Détente (, meaning "relaxation")http://www.wordreference.com/fren/détente is the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation, through verbal communication. The term originates in the time of the Triple Entente and Entente Cordiale in reference to an easing of tensions between England and France who, subsequent to being commingled polities under Norman rule, were warring rivals for the better part of a millennium but pursuant to a policy of détente became enduring allies.
In the context of the Cold War, the lessening of tensions between the East and West, along with domestic reform in the Soviet Union, worked together to achieve the end of communism in Eastern Europe and eventually the Soviet Union altogether.
The period was characterized by the signing of treaties such as SALT I and the Helsinki Accords. Another treaty, SALT II, was discussed but never ratified by the United States. There is still ongoing debate amongst historians as to how successful the détente period was in achieving peace.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the two superpowers agreed to install a direct hotline between Washington D.C. and Moscow (the so-called red telephone), enabling leaders of both countries to quickly interact with each other in a time of urgency, and reduce the chances that future crises could escalate into an all-out war. The U.S./USSR détente was presented as an applied extension of that thinking. The SALT II pact of the late 1970s continued the work of the SALT I talks, ensuring further reduction in arms by the Soviets and by the U.S. The Helsinki Accords, in which the Soviets promised to grant free elections in Europe, has been called a major concession to ensure peace by the Soviets.
Détente ended after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, which led to the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980, based in large part on an anti-détente campaign, marked the close of détente and a return to Cold War tensions. In his first press conference, President Reagan said "Détente's been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its aims." Following this, relations turned increasingly sour with the unrest in Poland, end of the SALT II negotiations, and the NATO exercise in 1983 that brought the superpowers almost on the brink of nuclear war.
The most important treaties were not developed until the Nixon Administration came into office in 1969. The Political Consultative Committee of the Warsaw Pact sent an offer to the West, urging them to hold a summit on "security and cooperation in Europe". The West agreed and talks began towards actual limits in the nuclear capabilities of the two superpowers. This ultimately led to the signing of the SALT I treaty in 1972. This treaty limited each power's nuclear arsenals, though it was quickly rendered out-of-date as a result of the development of MIRVs. In the same year that SALT I was signed, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty were also concluded. Talks on SALT II also began in 1972.
Brezhnev however at the start of the period in his speeches to the Politburo, was intent on using the period of relaxed tensions to prepare for Soviet expansion in the 1980s. Gus W. Weiss. "videofact"
In 1975, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe met and produced the Helsinki Accords, a wide-ranging series of agreements on economic, political, and human rights issues. The CSCE was initiated by the USSR, involving 35 states throughout Europe.Lapennal. Human Rights, p. 1. Among other issues, one of the most prevalent and discussed after the conference was that of human rights violations in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Constitution directly violated the Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations, and this issue became a prominent point of separation between the United States and the Soviet Union.Lapennal. ''Human Rights, p. 14–15.
The Jimmy Carter administration had been supporting human rights groups inside the Soviet Union, and Leonid Brezhnev accused the administration of interference in other countries' internal affairs. This prompted intense discussion of whether or not other nations may interfere if basic human rights are being violated, such as freedom of speech and religion. The basic disagreement in the philosophies of a democracy and a single-party was in a state that did not allow for reconciliation of this issue. Furthermore, the Soviets proceeded to defend their internal policies on human rights by attacking American support of countries like South Africa and Chile, which were known to violate many of the same human rights issues.
In July of the same year, the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project became the first international space mission, wherein three American and two Soviet cosmonauts docked their spacecraft and conducted joint experiments. This mission had been preceded by five years of political negotiation and technical co-operation, including exchanges of U.S. and Soviet engineers between the two countries' space centers.
Trade relations between the two blocs increased substantially during the era of détente. Most significant were the vast shipments of cereal that were sent from the West to the Soviet Union each year, which helped make up for the failure of kolkhoz, Soviet collectivized agriculture.
