Détente

Following the humiliation of the Vietnam War , the USA made an effort to improve relations with the USSR and China, leading to a period in the 1970s known as Détente, a word meaning the relaxing of tension.

What evidence is there that tensions between East and West were easing in the 1970s?

  • The arms race was expensive: both sides began to realise that money for nuclear weapons would be better spent on helping their people. This was especially the case in the Soviet Union, but also in the US where in the 1970s people were more concerned about the economy and less about international affairs.
  • The American President, Richard Nixon, knew the war in Vietnam had to be brought to an end. The American people were increasingly shocked and disillusioned by the events of the Vietnam War and wanted to withdraw from global politics. There was also a vigorous anti-war movement in the West which spoke out against American action in Vietnam. America’s increasing isolationism meant there were fewer points of tension with the Soviet Union. The USA would eventually leave Vietnam in 1974.
  • The relationship between the USSR and China, the world’s most important communist nations, had soured. This was known as the Sino-Soviet split, but it meant the USA found it easier to establish relations with China. In February 1972, Nixon made a symbolically important visit to China, which demonstrated that he was trying to improve relations with the communist superpower, and afterwards the USA dropped its objection to China joining the United Nations. Nixon hoped that the Chinese would help push the North Vietnamese to a resolution in Vietnam. Nixon’s visit to China altered the global balance of power. With the USA now closer to China, the Soviet Union was anxious and keen to improve relations with the USA.
  • As a result, in May 1972 the US President, Richard Nixon, made a historic trip to Moscow to meet the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. Nixon’s visit to Moscow was a hugely symbolic moment, and photos of Nixon shaking hands with Brezhnev signalled the beginning of a new, more peaceful relationship between the two superpowers. During this visit, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) took place, resulting in the signing of SALT I, a treaty which restricted the number of ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) both sides could have
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