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Détente

DÉTENTE

By détente (a French word for "release from tension"), historians refer to the period of gradually improved relations between the USSR and the West, during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The first signs of détente appeared shortly after Josef Stalin's death, with the signature of the peace treaty granting Austrian independence in May 1955 and the Geneva summit in July that opened the way for dialogue between the USSR, the United States, Britain, and France. In March 1956, during the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, "peaceful co-existence" became the "baseline of Soviet Foreign policy." Competition with the West was not over, but, for Nikita Khrushchev, this competition had to be ideological, economic, and technological rather than military. The USSR kept however improving its military potential (it fired its first inter-continental ballistic missile in August 1957 and launched the first Sputnik the following October) and, regarding the Third World, all means of influence were still contemplated. This new approach to international relations led Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin to visit Western countries (Britain in 1956, the United States. in 1959, and France in 1960) and to participate in the Paris summit meeting in 1960. However, détente did not go without tensions and crises, such as the first Berlin Crisis in 1958, the U-2 incident in May 1960, the second Berlin Crisis in August 1961 that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

The Cuban crisis was actually a turning point for détente: it led Washington and Moscow to establish a hotline, so as to prevent the risk of a nuclear war that could arise from a lack of communications, and in August 1963 the USSR signed with the United States and Great Britain the first Nuclear Test Ban treaty. Despite Khrushchev's dismissal in October 1964 and the promotion of a new leadership with Leonid Brezhnev, Nikolai Podgorny, and Alexei Kosygin, détente was not only maintained but fostered, for the Soviets perceived it as the best way to achieve their two major objectives: obtaining the official recognition of the post-World War II European territorial status quo and improving the standard of living of the population, by devoting more resources to civil production than to the military-industrial complex and by importing Western advanced technologies and products.

And indeed, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, détente became a multilateral process as well as a bilateral one.

As a bilateral process between the USSR and the United States, détente focused primarily on strategic issues; it first led in July 1968 to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and, in May 1972, to the SALT I treaty limiting strategic arms; however, détente dealt also with economic matters: During his historical trip to the Soviet Union, President Nixon signed several agreements on cooperation and trade, including grain exports to the Soviet State; one year later, new agreements were signed during Brezhnev's visit of June 1973 to the United States. This Soviet-American détente was not limited to domestic questions, as shown by the active cooperation displayed by the two super-powers in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

But détente started involving West-European governments as well. In 1966 the French President Charles de Gaulle visited the USSR to promote "détente, entente, and cooperation" and give détente a broader content, extended to cultural and human questions. Three years later Chancellor Willy Brandt, previously mayor of West Berlin, engaged West Germany in the Ostpolitik, a policy of opening to the East which led to concrete achievements: in 1970, West Germany concluded two treaties, one with Poland and the other with the USSR, that recognized the current German frontiers, notably the Oder-Neisse border, gave up all claims to the lost lands, and implicitly recognized the existence of East Germany. In 1972, the USSR, the United States, Britain, and France signed an agreement on Berlin. These treaties paved the way to the official admission of the two Germanies to the United Nations in 1973.

Détente was also a truly multilateral process: In November 1972, thirty-five European countries, the United States, and Canada opened the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). In August 1975, the Helsinki Final Act recognized the post-World War II borders and adopted declarations encouraging Western-Eastern trade and cultural exchanges as well as promoting human rights and freedom of movement.

Despite these successes, détente declined and faded in the second half of the seventies. The active support of the USSR to Marxist revolutionary movements in the Third World, its repeated violations of the Helsinki Final Act, its intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979, the euromissiles question, and the Polish crisis in 1980 all contributed to a revival of the Cold War.

See also: arms control; brezhnev, leonid ilich; cold war; cuban missile crisis; khrushchev, nikita sergeyevich; united states, relations with

bibliography

Garthoff, Raymond L. (1994). Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan, Washington DC: Brookings Institution.

Petro, Nicolai N., and Rubinstein, Alvin Z. (1997). Russian Foreign Policy, From Empire to Nation-State. New York: Longman.

Marie-Pierre Rey

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détente

dé·tente / dāˈtänt/ (also de·tente) • n. the easing of hostility or strained relations, esp. between countries: a serious effort at détente with the eastern bloc.

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détente

détente easing of strained relations. XX. — F.; see prec.

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détente

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