Why did détente collapse in the 1970s and 1980s?

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  • Created by: Qiao-Chu
  • Created on: 12-04-13 15:58


1970s were the years of détente, an easing of tension in the Cold War. Both superpowers realised dangers of war in nuclear age and so accepted each other's sphere of influences. Arms race expensive for both sides leading to series of talks resulting in SALT I agreement of 1972 and Helsinki Agreement of 1975.

Return to policy of peaceful co-existence first developed by Khrushchev in the 1950s. China became member of UN and American President visited USSR and China whilst Soviet leader visited USA. Talks on further arms reductions (SALT II) continued and Carter and Brezhnev signed in 1979. 

Events in Afghanistan led to period of détente collapsing and ultimately collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.

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Background to Afghan War (1)

USSR had been giving aid to Afghanistan since 1950s, improved country by building roads and pipelines for oil. 1973 Afghan monarchy overthrown and further changes to government in 1978 led to Soviet backed communist group to take control with military support. 

Communist government decided to make Soviet-style reforms, directly opposed culture and traditions of Afghan people as most living in countryside were Muslims and had strict religious views.

They disagreed with new laws involving distribution of land and marriage laws. Government advised by USSR became more and more unpopular with Afghans and end of 1970s, opposition becam open rebellion and civil war broke out. All opposition dealt with severly with army but 1979 large numbers of army began to desert. Opposition bcame stronger.

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Background to Afghan War (2)

Early 1979 before Soviet invasion, opposition financed and supplied by USA as they tended to support all anti-communist movements.

Opposition led by Muslim group mujahidin who saw government as attack to religion. Believed fighting holy war (jihad), funded by USA and wealthy Saudi (Osama Bin Laden), supported and financed many Islamic groups.

Opposition forced government to ask USSR for help, tanks and weapons sent by USSR and at Christmas 1979 around 80,000 Soviet troops entered Afghanistan.

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Reasons for USSR Invasion of Afghanistan

  • Preservation of communist government - government appealed to USSR to provide troops for security and fight against mujahidin, collapse of Afghan army concerned Soviets, worried about loss of influence.
  • January 1979 - Muslim revolt had overthrown pro-American government in Iran and set up Muslim government, could spread to Afghanistan, USSR wanted to protect from this.
  • 30 million Afghans in USSR - could be encouraged to rebel if Muslim state set up in Afghanistan.
  • USSR wanted to expand influence in Asia to balance that of China and USA who supported Pakistan.
  • Afghanistan strategically brought USSR closer to Middle East, pressure on oil supply route from Middle East to Europe and USA.
  • USSR afraid President Amin of Afghanistan too friendly with USA, evidence of him seeking support from USA, China and Pakistan, also eliminated several pro-Soviet party members.
  • Soviets later claimed they wanted to fight against USA secret involvement in Afghanistan but nobody believed this at the time, USA secretly sending help to rebels six months before Soviet invasion.
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President Carter's Reaction

President Jimmy Carter immediately condemned Soviet invasion as act of interference and threat to world peace. 

Brezhnev insisted USSR went to Afghanistan to protect it and would leave as soon as position stabilised.

January 1980 General Council of UN voted 104 to 18 in favour of resolution condemning invasion.

Brezhnev dismissed criticism and argued UN has no right to involve itself in internal affairs of Afghanistan.

Opposition not only USA but also China and Islamic nations.

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American Uncertainty

Americans uncertain of USSR aims and feared it wanted access for navy to Arabian Sea which would interfere with oil routes from Middle East to West. Carter sent US force to Arabian Sea to protect oil routes, stated USA would resist any attempt to seize Persian Gulf - Carter Doctrine because similar to Truman Doctrine.

Trading of certain goods such as grain and technology between USA and USSR was suspended and Carter advised Senate not to ratify SALT II agreement. American-led boycott of 1980 Moscow Olympics, supported by 60 other nations and USA continued financial support to mujahidin, joined by Britain and China.

USA disappointed with support from Europe. British government did not ban athletes from going to Olympics but allowed individual decision, only a few opted out. British team members did not take part in opening ceremony and when medals won, Olympic flag raised instead of Union flag and Olympic anthem played instead of 'God Save the Queen'.

American boycott assisted British sprinters in 100m as Americans dominated in the past. Moscow 1980, Allan Wells won Britian's first gold medal in 100m for 56 years.

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Events of War

Soviets quickly captured capital Kabul airport, enabled troops to be airlifted to Afghanistan. President Amin assassinated and replaced by Babrak Karmal who set up new communist government under USSR control. All was before end of 1979.

Probelm for Soviets was invasion led to more open warfare and increased nationalist feeling. Early fighting was in open and Soviet troops occupied many towns, mujahidin remained in control of countryside (80%). USSR had total control of air and superior weapons but rebels managed to resist.

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The Mujahidin

Key to fighting in Afghanistan was geography of country and nature of mujahidin. Afghanistan mountainous, arid country and mujahidin fighting holy war to protect country and religion against foreign invader and atheistic culture. Aim to set up Muslim government.

