Detente || The Cold War

From the late sixties, there is a general shift in East-West relations from the tensions of the cold war to the compulsions and imperatives of detente, especially in military strategy and security. There was a new ray of hope that the advent of detente would reduce international tensions and bring an era of world peace. In the words of North edge and Grieve, the superpowers had, by 1962, come to respect each other’s sphere of interest and hence 1962, when the Cuba crisis occurred and quickly subsided, may be regarded as the true beginning of the end of the cold war, or the start of the Ease-West detente, though some would date this from the Berlin Wall in August 1962 and the Soviet-American agreement of that year not to place weapons of mass destruction in outer space. 1

Though the word detente had appeared on the horizon of international relations in 1961-62 and engaged the attention of political observers yet, it did not bring the cold war to a complete end. The period between 1962-69 can be characterized as the thaw in the Cold War. During this period, the cold war went on imposingly.

As a matter of fact, it was in 1969 that the process of detente was visible prominently not only in Soviet-American relations but also Sino- American relations. Throughout the seventies, the process of detente made a significant dent in international relations. No doubt it also experienced several ups and downs in the subsequent periods, which will be discussed comprehensively hereinafter.

Meaning of Detente:

Detente is a French term, meaning relaxation of tension; with the watering down of antagonism and hostility between the superpowers, an atmosphere of relaxation gained momentum in international relations. It was this atmosphere of relaxation that found expression in the term detente. In the nuclear age, detente, in some form, was essential for survival. Outright hostility was ruled out between the two power blocs.

Two Superpowers realized that their distrust could be minimized by cooperation and the intensity of conflict reduced. In their mutual interest, both sides found it advantageous to enlarge the spheres of cooperation. Thus, in Baral’s words, instead of the cold war, which sought to keep the tension in the central balance at a high pitch, the detente is a conscious and deliberate attempt to reduce this tension significantly. Detente means an effort by both superpowers to develop goodwill, understanding, and cooperation between them, which may gradually help in decreasing the intensity of the cold war conflict.2

The detente architect on the American side, Henry Kissinger, qualified it as a long step away from the post-war period. It attempts to reconcile the reality of competition with the imperative of coexistence dictated by the need to avoid military confrontation and, above all, a nuclear war.3

On the other hand, Soviet scholars Kozyrev and Nilov say, Detente opens up favorable prospects for international cooperation on the solid basis of peaceful coexistence of states with different social systems. 4

As a path to peace, the detente era is marked by a continuation of efforts by the superpower adversaries to relax tensions, diminish distrust, and increase accommodation. In this era, Kegley and Wittkopf observed, cooperative technological ventures replaced threats, warnings, and confrontations as principal modes of interaction. Presumably, goodwill could cement together a period of peace.5

However, detente is still an elusive term and means different things to different people. It is not even equal to rapprochement Detente is rather a political process that has still proven its possibilities of success. Nevertheless, there is general agreement that detente is potentially a positive process that may yield concrete fruits in the future.6

Features and elements of Detente:

Main characteristics and elements of detente can be discussed as below :

1. Deterrence:

By mutual consent, the two sides may agree to effect the mutual reduction of forces and armaments. But at no time would the balance of power between them be upset. Deterrence is the chief element of detente. Nixon observes peace is the by-product of mutual respect’s strength, so detente does not exclude maintaining adequate capability by each side.

He further says, Our policy must combine deterrence with detente. Detente without deterrence leads to appeasement, and deterrence without detente leads to unnecessary confrontation and saps Western peoples’ will to support the arms budgets deterrence requires.7

2. Peaceful Coexistence:

Another element of detente in the seventies was peaceful co-existence. Detente did not seek to eliminate the ideological warfare between them. It continued to stay despite progress, if any, in detente. Kissinger has rightly observed.  The US and the Soviet-Union are ideological rivals. Detente cannot change that. The nuclear age compels us to coexist. Rhetorical crusades cannot change that either.

In the late eighties, detente entered the phase in which even ideological warfare was mellowed down, and gradually it faded out more or less in the early nineties. Gorbachev said in 1989, Nations cannot and should not pattern their life either after the United States or the Soviet Union.

Hence, political positions should be devoid of ideological intolerance. It was inconceivable in the post Second World War period characterized by the cold war. Old forms and means are allowed to hinder new approaches to the building of humane international relations.

3. Elements of Conflict:

The advent of detente does imply the disappearance of conflict and hostility altogether. For quite some time, both the detente and the cold war lived side by side. Cold War persisted in some form or the other so long as there were mutual suspicion and hostility between the two rival camps. The New Cold War marked the period from 1979 to 1985, and detente reached its lowest ebb. Thus, for a long detente combined elements of conflict, competition, and cooperation.

4. Negative and Positive Elements:

Detente has both negative and positive elements. The negative element signifies a substantial reduction of tensions between the two power blocs in general and between tie two superpowers in particular. A positive element indicates an increase in mutual trust and understanding between them and the brightening of the prospect for world peace. One would give way to the other. Mutual trust helps in leading the cold war wounds. These wounds, in turn, compel both sides to reduce tensions. Detente aims at both these elements.

5. Mutual Trust Out of Mutual Fear:

The creation of mutual trust between the USA and the Soviet Union was one of the detente’s chief objectives. But, it is worth mentioning that there was little trust between them when they realized the need for detente. To a great extent, detente was grown out of mutual fear and not out of mutual trust. Detente resulted from the strategic necessity of avoiding suicidal nuclear war and awareness of the mutual advantages that could be derived from collaboration.

6. Multiple Levels of Detente:

Originally, the term detente was used to signify the apparent relaxation in the otherwise tense relations between the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR. But it will be too parochial to associate detente with the gradual improvement of the relationship between these two powers. As a matter of fact, coming closer and understanding each other in an atmosphere of humane cordiality was visible in the relations of West European countries and the Soviet Union on the one hand and between the USA and China.

