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Detente

Richard Nixon

Detente: Richard Nixon was the 37th American President who served in office from January 20, 1969 to August 9, 1974. One of the important events during his presidency was his actions regarding Detente.

Definition and Summary of the Detente
Summary and definition:
Detente is a political term used during the Cold War (1945 - 1991), taken from the French word meaning release from tension and the relaxation in a political situation. During the 1960s-1970s the term Detente signified the state of improved relations, cooperation and an easing of tensions between the two superpowers of the East and the West and a temporary ‘thaw’ in US-Soviet relations.

The first signs of detente followed the Cuban Missile Crisis when USSR, the United States and Great Britain signed the first Nuclear Test Ban treaty in 1963.

The policy of Detente took a decisive turn when President Richard Nixon visited China in February 1972 which enabled the United States to gain more leverage over relations with the Soviet Union. Detente resulted in various treaties such as the Outer Space Treaty, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), aimed at keeping the peace during the height of the Cold War Arms Race and the Space Race. Detente ended when the relations between the US and the USSR deteriorated due to the 1979 Soviet–Afghan War.

Facts about Detente
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Detente.

The French word 'Detente' originated during the Middle Ages when the term was used to describe the "loosening, slackening" of the catch on a crossbow, during a temporary cessation of hostilities. The word was later used to describe a release from tension and the relaxation of a political situation.

During the 1960s and the 1970s, there were signs of a thawing of relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union in the ongoing Cold War (1945 - 1991).

The Cold War was a period of "non-hostile belligerency" but in 1962 the two Superpowers brought the world to the brink of Nuclear War during the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 14, 1962 to October 28, 1962) when Soviet missiles were placed in Cuba, and US missiles in Turkey.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was averted but the deep concerns about the use of nuclear arms led to the first signs of detente when President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty on August 5, 1963. The treaty was hailed as an important first step toward the control of nuclear weapons and the start of detente.

The two superpowers agreed to install a direct hotline, the so-called red telephone, between Washington D.C. and Moscow, enabling leaders of both countries to easily communicate with each other in any future emergency. The possibility of another crisis was not out of the question due the continuance of the Cold War Arms Race.

Tensions between the two superpowers increased again in 1965 with the U.S. escalation of the Vietnam War to halt the spread of Communism in Indochina. In 1970, President Nixon escalated the war in Indochina even further by ordering the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.

The Outer Space Treaty was signed in January 1967 forming the basis of international space law and the peaceful exploration of space. The treaty banned placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit of Earth, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise stationing WoMD's in outer space.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed on July 1, 1968 when powers with nuclear weapons agreed not to give any other countries nuclear technology.

The events in Indochina slowed the US policy of detente continuing during the early 1970's, until the US involvement in the Vietnam War came to end. The United States was then able to turn its attention towards detente and resume talks about the control of nuclear arms. Both the USA and the USSR had several reasons for resuming the nuclear arms talks.

In 1971 the US dropped its veto and allowed China to join the United Nations and a propaganda stunt the US table tennis team even played in China.

The emergence of the Sino-Soviet split had witnessed the deterioration of relations between the USSR and China. The Russians had no wish to see its most powerful rivals, America and China, close ranks against the USSR.

The changing relations between China and the United States was emphasized when President Richard Nixon visited Chairman Mao in China during February 1972.  The US policy of Detente had taken a decisive turn which enabled the United States to gain more leverage over relations with the USSR. The changes in the power struggle forced the Russians to adopted a greater interest in Detente.

The economic and trade relations between the East and West improved during the era of detente. The Soviet Union began importing large amounts of American grain to offset the slump in its own agricultural production and Soviet imports of Western consumer goods also increased sharply, doubling by 1979.

In May 1972 President Nixon took the unexpected step of visiting Leonid Brezhnev for a summit meeting in Moscow. Their negotiations were referred to as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and were were aimed at curtailing the manufacture of strategic missiles that were capable of carrying nuclear weapons. 

During SALT I  Leonid Brezhnev and President Richard Nixon agreed to produce a treaty that would contain the arms race. Two treaties were signed on May 26, 1972, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (ABM), and the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms set limits on the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles each side could develop.

Negotiations began for SALT II in 1972 and continued for seven years until on June 18, 1979 when Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter, also adhering to Detente, signed the SALT II treaty.

The SALT II treaty placed limits on the various types of missiles and the number of strategic launchers but the US also pressed for a human rights campaign, which cooled relations between the countries

Relationships between the US and the Soviets again deteriorated in 1973 with the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli War when the USA supported Israel, and the USSR supported Egypt and Syria. 

In 1975, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) met and produced the Helsinki Accords which, in keeping with Detente, attempted to improve relations between the Communist bloc and the West. The Helsinki Accords did not have treaty status, and Soviet promises regarding human rights were broken.

The 1975 Apollo–Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) was the first joint U.S.–Soviet space flight in which the two sides cooperated in scientific research of space. The 1975 Apollo–Soyuz Test Project was seen as a potent symbol of the policy of detente and marked the end of the Space Race that had began in 1957.

The Soviet–Afghan War broke out in December 1979 and the US placed a trade embargo against the Soviet Union on shipments of grain and weapons. Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an Oil embargo against the United States who became increasingly concerned with the high level of influence in the Arab world.

The embargos resulted in increased tensions between the two nations and this, together with the build up of Soviet troops in the close proximity to oil-rich regions in the Persian Gulf, effectively brought about the end of detente.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the American presidential election on a platform opposed to the concessions of detente.

The world witnessed the end of detente as the US boycotted the 1980 Summer Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and, in turn, the Soviet Union mounted a boycott in 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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