Learn more about Détente
- For the Spanish amulet, see Detente bala.
Détente is a French term, meaning a relaxing or easing; the term has been used in international politics since the early 1970s. Generally, it may be applied to any international situation where previously hostile nations not involved in an open war "warm up" to each other and threats de-escalate. However, it is primarily used in reference to the general reduction in the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and a thawing of the Cold War, occurring from the late 1960s until the start of the 1980s. It is this Soviet-American détente that is the subject of this article.
Both sides had pressing 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 government welfare state.
In Europe, the Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt was decreasing tensions; the Soviets hoped that with Détente, more trade with Western Europe would be possible. Soviet thinkers also felt that a less aggressive policy could potentially detach the Western Europeans from their American ally.
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 necessary to improve relations with the United States. Improved relations with China had already thawed the American view generally of communism.
Rough parity had been achieved in stockpiling nuclear weapons with a clear capability of mutually assured destruction. There was also the realization that the "relative gains" theory as to the predictable consequences of war might no longer be appropriate. A "sensible middle ground" was the goal.
Brezhnev and Nixon each hoped improved relations would boost their domestic popularity and secure their power.
Several anti-nuclear movements supported détente.
 Summits and Treaties
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 in 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.
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.
Trade relations between the two blocks increased substantially during the era of detente. 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 them dependent upon improvements of human rights within the Soviet Union..
 Continued Conflicts
Despite the growing amicability, heated competition continued between the two superpowers, especially in the Third World.
In South Asia, during the Bangladesh Liberation War and the corollary Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and their aftermath, the superpowers backed their respective clients with material and diplomatic support. In Afghanistan, military units loyal to the communist PDPA toppled the government in 1978, but had a tenuous grasp over the country that would soon lead to civil war and Soviet invasion.
In Latin America the Soviet Union continued efforts to foment revolutions, while the United States continued to block any leftward shift in the region with military coups and support for counterinsurgency.
In East Africa, the monarch of Ethiopia was overthrown by a pro-Soviet military dictatorship known as the derg in 1974; in 1977 the former American ally fought former Soviet ally Somalia in the Ogaden War, prompting direct intervention by Cuba and the USSR.
Elsewhere in Africa, communist parties had succeeded the crumbling Portuguese empire following years of protracted guerrilla warfare in the former colonies: the PAIGC took over Guinea-Bissau in 1973 and the Cabo Verde islands in 1975, while its allies the MPLA in Angola and the FRELIMO in Mozambique did the same. After independence, the MPLA was drawn into both the Angolan Civil War with rival parties as well as the South African Border War. Cuba intervened on behalf of the MPLA regime in Angola, the SWAPO movement, and the African National Congress/South African Communist Party joint-creation Umkhonto we Sizwe, battling both the Angolan opposition UNITA and FNLA as well as the apartheid regime of South Africa over the fate of occupied South-West Africa and the region generally. South Africa also supported the white-minority regime of Rhodesia, which clashed with Mozambique by proxy: each side supported paramilitary allies across each other's borders in the Mozambican Civil War and the Rhodesian Bush War, respectively.
In Southeast Asia, the Vietnam War continued to rage, and despite the U.S.-sponsored armistice between North Vietnam and South Vietnam in 1973 and withdrawal from Cambodia and Laos the same year, the communists militarily conquered all three countries in 1975. Later that same year, Portugal surrendered control over East Timor; the local conservative pro-independence party staged a coup against its former communist partner, and shortly thereafter Suharto's pro-Western Indonesia invaded and occupied the country with the connivance of a thrid pro-Indonesian East Timorese faction.
Neither the American-led alliance nor the Soviet-led one trusted the other fully and the potential for nuclear war remained. Each side continued to have thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) pointed at the other’s cities, submarines in the oceans of the world, and forces guarding disputed borders in Korea and Europe. The espionage war continued unabated as defectors, reconnaissance satellites, and signal interceptions were still a priority for both sides.
 End of Détente
Détente began to unravel in 1979 due to a series of events. The Iranian Revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis embarrassed the United States and led much of the American public to believe their nation had lost its international power and prestige. The Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and a parallel takeover of Grenada in 1979 by the New Jewel Movement demonstrated that the Soviet/Cuban allies could prevail politically and militarily in Central America and the West Indies, further penetrating the circum-Caribbean region.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to shore up the struggling PDPA regime led to harsh criticisms in the west and a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were to be held in Moscow. American President Jimmy Carter boosted the U.S. defense budget and began financially aiding President of Pakistan General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq heavily, who would in turn subsidize the anti-Soviet Mujahideen fighters in the region.
 Opinions on Détente
Opinions on Détente remain divided. In the United States the modern anti-communist opinion of the détente era is it was a mistake that enabled the Soviet Union to survive for a longer period of time; the general left-liberal opinion is that any reduction of the likelihood of nuclear armageddon is a positive outcome and that the United States also needed a respite from the taxing arms race. In much of Europe the Détente-era warming, improved relations with Eastern European states, and Soviet failure to follow ensuing human-rights agreements are seen as partial roots for later dissident movements in Eastern Europe, such as the Czech Charter 77.
- Suri, Jeremi. 2003. Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press.
- Sarotte, M. E. 2001. Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, Détente, and Ostpolitik, 1969-1973. Chapel Hill [N.C.]; London: University of North Carolina Press.