The same process is visible in the relations between the United States and East European countries. In a broad, loose sense, this process favored Moscow and Peking in 1972, albeit it was not attended with spectacular success. Consequently, the detente process operated on five Pronged levels, Soviet American level, Soviet-West European level, American-Chinese level. American East European level and Etna Soviet level.

7. Kinds of Detente:

There are three kinds of detente, e.g., military, economic, scientific, and cultural. Though detente revolves mainly around military aspects yet its other aspects are not insignificant. Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963), NPT (1968). SALT-I (1972), SALT-II (1979), INF Treaty (1987), START (1991), etc., are part of military detente.

The Soviet Union had been importing wheat from the USA. The former had also shown keen interest in borrowing American technology for oil exploration and further development in some key industrial areas. The Soviet Union had also entered into certain economic agreements with France, Germany, and other Western countries. In return, it had agreed to supply all to these European countries. All these developments indicate economic detente.

Recently, the USA and Russia, the USSR’s successor state, have cooperated in undertaking some scientific research. Space exploration of late cultural exchanges has also been taking place between these countries. These activities are termed as scientific and cultural detente.

Causes of Detente:

in the sixties, detente was the by-product of several factors such as:

1. Nuclear Nightmare:

The stockpile of nuclear warheads by rival big powers the USA and the USSR had assumed threatening dimensions, making them realize the futility of such a mad race. The increasing costs of a continued arms race thus contributed to the development of detente. North edge and Grieve rightly observed:

The fear of thermonuclear war, which could annihilate both sides, and determination to avoid the kind of confrontations between two so per powers from which thermonuclear war could spring. Hence, the first cause of diminishing tension was the realization that if the nuclear arms race went on unchecked, the superpowers’ danger undermined their economic growth in the long run without adding to their security.

2. Nuclear Proliferation:

Contrary to the two superpowers’ common interests, more and more nations should acquire nuclear know-how and pose a new threat to their supremacy. Already they were ill at ease to find Britain, France, China emerging as nuclear powers. It was their anxiety, and, therefore, to stem any more proliferation of nuclear warheads, apart from the nations mentioned above; otherwise, their par excellence position would suffer a severe setback.

The big powers had the consolation that all the nations who had joined the nuclear club happened to be permanent members of the UN Security Council. Nations like Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Iraq, etc., were at the nuclear club’s threshold, which could adversely hit nuclear powers’ supremacy.

3. USA’s Compulsions:

The economic pressure played its part in watering down the stiff attitude of the United States. For instance, the dollar was facing depreciation because of its adverse balance of payments position with Japan and West European countries. Retreat from Vietnam after having burnt its fingers severely jolted the American economy in the late sixties. Besides, the US also wanted to woo the Soviet Union to find an outlet for its Sophisticated industrial products like computers, etc., in the East European market.

4. USSR’s Compulsions:

The Soviet Union was also prompted to protect its vested interests by adopting a more conciliatory posture towards the United States. The economic constraints weighed with the Soviet leaders. Their war-oriented economy caused lopsided development and resulted in serious shortages of wage goods and several consumer durable.

North edge and Grieve explained, Again rising living standards in the Soviet Union probably gave that country a strong interest, like Americans, In reducing the massive scale arm expenditure in the cold war by arms control agreements in increasing its lagging technology by agreements with the Western powers to make their skills and equipment available to Russian industry and perhaps above all in keeping status quo stable in eastern Europe, when it was threatened by  liberalization program of Dubeck of Czahoslovakia.10

By 19805, the economic system of the Soviet Union could not come up to the expectation of the new world of the consumer society and the standards set by the more affluent living patterns of Western Europe and the United States. There are many desired goods in the contemporary consumer goods economy, many different styles and designs; these latter change with consumer tastes. Some, as in the ass of the automobile, require a variety of supporting services.

The Soviet Union lacked all these on the material front; it became clear after the initial success in production that the rate of growth of the socialist societies’ economy was definitely lower than that of the societies depending upon the market economy.

In the agriculture sector, State or collective ownership has proved to be an utter failure. Like the Soviet Union, a superpower with one-sixth of the earth’s land surface could not feed its populations even after 70 years of the revolution. For the curing of its economic ills, the Soviet Union was looking Westwards for help.11

5. Principle of Peaceful Ctr-existence:

Russia initiated the policy of peaceful two existence during the premiership of Malenkov. It became clearer during Khrushchev and later Brezhnev Kosygin period in the 20th Congress of Communist Party in February 1956 Stalin. His policies were criticized,d and the Leninist principle of inevitable war with capitalist countries were modified. The theory of peaceful coexistence was accepted as the basis of the Soviet foreign policy.

Hartmann observed, The Soviet Union also began to overhaul its foreign policy. The new approach emphasized the Soviet willingness to explore outstanding Bash West questions diplomatically. The US responded gradually to the policy of peaceful coexistence, and in this way, the detente process went on gathering more and more momentum.

6. Role of Non-alignment:

The newly independent states, in a way, also compelled the big powers to adopt the policy of peaceful coexistence. Till 1963 so many new states emerged, and most of them followed the policy of non-alignment as a symbol of new national prestige and dignity. They are still exerting more and more influence on issues both of peace and war.

By their numerical majority, these now-aligned countries became quite vocal in denouncing the big power rivalries and mounting tension due to the cold war between them; these non-aligned countries succeeded in mobilizing the world public opinion favor. It became exceedingly difficult for big powers to cold-shoulder their opinion. They fully realized this reality and started mending their fences well in time.

These states would no longer brook any wrong perpetrated by the big powers anywhere in the world. They would call a spade a spade, whether it is the USA or the USSR, or China involved in the game. For instance, in the Vietnam case, they took cudgels on behalf of the USSR and China, very much to the USA’s chagrin. In the face of these developments, the big powers realized that they would have to relax the Cold War’s strings.

