Cold War: From Brinkmanship to Détente

Détente: it means an improvement in the relationship between two or more countries which have been unfriendly towards each other in the past. Détente finally replaced brinkmanship during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon (Similar to realpolitik). For US it meant dealing with other nations in a practical and flexible manner.

After a series of talks with USSR called the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), Nixon and Brezhnev signed the SALT I Treaty. This five-year agreement limited to 1972 levels the number of intercontinental ballistic and submarine-launched missiles each country could have.

In 1975, 33 nations joined the United States and the Soviet Union in signing a commitment to détente and cooperation, the Helsinki Accords.

Détente Cools

In June 1979, Carter and Brezhnev finally signed the SALT II agreement. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December of that year, however, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify SALT II. Tensions continued to mount as increasing numbers of European and Asian countries began building nuclear arsenals. Ronald Reagan announced a program—the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)—to protect America against enemy missiles (never implemented however). Tensions increased as U.S. activities such as arming Nicaragua’s Contras pushed the two countries even farther from détente. A transfer of power in the Soviet Union in 1985, however, brought a new policy toward the United States and the beginnings of a final thaw in the Cold War.

Situation in Russia

Gorbachev’s Reforms

The Soviet people welcomed Gorbachev’s election. At 54, he was the youngest Soviet leader since Stalin.  In 1985, he announced a policy known as glasnost, or openness. The government allowed churches to open. It released dissidents from prison and allowed the publication of books by previously banned authors. Reporters actively investigated social problems and openly criticized government officials.

In 1985, Gorbachev introduced the idea of Perestroika, or economic restructuring. Local managers gained greater authority over their farms and factories, and people were allowed to open small private businesses. Gorbachev’s goal was not to throw out communism, but to make the system more efficient and productive.

In 1987, he unveiled a third new policy called democratization. The plan called for the election of a new legislative body. Now, voters could choose from a list of candidates for each office. The election produced many surprises. In several places, voters chose lesser-known candidates over powerful party bosses. Voters also elected a number of outspoken reformers.

Foreign Policy: He announced a “new thinking” in foreign affairs that stressed diplomacy over force. Therefore, arms control became one of Gorbachev’s top priorities. President Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This treaty banned nuclear missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles. Gorbachev’s new thinking led him to urge Eastern European leaders to open up their economic and political systems.

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