At the same time, the Jackson–Vanik amendment, signed into law by Gerald Ford on 3 January 1975, after a Unanimity vote by both houses of the United States Congress, was designed to leverage trade relations between the U.S. and the USSR, making the United States' involvement dependent upon improvements of human rights within the Soviet Union, in particular allowing to emigrate; it added to the Most Favoured Nation status a clause that provided that no countries resisting emigration could be awarded this status. This provided Jackson with a method of linking geopolitics to human rights.Henry Kissinger, "Diplomacy"
The goal of Nixon and his aide Henry Kissinger was to use arms control to promote a much broader policy of détente that could make possible the resolution of other urgent problems through what Nixon called "linkage." David Tal argues:
Episodes throughout the 1960s caused this discontent in the American society to increase. The Americans claimed that the Court didn't impose laws against events such as extreme social and racial inequality and that this led to poverty. The Vietnam War gradually agitated and divided the American people. This was also clearly shown in the numerous confrontations between the youth and their parents' generation due to a difference in the values and mentality they had been taught by the society in which they had grown up in.
The American anti-war activists reached their peak of discontent in 1968. This particular year was one of the bloodiest in that time period. This was caused especially by the launch of Tet offensive, an all-out attack against South Vietnam making the number of deaths become greater and therefore increase the American discontent. These protests reached their apex in August while the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was ongoing. The protesters were demanding that the government's priority should be to get America out of the Vietnam war. The mayor of Chicago's response to these protests was to get the police involved, thus not listening or giving the Americans what they requested.John Morton Blum, Years of discord: American politics and society, 1961-1974. Publisher: NORTONSmall, Melvin. Antiwarriors The Vietnam War and the Battle for America’s Hearths and Minds. SR Books.
Each side continued to aim thousands of nuclear warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at each other's cities, maintain with long-range nuclear weapon capability (submarine-launched ballistic missiles or SLBMs) in the world's oceans, keep hundreds of nuclear-armed aircraft on constant alert, and guard contentious borders in Korea and Europe with large ground forces. Espionage efforts remained a high priority as Defection, reconnaissance satellites, and signal intercepts measured intentions and attempted to gain strategic advantage.
A contributing factor in the decline of Detente as a desirable American policy was the inter-service rivalry which existed between the American Departments of State and Defense. From 1973 to 1977 there were three Secretaries worth mentioning; Elliot Richardson, James Schlesinger, and Donald Rumsfeld. Schlesinger's time as Defense Secretary was plagued by notably poor relations with Henry Kissinger, one of the more prominent American advocates of Detente. Their poor working relationship bled into their professional relationship, and as a result an increasing number of policy clashes began to accrue. These clashes would inevitably result in Schlesinger's dismissal in 1975. However, his replacement, Donald Rumsfeld, shared Shlesinger's distaste for Kissinger.
As a result, the clashes on policy between the State Department and the Defense Department continued. Rumsfeld thought that Kissinger was too complacent about growing Soviet strength. While Rumsfeld largely agreed with Kissinger's assessment that the United States possessed superior military strength when compared with the Soviet Union, he argued that Kissinger's public optimism would prevent Congress from giving the Department of Defense the funds which Rumsfeld believed were required to maintain the favorable gap between the US and the Soviets. In response, Rumsfeld regularly presented a more alarmist view of the superior strength of the Soviet superpower, which he credited with convincing Congress to increase military spending. In response to the stranglehold of influence which Kissinger possessed in the Nixon and Ford Administrations and the subsequent decline in influence over foreign policy by the Department of Defense, Richardson, Schlesinger, and Rumsfeld utilized growing popular antipathy for the Soviet Union in the United States to undermine Kissinger's attempts to achieve a comprehensive arms reduction treaty and thereby portray the entire notion of Detente as an untenable policy.http://history.defense.gov/Portals/70/Documents/special_studies/SpecStudy7.pdf
The 1980 American presidential election saw Ronald Reagan elected on a Party platform opposed to the concessions of détente. Negotiations on SALT II were abandoned as a result. However, during the later years of Reagan's presidency, he and Gorbachev pursued a policy that is considered Détente. Despite this, the Reagan administration talked about a "winnable" nuclear war, leading to the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Third World policy, funding irregular and paramilitary death squads in Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.