7. Rise of Multipolarism:

In the sixties, bipolarism was on the decline, and multipolar or polycentrism was on the rise in the international sphere. China had emerged as a third major power, France and Britain also regained their power and prestige. It was really remarkable that in Gross National Products, France and West Germany were growing appreciably faster than the United States. Along with China, they narrow the great gulf between the power of the United States and the second level states. Neither Britain nor West Germany, nor France was willing to be dictated by the USA any longer.

Almost a similar trend had become evident inside the communist camp led by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Yugoslav ideological struggle revealed at an early stage the limits of regimentation inside one camp. Albania showed tremendous mung! in misting the Soviet Union. But all these had been practically overshadowed by the Sino-Soviet conflict. This development had compelled the Soviet Union to take a more moderate mum in international relations, even to the extent of cultivating a friendship with the United States. Thus intrabloc divisiveness and trans bloc linkages became manifest tendencies as both the powers blocs were cracking.

The two superpowers retained the raw power, both military and economic, to make their wishes prevail, 31183 among neighbors. However, European countries had found ways of asserting WP Disparate personalities, and so had the Latin Americans. It was quite a revolution.

The high prices of oil had elevated some and depressed others. Japan was emerging as an economic power. Countries like Taiwan, Korea, Israel, Germany, and others had made progress that could only be described as phenomenal. These developments confirmed, without a doubt, that new centers of power were emerging.

8. Sine-Soviet Rift:

The relations between the Soviet Union and Communist China were going from bad to worse, and there was no prospect of any improvement. The Soviet Union also had the United States as its rival. When the United States tried to improve her relations with Communist China in 1972, the Soviet Union also decided to improve its relations with the United States so that she may not be disabled in the event of war between the United States and the Soviet Union with China helping the United States or in the event of a war between the Soviet Union and China with the United States helping China. In this atmosphere, the process of detente between the Soviet Union and the United States was initiated.

9. Fall and Rise in American Influence:

Fall in the US’s influence in the sixties and its rise in the mid-eighties was another factor accounting for detente in these periods. The American frustration of the Vietnam war intensified later by its failure in Angola lined the American influence abroad, and the Americans were now disinclined to repeat View ems. In contrast, the Soviet Union succeeded in extending its influence in Czechoslavakia, Vietnam, Angola, and Afghanistan.

But by the mid-eighties, there was a sudden fall in Soviet power. On the other hand, the US regained its influence and strength to the extent that it got the Soviet Union yielded to the West on Afghanistan, South Africa, Central America, East Germany, human rights, the. INF treaty and Star Wars in the late eighties and early nineties on unequal terms and without giving to the Soviet Union even benefited normal real politic based transactions. Reagan’s Star war program and the US success in the gulf war (1990-91) enhanced its power and prestige. Thus in the late eighties, American strength and Soviet domestic weakness were greatly responsible for renewed detente.

10. Gorbachev Factor:

There is no denying that the Gorbachev factor played its significant role in easing the tension in Soviet-American relations after 1985. Notwithstanding Soviet domestic problems and difficulties, Gorbachev’s New Political Thinking for the world was instrumental in bringing detente again on the rails.  New Political Thinking recognizes the balance of interests instead of the balance of power, cooperation instead of confrontation, internationalization instead of nationalization, disarmament instead of armament, and de-ideologizing interstate relations instead of ideologist, detente instead of the cold war. International relations in general and Soviet American relations, in particular, have passed into a qualitatively new era with the advent of new political thinking.

11. “Linkage” Theory:

According to the American viewpoint, the detente was based on a “linkage” theory. Kegley and Wittkopf explained this theory in these words. The development of economic, political, and strategic ties between the two nations, equally rewarding to both, would bind the two in a common fate, thereby lessening the incentives for conflict and war. Soviet global aspirations would be mollified, this View was held, because Soviet peace and prosperity would depend on the continuation of peaceful  links with the United States, The linkage theory rested on the premise that the Soviets were no longer militarily inferior to the United Skates.15

Evolution and Phases of Detente:

The process of detente witnessed several ups and downs. Its evolution can be studied by dividing its short history into the following chronological phases; undoubtedly, these phases are somewhat arbitrary. Yet, they point out reasonably grouped diplomatic facts and events.

1. Period of Thaw, 1959-1969:

There is no denying that during this period, cold war politics continued, but certain developments could be regarded as the origin of detente. This was a phase of a thaw in the cold war. In its true sense, the detente process dates back to the year 1959 when Khrushchev paid a visit to the USA in pursuance of his policy of peaceful co-existence and strongly suggested the program of disarmament by all the states.

He asked to reduce foreign troops, establish an atom free zone in Central Europe, and withdraw foreign troops and bases in foreign countries. At camp David in the USA, Khrushchev and Eisenhower signed an agreement to the effect that they settle their bilateral disputes by peaceful means and would eschew wars. This generated an atmosphere of peace and brightened the chances of ending the cold war. This historic event was described at that time as the. “Camp David Spirit,” which became a precursor of peace and understanding.

Another landmark pointing to the detente’s direction was recorded in 1963 with the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signing by three nuclear powers the US, the Soviet Union, and Britain. It was quite a bold and significant event to mellow down the Cold War’s tension; in the same year, hotline telephone and radio links were established between Moscow and Washington. With the signing of the historical Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, the process gained one more feather in its cap and attracted politicians worldwide. Other positive developments of this period were the Glassboro summit meeting (1967), the Antarctic Treaty (1959), and the Outer Space Treaty (1967).

