DETENTE DURING THE COLD WAR
The Cold War unfolded as a series of major events from just after World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was a significant period of time in the 20th century and involved a clash of ideologies between the two superpowers of the United States and Soviet Union. Many of the major events of the Cold War increased the tensions between the two nations, including: Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War, Korean War and the nuclear arms race. However, some of these events or periods of time helped to decrease tensions between the two. This period of decreased tensions is known to historians as détente. Simply put, détente refers to a reduction in the tensions between the two superpowers and it occurred primarily in the later years of the Cold War.
The main events that historians focus on when discussing détente during the Cold War are the series of agreements and treaties that the two superpowers agreed to throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The most significant of these treaties are collectively known as the disarmament agreements. The disarmament agreements were treaties in which the two superpowers agreed to limit or reduce the creation of new warheads and weapons of mass destruction. This is considered to be an example of détente because it involved the two countries discussing and working together to meet a common goal. Whereas, in the past, the two had generally been very competitive and combative towards one another, which increased tensions. The best examples of détente during the Cold War are SALT I, SALT II, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Helsinki Accords.
The first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement (SALT I) was signed on May 26th, 1972 after considerable discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union beginning in November of 1969. In general, SALT I saw the superpowers freeze the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers at their current levels. While there were allowances for each country to increase some missile production, it placed caps and saw each nation also commit to dismantling older style weapons with the production of newer one. For example, SALT I concluded with the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) between the United States and Soviet Union on May 26th, 1972. The ABM Treaty limited each nation in terms of the number of anti-ballistic missile systems and missiles. The treaty was signed during the 1972 Moscow Summit by American President Richard Nixon and the leader of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev.
Following the conclusion of SALT I, the two superpowers shifted and began a new series of talks that historians refer to as the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II). SALT II focused on limiting the creation of strategic nuclear weapons and the talks began in 1972 and continued until 1979. While the overall hope of SALT II was to limit the production of nuclear missiles it ultimately failed due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. American President Jimmy Carter actually signed an agreement in relation to SALT II on June 18th, 1979 with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, but the terms of the agreement were never ratified by the United States Senate. Before the United States Senate could review and ultimately approve the agreement, Soviet forces invaded the nation of Afghanistan. Historians consider this event to be the end of the détente period of the Cold War since the conflict renewed tensions between the two superpowers. Throughout the 1980s, tensions increased until finally the Cold War ended in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reforms of perestroika and glasnosts in the Soviet Union.
During the period of SALT II, another major event related to détente occurred called the Helsinki Accords. Also called the Helsinki Final Act, the agreement was signed by 35 member nations including the United States, Canada, Soviet Union and most of Europe. The act dealt with a range of significant global issues and, therefore, was important in the overall Cold War. The discussions for the Helsinki Final Act began in 1972 and continued with the formation of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in July of 1973. The act dealt with a variety of issues important at the time, including: political and military issues, economic issues, human rights and future negotiations between the member countries. Similar to SALT I and SALT II, the Helsinki Final Act was an important part of détente because it involved the United States and the Soviet Union working together, which resulted in a decrease of tensions at the time.