For the American thrash metal band, see Detente (band).

Détente (French for 'relaxation')[1] is the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation. The term is often used in reference to the general easing of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s, a thawing at a period roughly in the middle of the Cold War. In the Soviet Union, détente was known in Russian as разрядка ("razryadka", loosely meaning 'relaxation of tension').

The period was characterized by the signing of treaties such as the SALT I, SALT II, and the Helsinki Agreement. There is some debate amongst historians as to how successful the détente period was in achieving peace. It did, however, mark the first time in the Cold War period that the US and the USSR worked together to lessen international tensions, caused primarily by Mutual Assured Destruction. The first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) treaty, agreed for both countries to halt the production of nuclear weapons and missiles. It was the first step towards solving one of the most important issues that was disabling any kind of relationship between the USSR and the US. The two superpowers also agreed to install a direct hotline between Washington DC and Moscow, the so called red telephone, enabling both countries to quickly interact with each other in a time of urgency. The SALT II pact of the late 70s continued the work of the SALT I talks, ensuring further reduction in arms by the Soviets and by the US. The Helsinki Accords, in which the Soviets promised to grant free elections in Europe, has been seen as a major concession to ensure peace by the Soviets.

Détente ended after the Soviet's invasion of Afghanistan, which led to America's boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980, based on an anti-détente campaign, marked the close of Détente and a return to Cold War hostilities.



The NATO powers and the Warsaw Pact both had strong reasons to seek relaxation in tensions. Leonid Brezhnev and the rest of the Soviet leadership felt that the economic burden of the nuclear arms race was unsustainable. The American economy was also in financial trouble as the Vietnam War drained government finances at the same time as Lyndon Johnson (and to a lesser extent, Richard Nixon) sought to expand the welfare state.

In West Germany, the Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt was decreasing tensions; the Soviets hoped more trade with Western Europe would be possible.[clarification needed].

Worsening relations with the People's Republic of China, leading to the Sino-Soviet Split, had caused great concern in the Soviet Union. The leadership feared the potential of a Sino-American alliance against them and believed it was necessary to improve relations with the United States. Improved relations with China had already thawed the general American view of communism.

Rough parity had been achieved in stockpiling nuclear weapons with a clear capability of mutually assured destruction (MAD). There was also the realization that the "relative gains" theory as to the predictable consequences of war might no longer be appropriate. The goal was a "sensible middle ground".

Brezhnev and Nixon each hoped improved relations would boost their domestic popularity and secure their power.

Several anti-nuclear movements supported détente. The Cuban Missile Crisis showed how dangerous the relations between the USSR and the USA were becoming. John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev wished to reduce the risk of a nuclear war, as they were aware that the nuclear arsenals on each side granted mutually assured destruction.

Summits and treaties

Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin (in front) next to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson (behind) during the Glassboro Summit Conference

The most obvious manifestation of détente was the series of summits held between the leaders of the two superpowers and the treaties that resulted from these meetings. Earlier in the 1960s, before détente, the Partial Test Ban Treaty had been signed on August 5, 1963. Later in the decade, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Outer Space Treaty were two of the first building blocks of détente. However, these early treaties did little to curb the superpowers' abilities, and served primarily to limit the nuclear ambitions of third parties that could endanger both superpowers. But the most significant thing before signing the treaty was the establishment "Hot line"(direct telecommunication between Kremlin and White House) on June 20,1963. This created a kind of trust between the two parties and initiated the Détente process.

The most important treaties were not developed until the advent of the Nixon Administration, which came into office in 1969. The Political Consultative Committee of the Warsaw Pact sent an offer to the West, urging 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.

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.[2] 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.[3] The 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.[3] 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 state 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.[3]

Leonid Brezhnev (left) and Richard Nixon (right) during Brezhnev's June 1973 visit to Washington; this was a high-water mark in détente between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In July of the same year, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project became the first international space mission, wherein three American astronauts and two Russian 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 US and Russian 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 grain 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 January 3, 1975, after a unanimous 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 dependent upon improvements of human rights within the Soviet Union, in particular allowing refuseniks 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 adding some ideological content to détente, linking geopolitics to human rights.[4]

Continued conflicts

As direct relations thawed, increased tensions continued between the superpowers through their surrogates, especially in the Third World. Conflicts in South Asia, and the Middle East in 1973, saw the Soviet and U.S. backing their respective surrogates with war material and diplomatic posturing. In Latin America, the United States continued to block any leftward electoral shifts in the region by supporting right-wing military coups. During much of the early détente period, the Vietnam War continued to rage. Neither side trusted the other fully and the potential for nuclear war remained constant. Each side continued to aim thousands of nuclear warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at each other's cities, maintain submarines 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 defectors, reconnaissance satellites, and signal intercepts measured intentions and attempted to gain strategic advantage.