2.Heydays of Detente, 1970-76 :

During their tenure, President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger showed keen interest in implementing this process. Nixon’s visit to Moscow in May 1972 bears ample testimony to his anxiety for improving Soviet-American relations. His visit culminated in signing Strategic Arms Limitation Treat (SALTJ). It was earnestly hoped that this treaty would go a long way in minimizing the tension between the two superpowers. During this period, Nixon and  Kissinger also visited Beijing in 1971 and thus initiated detente at the Sine USA level.

To normalize the relationship between the two superpowers, Brezhnev, the Soviet Communist Party Chief, paid a return visit to Washington in June 1973; this visit also paid rich dividends since four agreements were signed between the USA and USSR. These agreements related to the Fields of agriculture, oceanography, transportation, and other economic and cultural matters were likely to bring the two powers closer. A communique followed at the Summit talks covered many important issues like reducing troops in Europe to add peace in Europe.

In assuming power as President of the USA, Ford visited Russia in November 1974 and discussed with Brezhnev at Vladivostok. A USA Soviet agreement on guidelines for a ten-year gap on the arms race was reached. This marked yet another milestone towards detente.

The Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975 was another significant step towards the process of detente, in which 35 countries of Europe (and I North America, stimulated certain agreed principles governing a variety of relationships between the state of two blocs. Tough Helsinki’s decisions did not essentially ease the situation, nor were these legally binding on the participants, yet then did mice for some relaxation of tension.

The existing alliance was to continue, but there were provisions for peaceful alterations of borders. Unrestricted flow of ideas and movement of peoples and more cooperation in the economic field. These friendly ties between the two powers were not only getting stronger on the surface of this world; rather, this amity Wag visible in the outer space as well. The Apollo Soyuz joint mission in July 1975 was a glorious illustration in this respect.

3. Problems in Detente, 1977-1979:

In the post-Nixon Ford era, the Soviet-American detente. Was hanging on a thin thread. In the initial years (1977-78) or the tenure of Jimmy Carter, the process of detente received severe jolts due mainly to his open diplomacy emphasis on human rights and difference of opinion over the SALT-II agreement. But the situation was saved from taking an ugly turn as Carter became more discreet in his pronouncements and behavior.

President Carter’s political declaration that he inclines to aggressively challenge the Soviet Union for influence in the crucial areas around the world indicated his spirit cold warrior. Carter named Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Algeria, China, and even Cuba in this connection. His itch to throw a political and ideological challenge to the Soviet Union had dismayed many of his allies in Europe and the Third World.

President Carter carefully worded letter to Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov without mentioning the Soviet Union specifically even once triggered off a controversy that lowered the relations between the two countries by several degrees. The Soviet Union protested against American interference in Soviet internal affairs in the name of defending human rights. Seen from Moscow’s perspective, the human rights issue looked like a weapon to encourage dissent and subvert the communist form of government, at least in Eastern Europe if not in the Soviet Union itself.

In 1977 the USA-USSR detente remained in disarray due to the failure of several rounds of SALT-II talks. Set against the background of President Carter’s vocal support for Soviet dissidents. Russian rejection of the Carter proposals for limitations of strategic arms had clearly taken the Americans by surprise.

The Russians expected confirmation of the Vladivostok accord with curbs on the American Cruise missile and hopefully accept their insistence that the Russian Backfire bomber is not a strategic weapon. What was expected, in fact, was a continuation of the Kissinger approach.

The Carter proposals came to them like a bombshell. The major proposals involved a deep reduction in the total number of strategic weapons with limits only on the range of Cruise missiles and not their deployment. Due to these differences, USA USSR talks regarding the SALT-II agreement failed in May 1977.

The prospect of detente remained in the doldrums till September 1977. There were all-pervasive apprehensions that the superpowers never cry a halt to the mad arms race. But silver lining appeared on the horizon in September 1977 when both the superpowers concerned voluntarily agreed to abide by the SALT-I agreement’s limitations even though it was to cease to operate formally after October 1977. However, after crossing great hurdles, SALT-II was finally signed in 1979.

Carter’s vocal style of public diplomacy beginning with the human rights emphasis and then making public his SALT proposals, which were drastically altered from the framework agreed to at Vladivostok in 1974 by Kissinger, before the negotiations began were viewed by the Russians as highly provocative. If Carter’s Open book approach, floating the details of his proposals in public before reaching the bargaining table, was unnecessarily confrontation, the substance of Carter’s proposals differed sharply from the previously agreed-upon framework and have complicated prospects for arms control and the process of detente.

During this phase, a positive development in detente was the Review Conference of the European Conference on Security and Peace held at Belgrade in February 1973. Review Conference at Belgrade was attended by all the signatories of the First Act of all European Conference. The Belgrade meeting showed that all the participating states detente the highroad of international relations, which there is no other alternative. Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States and their allies ventured to question the need to consolidate detente policy.

4. Setback to Detente, 1979-1985:

This phase was marked by a steep downward trend in detente and the revival of the cold war. The massive Chinese invasion of a tiny country like Vietnam in February 1979, to what Vice Premier Ten called punish and teach a lesson to Vietnam and the seeming acquiescence of the Anglo-American bloc, marked a portentous development in which detente was likely to be a natural casualty.

The situation started deteriorating during the last years of Carter’s tenure in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis in 1979-80. A  puppet government backed by the Soviet Union came into power after the Soviet military intervention. There was a widespread apprehension in America that the Soviet intervention might spread in the vulnerable countries neighboring Afghanistan like Pakistan, Iran, etc.

Political instability in the latter countries strengthened this apprehension. It was not unlikely that Russia would spread its tentacles to bring the West Asian countries under its sphere of influence. It thus was against America’s interests. This development gave a rude shock to the process of detente. In its turn, the USA made an axis with China and Pakistan in this region to contain the further influence of the Soviet Union.

