The Cold War Thaws

The Cold War thawed because of an uneasy diplomacy

THE COLD WAR - PART 9: Detente

Soviet Policy in Eastern Europe and China

After Stalin died, the Soviet Union gained more moderate leaders who allowed more independence to their satellite countries, as long as they remained loyal. During the 50s and 60s, however, Eastern European protests threatened the Soviets grip, which increased tensions with China and diverted the Soviet attention and forces.

When Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev became the dominant Soviet leader and he denounced Stalin. His speech signaled the start of destalinization, removing the memory of Stalin from their country. But this didn’t help the satellite countries who turned to active protests.

A Hungarian Communist leader named Imre Nagy formed a new government which promised free elections and demanded the Soviet troops leave and in response they entered Budapest. A pro-Soviet government was installed and and Nagy was executed.

Afterwards, Krushev lost prestige in his country due to the Cuban Missile Crisis and he was removed from power in 1964. He was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev who quickly adopted repressive domestic policies, which enforced laws that limited basic human rights. Brezhnev made it clear he would not tolerate dissent in Eastern Europe either. This policy was put to test in 1968 which is when Czech’s communist leader loosened control on censorship to offer socialism. This time period became known as the Prague Spring. On August 20, armed forces from the Warsaw pact nations invaded Czechoslovakia and justified this by claiming the Soviet Union had a right to prevent its satellites from rejecting communism which became known as the Brezhnev doctrine.

China was committed to Communism however and even signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union, unfortunately it didn’t last that long. When China began growing more confident they resented being in Moscow’s shadow and began to spread their own brand of communism. In 1959, Khrushchev punished the Chinese by refusing to share nuclear secrets and later the Soviets ended technical economic aid. The split between these to two countries grew so wide that fighting broke out along their common borders, but after several incidents they managed to remain at a fragile peace.

From Brinkmanship to Detente:

The brinkmanship policy followed during the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson led to one terrifying crisis after another.

In 1960, the U-2 incident prevented a meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union to discuss the buildup of arms on both sides. After the assassination of Kennedy in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency. Committed to stopping the spread of communism, President Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in the war of Vietnam. Detente, a policy of lessening Cold War tensions, replaced brinkmanship under Richard M. Nixon. Nixon’s new policy represented a personal reversal as well as a political shift for the 1950s was largely due to his strong anti- Communist position. Three years after visiting Beijing in February 1972, Nixon visited the Soviet Union. Nixon and Brezhnev signed the SALT 1 treaty. In 1975, 33 nations joined the United States and the Soviet Union in signing a commitment to detente and cooperation, the Helsinki Accords.

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The Salt Treaty 1

The Collapse of Detente:

Relations with China and the Soviet Union improved under Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon. In 1979, President Carter and leader of the USSR Brezhnev met for and signed a second round of SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) agreements, called the SALT II agreement. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify SALT II. Concern rose as nations, such as China and India, began building Nuclear Arsenals.

Fiercely anti-Communist U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, took office in 1981 and continued to move away from detente. By increasing defense spending, he put both economic and military pressure on the Soviets. Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983. It was a program to protect against enemy missiles. It was not put into effect, but it remained a symbol of U.S. anti-Communist sentiment.

A change in Soviet leadership in 1985 brought a new policy toward the United States and the beginnings of a final thaw in the Cold War.

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President Ronald Regan

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Nixon Visits China