End of Détente

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that was to shore up a struggling allied regime led to harsh criticisms in the west and a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were to be held in Moscow. Jimmy Carter boosted the U.S. defense budget and began financially aiding the President of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who would in turn subsidize the anti-Soviet Mujahideen fighters in the region.

The 1980 American presidential election saw Ronald Reagan elected on a platform opposed to the concessions of détente. Negotiations on SALT II were abandoned.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.wordreference.com/fren/détente
  2. ^ Lapennal. Human Rights, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c Lapennal. Human Rights, p. 14-15.
  4. ^ Henry Kissinger, "Diplomacy"

Further reading

  • Bowkerl, Mike & Williams, Phil. Superpower Detente: A Reappraisal. SAGE Publications (1988). ISBN 0803980426.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War. The Penguin Press (2005).
  • Lapennal, Ivo. Human Rights: Soviet Theory and Practice, Helsinki and International Law. Eastern Press (1977).
  • Suri, Jeremi. Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente. Harvard University Press (2003).
  • Sarotte, M. E. Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, Détente and Ostpolitik, 1969-1973. University of North Carolina Press (2001).

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  • détente — [ detɑ̃t ] n. f. • 1386; de détendre ♦ Action de détendre; son résultat. 1 ♦ Relâchement de ce qui est tendu. Détente d un arc, d un ressort. Les « jambes et [les] pieds dont la détente énergique lancera tout l homme en avant pour la course et… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Détente — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Leonid Brézhnev junto a Richard Nixon Détente es un término francés que signífica aflojamiento o aligeramiento . En muchos textos históricos se traduce por distensión . El término fue utilizado en …   Wikipedia Español

  • Détente —    Détente lasted from 1972 to 1981 and is seen as a success for both American and Soviet diplomacy. U.S. President Richard Nixon saw détente as a means of reducing the tensions of the Cold War and expanding commercial ties with the Soviet bloc.… …   Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence

  • Detente — Détente Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Detente — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Para la palabra de origen francés, véase détente. Un detente (voz proveniente del imperativo del verbo detenerse ) es un escapulario, chapa o trozo de tela con la leyenda Detente, bala o Tente, bala que llevaban… …   Wikipedia Español

  • détente — DÉTENTE. s. fém. Petite pièce de fer ou d acier qui sert au ressort des armes à feu pour tirer, pour faire partir le coup. Le pistolet est bandé, ne touchez pas à la détente, le couppartiroit. [b]f♛/b] Il se dit aussi De l action que fait cette… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • detente — statusas T sritis Politika apibrėžtis Procesas, kurio metu mažėja tarpvalstybinių santykių įtampa. Terminas į kitas kalbas beveik neverčiamas. Viduramžių Prancūzijoje détente taip pat buvo vadinamas specialus prietaisas, naudotas įtempti arba… …   Politikos mokslų enciklopedinis žodynas

  • detente — Detente. s. f. Petite piece de fer ou d acier qui sert au ressort des armes à feu, pour tirer, pour faire partir le coup. Ce pistolet est bandé, ne touchez pas à la détente, vous le feriez tirer. ce fusil est fort à la détente …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • detente — (d[asl]*t[aum]nt ), n. the easing of tensions or strained relations (especially between nations), as by agreement, negotiation, or tacit understandings. [WordNet 1.5 +PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • detente — (n.) 1908 as a political term, a borrowing of Fr. détente loosening, slackening (used in the Middle Ages for the catch of a crossbow), from V.L. detendita, fem. pp. of L. detendere loosen, release, from de from, away (see DE (Cf. de )) + tendere… …   Etymology dictionary

  • detente — (Imper. de detener). m. Recorte de tela con la imagen del Corazón de Jesús y la leyenda Detente, bala, que se usó en las guerras españolas de los siglos XIX y XX, prendido en la ropa sobre el pecho …   Diccionario de la lengua española

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