The SALT-II, which was signed after great difficulty, was not ratified by the US Senate as the USA was unhappy With the USSR on the Afghan issue. Hence during this period, there were neither any summit level talks between the two countries nor was any headway made in respect of disarmament. On the contrary Reagan administration, with a view to intimidating Mata, marred harping on Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Popularity known as Star War Programme.

Such political developments and upheavals in Kampuchea, Vietnam, Arab-Israel relations, and Afghanistan harmed detente and began a new cold war. Nevertheless, the situation was not so grim as to spell complete pessimism Detente had met with considerable success in Europe. Big powers were in accord in respect of European Security and Peace. What was desired was that such an accord should also be there in respect of the entire world.

5. Re-emergence of Detente, 1985-onwards:

As mentioned above, the situation in Soviet American, and consequently in East-West relations, as a whole, had deteriorated, giving cause for great concern. It was at this stage that Gorbachev and his new political thinking came to the rescue. As a result of this new thinking came a dramatic change, the global atmosphere greatly improved, and contacts and summits became the order of the day.

The USSR under Gorbachev was ready to cooperate with the United States on a predictable and stable basis and was eager to make headway, combining continuity with new ideas. In Gorbachev’s own words, The fundamental principle of the new political outlook is straightforward nuclear war cannot be a means of achieving political, economic, ideological or any other goals on a par with the nuclear threat; the new political model of thinking considers the solutions of other global problems, including those of economic development and ecology.

To think in a new way also means to see a direct link between disarmament and development. Gorbachev had a different attitude towards the American people as he did not regard them as aggressive. He disliked tensions, confrontation, or intense rivalry between these two countries. Such a situation was harmful to the larger interests of all people.

There were indications in the second half of the 19805 international tensions, bitterness, and resultant distortions of values fading away. Notwithstanding occasional tensions and habitual cynics between rival powers, the top leaders preferred a gradual but conciliatory approach. The iron curtain was lifted, the fortress of apartheid crumbled, the Berlin Wall demolished, power blocs collapsed, disarmament progressed, summit meetings organized, military alliances wound up, and thus cold war ended.

After coming into power, Gorbachev had several superpower summits, first with Reagan and then with Bush. During these summits, top leaders showed their willingness to take Washington and Moscow beyond detente towards a cooperative relationship. A Brief resume of these summits is given below.

(i) Geneva Summit, November 19-21, 1985:

After the Afghanistan crisis, this was the first fruitful Soviet-American summit between Gorbachev and Reagan. The two leaders jointly declared that nuclear war should never be fought and there could be no victor in such a war. The need to prevent any war, nuclear or conventional, between the two countries was emphasized.

(ii) Reykjavik (Iceland) Summit:

October 11-12, 1986, The second Gorbachev Reagan summit deepened mutual understanding on many major problems of world politics and bilateral relations, war and peace questions, and the termination of the nuclear arms race.

(iii) Washington Summit, December 7-10, 1987:

The signing of the INF Treaty was the major outcome of the third Gorbachev Reagan summit. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty was the first international agreement to reduce the deployment of existing nuclear weapons. The land-based medium-range nuclear missiles capable of traveling between 500 km and 5000 km that the two superpowers had agreed to destroy in Europe over the next three years constituted merely a fraction of just three percent according to one estimate of their nuclear arsenals. Despite this shortcoming, the INF Treaty was undoubtedly a small step towards world peace, but an important and historic step signifying man’s determination to survive the nuclear age.

(iv) Moscow Summit, May 29-June 2. 1988:

At the fourth Gorbachev Reagan summit, both sides exchanged ratification instruments, thus affecting the INF Treaty. Many other joint documents, agreements, and a joint statement were adopted, promoting bilateral relations.

(v) Malta Summit, December 2-3, 1989:

After assuming office, President Bush’s first meeting with Gorbachev was held aboard ships off Malta. The meeting had no fixed preset agenda, and no special preliminary was done. The aim was to hold a free exchange of opinions, a wide-ranging dialogue, and compare the assessments. At the end of their meeting, both the leaders held a joint news conference described as an important symbol by Gorbachev because it has never been in history. That the leaders of our two states held a joint news conference.17

He also declared that the Soviet Union would never start a war against the United States. During the previous years, the former US President was in no mood to slow down, much less halt, the economic war against the Soviet Union. The Malta summit marked the beginning of a new era, not just USA-USSR relations but in post-World War II international politics as a whole.

(vi) Washington Summit, May 30-June 2, 1990:

The second summit between Gorbachev and Bush resulted in the signing of a series of major Soviet-US documents. These leaders put their signatures to an agreement on the elimination and nonproduction of chemical weapons, a protocol to the treaty on limiting the tests of nuclear weapons, a protocol to the treaty on underground nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes, an agreement on scientific and technical cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, an agreement expanding student exchanges between higher learning establishments, and an agreement on commercial trade relations.

The two presidents also made a joint statement sealing the major elements of a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Two other main issues discussed were the reunification of Germany and connected details and other regional conflicts. The question of German unification dominated the summit, whereas the other regional conflicts received relatively limited attention.


The dominant view of both countries was that regional conflicts should not be allowed to put spokes in the wheel of US-Soviet bilateral relations. A significant observation made by Bush was The world had waited long enough; the cold war must end.

(vii) Helsinki Summit, September 9, 1990:

This summit between Gorbachev and Bush resulted in a broad agreement on several aspects of the Gulf crisis and, in effect, averted a large scale armed conflict which seemed imminent. There were admittedly differences on certain perceptions, but the superpowers agreed on the main issue that the Iraqi forces must pull out of Kuwait territory. The two world leaders also agreed that all nations should implement the comprehensive U.N.O resolutions on the issue.

