 'enemy' while appearing benevelent and negotioable on the outside. This is evident when the Soviets signed SALT 1, a treaty aimed to reduced nuclear missiles.
Signs of the Sino-Soviet split:
- 1956 Khrushchev tells the Kremlin that he intends to De-Stalinise the Soviet Union.
- 1964 China creates an atomic bomb
- 1969 Ussuri River Incident
The failure of economy
In the USA, the Vietnam War had devastated the country, which is why their troops were withdrawn in 1973. It was no longer able to support its satellite countries, and this was vital in detering communism and strengthening the west. Also, the cost of building nuclear weaponry was too expensive, and limitations were needed.
In the Soviet Union, the economy was also failure. 30 million had gone to Communist allies such as Cuba and, until the 60s, China. They had also spent money on nuclear weaponry and gaining nuclear superiority over America. Detente suited the interests of Russia as well, because the population was suffering from Agricultural crises, which 30% of the population depended on.,
Mao's need for national security
Mao Zedong, chairman of China, had now focused his attention on repairing his country's economy, rather than its view on a communist revolution. He had once stated "Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?" This was to prove true when China and America decide to improve relations in 1972, despite their idealogical differences. Mao, who called Khrushschev a "rightest" and "revisionist" for seeking relations with America, had called upon Nixon to help him. China faced the hostility of the USSR, South Korea, and Japan, and feared an imminent invasion. Without this, detente would never have materialised.