Background

After the scare of the Cuban Missile Crisis and then the humiliation of the Vietnam War, the 1970s saw the USA, the USSR and China making an effort to improve relations.

This led to a period known as détente, a word meaning the relaxing of tension.

The relationship between the USSR and China, the world’s most important communist nations, had soured.

This was known as the Sino-Soviet split.

For the USA, it meant it was easier to establish diplomatic relations with China.

New agreements

International relations improved and all sides played a part in reducing tension. Some significant steps included:

  • SALT 1 (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) signed by Nixon and the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev in 1972.
  • In 1975, American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts met and symbolically shook hands in space.
  • In 1975, the Helsinki Agreement was signed by 35 countries including the USA and the USSR.

However, relations between the USA and USSR started to deteriorate in 1977, when a new US President, Jimmy Carter, entered the White House.

Tensions increase

Carter had a different view on the USA’s foreign relations and place in the world, and he criticised the USSR for its human rights abuses.

Between 1977 and 1979, the USSR began to replace its out-of-date nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe.

These moves by the USSR convinced many in the West that the Soviets had not abandoned the idea of nuclear war or expansionism in Europe.

The USA responded by developing cruise missiles and deploying its own battlefield nuclear weapons to Europe.

What brought the tension to a head was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

It was a move that would see the Cold War escalate and relations deteriorate.