(viii) Paris Summit and Pact, November 19, 1990:

The above summits’ conducive effect no longer remained confined to two superpowers; it also had its full impact on European nations. The detente also permeated at the European level by signing a historic pact on November 19, 1990, between the heads of State and Government of the NATO and Warsaw Pact. Through this treaty, 34 members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact agreed to reduce their conventional arsenals for the first time since World War II. They also declared for the first time that they were adversaries no more. It paved the way for a g new period of cooperation in Europe. It also marked the cold war’s formal end and the beginning of an era of peace free from~ the frantic race for armaments.

(ix) Moscow Summit and the START, July 31, 1991:

On July 31, 1991, US President Bush and Soviet President Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to reduce their strategic arsenals by about 30 percent and hailed it as a signal dispelled five decades of mutual mistrust. If Paris Pact (November 1990) formally ended the cold war, this treaty confirmed the end of cold hostilities between superpowers. The Soviets will end up with a 35 percent cut in their strategic warheads, from around 11,000 to 7,000, and the US with a 25 percent reduction from about 12,000 to 9,000. The treaty limits the strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (SNDVs) to 1,600 each. But even with the proposed cut, the two sides will have 4,900 ballistic missiles each.

(X) Sweeping Reduction in Nuclear Arsenals:

September 27, 1991, a spectacular shift in the American defense and security policy. On September 27, 1991, President Bush announced a sweeping unilateral reduction in the USA nuclear arsenal and invited the Soviet Union to match our bold initiative with equally bold steps. He said the changes in the Soviet Union provided an unparalleled opportunity to change the nuclear posture of both the United States and the Soviet Union.

A few days after this announcement, President Gorbachev also declared sweeping cuts in tactical nuclear weapons on land and sea to match US President Bush’s reductions. More details about these reductions will be given in a subsequent chapter on Disarmament and Nuclear Nonproliferation.

In December 1991, the Soviet Union was disintegrated, and Gorbachev relinquished the charge of its Presidentship. The successor Russian Federation and its President Yeltsin continued to follow the policy of detente.

(xi). Bush and Yeltsin’s Announcement regarding cuts in Strategic:

Nuclear Arms, jammy 29, 2992. US President George Bush announced massive unilateral nuclear arms cuts in early 1992. Russia matched the US step by a substantial reduction in the former Soviet strategic arsenal and an offer of a joint global defense system. The 50 billion dollar US arms cut, which made further cuts conditional on Russian reciprocity, opens itself to cover an even larger area for disarmament alter President Yeltsin’s announcements. President Bush, swinging between triumph abroad and a looming recession at Rome with a low ever popularity rating, declared in his state of the union message to the Congress that the US, the leader of the west, has become the leader of the world with communism dead and the cold war won.

In Moscow. President Yeltsin said about 1250 nuclear charges had been removed from Stand by the alert in radio and TV messages. That manufacture of long-distance cruise missiles and heavy bombers was ended. Russian Federation has taken over all the obligations of the former Soviet Union.

(xii) Russia and the US as Allies:

The end of the cold war had been proclaimed by President Bush several times in the recent past. On February 1, 1992, he and visiting Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin made a formal declaration to that effect and proclaimed the beginning of a new era in US-Russian relations. After more than three hours of talks at the Camp David retreat, the two leaders signed a declaration charting a new relationship, which President Bush said, was based on trust, based on a commitment to economic and political freedom.20

Mr. Yeltsin said, There has been written and drawn a new line and crossed out all of the things that have been associated with the cold war from now on, we do not consider ourselves to be potential enemies.21

The highlights of the Camp David declaration are a commitment to follow up the latest arms control proposals, prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, curb the spread of conventional weapons, settle regional conflicts, and counter-terrorism and drug trafficking.

(xiii) The US-Russia Summit June 16-17, 1992:

This two-day summit evolved a framework for cooperation in various fields in the post cold war era, including creating a credible Euro-Atlantic capability to maintain peace in European hot spots like Yugoslavia, where a civil war was going on.

The Washington Charter that US President Bush and Russian President Yeltsin signed and six other major documents called for wide-ranging economic, scientific and military cooperation between the two nations, opening the way to possible joint military exercises. The two leaders who were meeting after the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union also issued a joint statement on the global protection system containing an agreement to study the feasibility of establishing a joint missile warning.

Further holds the promise of more similar summit meetings and improving political, economic, cultural, scientific, and technological relations between the two superpowers to the relief of the rest of the world. Russia and the USA are now moving to a higher degree of mutual understanding and even cooperation. Prospects of conventional and nuclear disarmament are encouraging.

Impact of Detente:

Soviet-American detente had a wide-ranging impact. It not only influenced their bilateral relations but embraced the whole gamut of international relations. The relaxation of tension has led to the following trends in contemporary international relations.

1. End of the Cold War:

Decades-Old hostilities between the superpowers, together with the all-out research for military bases, political allies, and vulnerable puppet regimes, have become a thing of the past. The Iron Curtain was lifted, the citadel of apartheid breached, the Berlin Wall demolished, ideological blocs collapsed, military alliances terminated, arms race decelerated, struggle for the expansion of the sphere of influence contained, clouds of third world war rolled by, division of Europe disappeared and solution of the many regional conflicts appeared possible. Thus, the foremost impact of detente was the end of the cold war.

2. Progress towards Disarmament:

There is considerable progress towards disarmament. As a result of detente, there is no political or military threat facing either superpower, so there will be no justification for building up large arsenals of nuclear and conventional weapons. In the last few years, several big power summits have taken significant steps towards disarmament. These are INF Treaty (1987), agreement on elimination and nonproduction of chemical weapons (1990), Paris Pact to reduce conventional weapons from Europe (1990), START to reduce strategic arsenals by 30 percent (1991), voluntary reduction in nuclear arsenals both by the USA and the USSR (1991), etc. More such arms reduction talks and treaties are on the anvil.

