Richard Nixon and Detente

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Why did detente develop between 1969 and 1979?

After the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as superpowers and subsequently a period of tension and hostility arose, known as the Cold War. During this time, a new possibility of complete nuclear destruction that would claim the lives of many emerged, therefore “the easing or relaxing of tensions” on both sides was needed, this period would be known as detente. Both countries had been guaranteed mutually assured destruction as they had both managed to stay ahead in the development of nuclear arsenals. By the late 1960s the Soviets had surpassed the United States in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) by 1,300 to 1,054. Although the U.S was still ahead in various categories, it no longer enjoyed the immense nuclear advantage as before. However, neither side was prepared for the risk of a full scale war. Apart from the possibility of a disastrous nuclear war, factors in both the U.S and the Soviet Union also motivated the need for a relaxation of tensions.Both countries were in severe economic crisis due to the arms race and needed to diverge the funds to rebuild the economy. In the United States public opinion in America indicated that the Cold War was 'unjustifiable both economically and morally' due to the ongoing war in Vietnam. All these factors would eventually lead to the establishment of detente.

Detente was officially set in motion in November1969 through the first Strategic arms limitations talks (SALT I) held in Geneva. The United States was represented by its President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, who were described as pragmatists and the architects of detente. The Soviet Union was represented by Nikita Brezhnev who had proved to be a hardliner,however, various historians viewed him as a “realist.” The openness and willingness to discuss the speed of the arms race was aided by the change in attitudes of the leaders at the...
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