Used geography to fight guerilla war, Soviet troops had no experiencem mujahidin attacked Soviet supply routes quickly then disappear into mountains. Opposition was very spread out so no real centre for Soviets to attack. Similar to Americans in Vietnam, very difficult to eliminate opposition because mujahidin had people's support who often housed them.

Led to Soviets bombing villages, destroying homes, farms and families, resulting in hardship and starvation. Tactics did not remove opposition, Soviet troops launched 9 offensives between 1980 and 1985 with little success.

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Reagan and Renewal of Cold War (1)

Carter's response to Soviet invasion ended SALT II and spirit of détente in 1970s. American=led boycott of Moscow Olympics 1980 counteracted by Soviet boycott of 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. USSR claimed it had concernes about athlete's safety in hostile USA environment. Boycott supported by 14 East European communist states and less successful than 1980 boycott.

When Ronald Reagan became President of USA in 1981, further breakdown of relationship between USA and USSR - renewal of Cold War. Reagan famous Hollywood actor and known to hate communism. Presidency started well when American hostages in Iran released. March 1981 assassination attempt failed and his courage and good humour in recovery made him more popular.

Promised hard approach to communism and partly reason for election. Promised Americans 'peace through strength', close ally to Magaret Thatcher Prime Minister of Britain in 1979. Speech to British Parliament in June 1982, condemned communism as evil and followed up in March 1983 with 'Evil Empire' speech in USA. Referred to communism and USSR as focus of evil in modern world.

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Reagan and Renewal of Cold War (2)

Reagan used speech as arguments to gain funding from US Congress for increased spending on arms. Hopes to defeat USSR by getting so far ahead in arms race, they had to give in and end Cold War. Some measures were for threatening and others for protection:

  • Massive increase in military spending $325 billion in 1980 to $456 billion in 1987
  • Re-started neutron bomb development in 1981 - could kill armoured soliders by radiation but not destroy buildings or contaminate land like other nuclear bombs
  • Invested funding in building two bombers - one traditional type, other called 'stealth bomber' could avoid country's defences
  • Sped up development of Peacekeeper missiles, more accurate than current missiles
  • Installed Cruise missiles in Europe in 1983, took 10 minutes to reach USSR
  • Announced Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983, defensive shield of laser technology to intercept and destroy incoming missiles
  • Assisted mujahidin in Afghan War by providing money and arms, American politicians saw Afghan as Soviet Vietnam so determined to make everything as difficult as possible, exhaust Soviet economy

SDI, (Star Wars) would mean end of Mutually Assured Destruction and worried USSR immensely. Upset balance between superpowers and made USSR vulnerable

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Solidarity (1)

Formation of first independent trade union in Poland, roots in poor standard of living for Polish people in 1970s. 1970, series of price increases led to strikes and marches resulting in civilian deaths. More price rises and shortage of basic foods such as bread caused more disaffection with communist government in 1976. 

1978 Pope John Paul II, Polish Cardinal elected. Visited Poland a year later. Communist governments try to remove religion but Polish Catholicism too strong, most people Roman Catholic and Pope and Church strongly supported Solidarity to challenge government and raise people's standard of living. Polish people more aware how far they were behind those in West.

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Solidarity (2)

Opposition first showed in Gdansk shipyard 1980, two popular workers (one was Lech Walesa) had been dismissed and government increased price of meat and allowed no wage rises. Workers in shipyard refused to work and locked themselves in shipyard in protest. Lech Walesa became leader and put forward 21 demands including right to form independent trade unions, end of censorship, more freedom for Church and improvements in national health system.

Despite censorship, news spread of strike and led to same events in other ports and factories. Gdansk Agreement, government agreed to 21 demands, Solidarity led by Lech Walesa recognised by Polish government. Membership totalled over 9 million in 1981. People joined because they trusted them to improve working conditions and popularity increased for Solidarity and Lech Walesa not only in Poland but internationally.

Walesa always careful not to challenge USSR's authority and saw Solidarity as organisation for improving conditions, not political movement. Preferred negotiation. 1981 food shortages in Poland and groups within Solidarity felt Walesa not going far enough. USSR feared Solidarity acting as political party. USSR involved in Afghanistan and realised Solidarity's popularity in Europe and world too late.

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Solidarity (3)

December 1981 Soviet troops gathered on Polish border forcing Polish government to take action and prevent break-up of Poland and gap in Warsaw Pact. New Polish leader General Jaruzelski declared martial law and 5000 Solidarity members (+Walesa) arrested overnight. Strikes dealt by riot police. 1982 Solidarity illegal but continued as underground movement with own secret radio station and West-supported publications, keeping ideas alive.

Walesa released November 1982 and martial law lifted July 1983 but food still rationed. To show support of Solidarity, West placed trade sanctions on Poland in 1983, worsening economic situation.

Continued unrest and Solidarity members victimised after release from prison. 1984 secret police abducted and murdered Father Jerzy Popieluszko, popular Catholic priest. Walesa's status increased in July 1983 received Nobel Peace Prize but couldn't leave country to receive in person.

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