3. Irrelevance of the Military Alliances:

Military alliances like SEATO, CENTO had already faded away. Remaining active and potent alliances like NATO and Warsaw Pact also lost their relevance after November 1990. The heads of NATO and Warsaw Pact Nations, assembled at a historic summit in Paris on November 19, 1990, signed a landmark treaty slashing their massive cold war non-nuclear conventional weapons in Europe. The accord reverses the biggest arms build-up in history. These alliances have no adversary since the end of the cold war. With the collapse of communist regimes in East Europe, Warsaw Pact was dissolved in July 1991. It seems that the era of making military alliances is over now.

4. Proliferation of Detente:

Improved Soviet-American relations had its snowballing effect. It is reflected in the detente at other levels such as Sino-USA level, East-West European level, Soviet West Europe level, America East Europe level, Sine-Soviet level, and Soviet-Japan level. The relations of these countries inter see were far from cordial. However, in the past few years, things have changed for the better. They have come closer and have a better understanding than before.

For example, at the Sine-USA level, detente was, initiated during President Nixon’s tenure in the early seventies. After Mao’s death, when China adopted an Open door policy, its relations with the United States and other Western countries further improved in the late seventies. But the relations between the two powers had become strained after severe condemnation by the entire West, including the USA, of the ruthless suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations by students in Beijing (Tiananmen Square massacre) in June 1989.

The first high-level diplomatic contacts between the USA and China after a gap of nearly a year and a half were made on December 1, 1990. The Chinese Foreign Minister visited Washington and held talks with Secretary of State James Baker in a cordial atmosphere.

China extracted its price for its tacit endorsement of the US-sponsored UN Security Council resolution sanctioning the use of force to compel Saddam Hussain to pull out its forces from Kuwait. In 1991, the US Government extended its most favored nation treatment in trade matters to China for another year. The imperatives of business and commerce were evident in the gesture.

Detente also made headway at the Sine-Soviet level. The process began gradually in 1971 when China was admitted to UNO. The Soviet Union, the US, and India, among other countries, extended full support to the admission. In 1986, in his famous Vladivostok speech, Gorbachev appealed for detente and cordial relations even with its arch-rival China. Chinese leader Qian Qichin visited Moscow for talks in 1988, marking further progress in establishing friendly relations.

In February 1989, high-level contacts were established between the two countries after three decades when foreign ministers of the two countries held talks. After a gap of 30 years, summit talks were held between the two countries when Gorbachev visited Beijing in May 1989.

This Soviet-Chinese summit was a historical event that gave a dynamic boost to bilateral relations in the political, economic, scientific, and other spheres. Following talks between Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng (who visited Moscow on April 23-25, 1990) and top Soviet leaders, an accord was reached between the two communist giants to take practical steps to implement arrangements for mutual reduction of troops along their borders.

They felt that steps to implement the arrangements would strengthen good neighborly relations and promote peace in the Asia Pacific region and worldwide. Mr. Li’s visit was the first by a Chinese Premier in the past 26 years. Both the powers signed a long term economic agreement, covering a wide range of activities.

America and West European countries have not only extended their hand of cooperation political, economic, scientific, and technological to the Soviet Union to help tide over its economic difficulties, but they have assured similar help to the East European countries. The Soviet Union is also mending its fences with Japan, Israel, South Korea, etc. Thus, detente is spreading throughout the world, and old rivals in the various parts of the globe are coming closer.

5. Resolving Regional Conflicts:

After the re-emergence of detente in the second half of the eighties, a solution to regional conflicts has become possible. Both the USA and the USSR have created better conditions for a search for compromise, dialogue between the conflicting sides in different regions. A good example of a responsible and well-balanced approach to settling regional conflicts is signing the Geneva accords on Afghanistan.

A gist of the accord lies in non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and Soviet troop’s withdrawal from that country. In compliance with this accord, the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 1989. The Soviet-American dialogue also helps in easing tension in different regions. Since the Soviet Union and the United States have many friends and allies in different countries, they can either directly or indirectly solve any regional conflict. The world has recently witnessed the coming of independence to Namibia.

The civil war has ended in Nicaragua, and democratic elections have been held there. War in Kampuchea ended in August 1991, and with this, chances improved for a settlement of 12 years old Kampuchean problem. In each case, Moscow and Washington have played a constructive role.

There is less tension in relations between Ethiopia and Somalia, Libya, and Chad, those African countries, which not so long ago, tried to settle their disputes on the battlefield. There are hopeful signs for the settlement of the long conflict around Western Sahara.

Relaxation of tension in relations between Morocco, Libya, and Algeria is also felt. If confrontation is replaced with a constructive search for mutually acceptable solutions to the existing problems, there is every reason to hope for a fair and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem in West Asia. The US could vacate Kuwait from Iraqi forces only with the kind support and non-intervention of the Soviet Union.

6. Irrelevance of NAM:

As a result of the virtual end of the cold war and the growing detente between the two superpowers, doubts are being expressed in several quarters about the future of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM). It faces a new challenge. Experts feel that new alignments in international relations call for a reappraisal of the movement that once served a valuable purpose of reinforcing the Third World countries’ independence and enabled them to make merit decisions.

Today, while the movement’s main concerns remain the same, the unprecedented changes in East-West relations have necessitated a fresh look at its relevance and future role. Many feel that the movement, which began as a brilliant and innovative act of policymaking, has now lost its relevance.

A 22 page Accra Declaration, issued after the 103 NAM Foreign Ministers’ session, demanded the expansion of the United Nations Security Council and proposed restructuring the group’s strategies to meet the new challenges following the Cold War’s end. The session urged that NAM’s new emphasis should be on eradicating poverty, hunger, and illiteracy and called on the international community to help in these matters.

The NAM’s ministers’ meeting overwhelmingly rejected Egypt’s proposal for a NAM merger with the Group of 77 and Yugoslavia’s suggestion for a change in the movement’s name. Most of the participating countries felt that the name was relevant than ever before, and the changes only vindicated the principles the movement stood for.

7. De-ideologization of International Relations:

Ideologies socialism, communism, capitalism, etc., are no longer the determining factors of the nations’ foreign policy; in international relations, ideological motivations have lost their relevance now, which played a crucial role during the cold war days. Initially, the emphasis was on peaceful co-existence between two social and ideological systems instead of confrontation. Later on, it was followed by constructive cooperation between the two systems and substituting a balance of interest to balance power.

With the collapse of communism in East Europe in 1989 and then in the Soviet Union in 1991, the de-ideologization of international relations became complete. Nations with different ideologies are coming closer, e.g., America and China, Russia and South Korea, Russia and United Germany, etc.

8. Unification of Germany:

Another momentous and historical impact of detente was the unification of East and West Germany on October 3, 1990, to form a new and powerful state. The Union symbolizes the unity of East and West after 45 years of a double-faced experience. The foreign ministers of four allied countries (the USA, USSR, Britain, and France), which defeated Germany in 1945, signed the treaty for unification. United Germany is now a force to be reckoned with economically, industrially, and militarily.

9. Other Unification:

Paris Summit of November 1990 culminated in removing division between East and West Europe and formally lifting the Iron Curtain. It ushered in an era of integration in Europe and brought the European nations economically and politically closer.

North and South Yemen formally proclaimed their unification, becoming the Republic of Yemen on May 22, 1990. The merger also erases the Arab World’s only communist Government’s vestiges in Aden (South Yemen). It is widely believed that as a result of top-level talks between the leaders of North and South Korea, a union will emerge very shortly.

10. Economic Development and other issues:

The massive amounts spent, until recently, on the manufacture of armaments procurement of weapons-grade material and the entire arms industry, which has been flourishing for decades, are likely to be reduced and diverted to economic development. Nations, especially erstwhile socialist states, pay more attention to solving their economic problems through liberalization and the free market mechanism.

All nations of the world are now interested in preventing ecological disaster, combating hunger and disease, and fighting all other manifestations of evil and degradation such as drug abuse or international terrorism, which are trans-boundary phenomena.

They are for the development of broad, mutually beneficial and equitable cooperation among nations, the achievements in science and technology, which should be shared among all countries environmental protection, etc., because the accumulation of wealth at one end of the scale and of poverty at the other may have disastrous consequences for humanity.

11. Impact on U.N.O:

The impact of superpower detente on the working of international organizations such as UNO is natural. The UN and its various forums are now free from superpowers rivalries, factionalism, tussle, etc. Courtesy and decency have supplanted acrimonious and hostile behavior. President Gorbachev has had the ambition to elevate the UN’s status as an arbitrator in international conflicts and ultimately as a world policeman.

Whereas the world body found itself a helpless spectator in Afghanistan, the same organization has exhibited its potency in the Gulf crisis due mainly to the superpowers’ unanimity of approach. In 1991 seven new members, including three newly independent the Baltic States, were admitted to the UN without difficulty or opposition.

Now it remains to be seen whether this encouraging trend in the process of detente in the second half of the eighties and early nineties continues without much interruption or not. A similar upward trend was seen in the seventies as well, but the same met with the fiasco in 1979 in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis.

Any such crisis may crop up any time in the future, precipitating a downtrend again. Though prediction in international politics is risky, yet if the present world situation is any indication, it can be concluded that no such big crisis is likely in the foreseeable future. The process of detente may continue uninterrupted and unabated.


1. FS. Northedge and M.J. Grieve, A Hundred Years of International Relations (London, 1971 ), p. 268.

2. J.K. Baral, International Politics-Dynamics and Dimensions (New Delhi, 1987), p. 247.

3. Quoted in P.K.S. Namboodiri, “The Meaning of Detente,” Economic and Political Weekly (Bombay) vol. Xii no. 44, Oct. 29, 1977, pp. 1855-1856.

4. A. Kozyrev and N. Nilov, UN. Its role in Promoting Detente, International Affairs (Moscow) No. 10, Oct. 1977, p. 24.

5.Charles W. Kegley, Jr. and Eugene R. Wittkopf, World Politics Trend and Transformation (New York.l981), p. 56.

6.Namboodiri, n. 3, pp., 1855-1856.

7. Richard M. Nixon. Real Peace (Boston, 1984), p. 96

8. Address by Gorbachev to the Congress of People’s Deputies on May 30, 1989., Text in Soviet Review Documents (New Delhi), p. 37.

9. Op. cit. n. 1, p. 269.

10. Ibid. p. 269-270.

11. For the details of the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries’ economic problems in the 19805 see, Vinay Kumar Malhotra, Gorbachevian Revolution in the Soviet Union Collapse or Renewal of Socialism (New Delhi, 1991), pp. 6-11.

12. RH. Hartmann, The Relations of Nations (New York, 1967), p.477.

13. R. Chakravarti, International Relations (Calcutta, 1970), pp. 430-431.

14. Vinay Kumar Malhotra, n. 11, p. 88.

15. Op. cit. n. 5, p. 55.

16. Quoted in n. 11, p. 88-89.

17. Quoted in Soviet Review (New Delhi), Vol. xxvii no. 1, January 1990, p. 3.

18. Indian Express (Chandigarh), September 29, 1991, p. 1.

19. bid., January 30, 1992, p. 1.

20. Ibid, February 3, 1992, p. 11.

21. Ibid.

14 thoughts on “Detente || The Cold War”

  1. Détente, Period of the easing of Cold War tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1979. The era was a time of increased trade and cooperation with the Soviet Union and the signing of the SALT treaties. Relations cooled again with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

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