The Cold War Thaws
By: Alyssa Bentley, Xan Johnson, Alex Hornsby, Hannah Burris
Setting the Stage
- The Soviet Union kept a firm grip on its satellites in countries (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and East Germany), and Yugoslavia broke away from Soviet control.
In 1948, and although they remained communists, the Soviet Union did not allow them to direct or develop their own economies.
These policies greatly hampered Eastern Europe's economic recovery.
Soviet Policy in Eastern Europe and China
More moderate Soviet leaders started to rise after Stalin's death.
During the 1950s and 1960s, however, growing protests movements In Eastern Europe threatened the Soviet grip on the region.
Increasing tensions with China also diverted Soviet attention and forces.
Destalinization and Rumblings of Protests
After Stalin’s death, in 1953 Nikita Khrushchev became the dominant leader for the Soviets and in 1956 he denounced Stalin for jailing and killing loyal Soviet Citizens.
His speech signaled the start of a policy called for destalinization, or purging the country of Stalin's memory.
The new Soviet outlook did not change life in satellite countries and their resentment at times turned to active protests.
In October 1956 the hungarian army joined protesters to overthrow Hungary’s Soviet controlled government, storming the capital, Budapest, mobs waved Hungarians flag with the communist hammer-and-sickle emblem cut out.
A popular liberal Hungarian Communists leader named Imre Nagy formed a new government, he promised free elections and demanded soviet troops to leave.
In the end, a pro-Soviet government was installed, and Nagy was eventually executed.
Imre Nagy was born into a peasant family in Hungary. During WWI, he was captured by the Soviets and recruited into their army. he then became a Communist. He held several posts in his country’s Communist government, but his loyalty remained with the peasants. Because of his independent approach, he fell in and out of favor with the Soviet Union. In October 1956, he led an anti-Soviet revolt. After the Soviets forcefully put down the uprising, they tried and executed him. In 1989, after Communists lost control of Hungary’s government, Nagy was reburied with official honors.
Alexander Dubcek was the son of a Czech Communist Party member. He moved rapidly up through its ranks, becoming party leader in 1968. Responding to the spirit of change in the 1960s, Dubcek instituted broad reforms during the so-called Prague Spring of 1968. The Soviet Union reacted by sending tanks into Prague to suppress a feared revolt. The Soviets expelled Dubeck from the party. He regained political prominence in 1989, when the Communists agreed to share power in a coalition government. When Czechoslovakia split into two nations in 1992, Dubcek became head of the Social Democratic Party in Slovakia.
The Revolt in Czechoslovakia
Despite the show of force in Hungary, Khrushchev lost prestige in his country as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. In 1964, party leaders removed him from office.
Leonid Brezhnev was his replacement and quickly adopted repressive domestic policies. The party enforced laws to limit basic human rights such as freedom of speech and worship. Government censors limited what writers could publish.
Brezhnev’s policy would be put to the test in early 1968. At the time, Czech Communist leader Alexander Dubcek loosened control of the censors to offer his country socialism with a “human face.” is period of reform was known as the Prague Spring.
However, it did not survive the summer. On August 20th, armed forces from the Warsaw Pact nations invaded Czechoslovakia. Brezhnev justified this invasion by claiming the Soviet Union had the right to prevent its satellites from rejecting Communism, a policy known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.
The Soviet-Chinese Split
While many satellite countries resisted Communist rule, China was committed to communism. In fact, to cement the ties between Communist powers, Mao and Stalin signed a 30-year treaty of friendship in 1950.
The Soviets assumed the Chinese would follow Soviet leadership in world affairs. The Chinese grew more confident, however, and resented being in Moscow’s shadow. They began to spread their own brand of Communism in Africa and other parts of Asia. In 1959, Khrushchev punished the Chinese by refusing to share nuclear secrets. The following year, the Soviets ended technical economic aid. The Soviet-Chinese split grew so wide that fighting broke out along their common border. After repeated incidents, the two neighbors maintained a fragile peace.
From Brinkmanship to Détente
In the 1970s, the U.S and the Soviet Union finally backed away from the aggressive policies of brinkmanship that they had followed during the early postwar years. The superpowers slowly moved to lower tensions.
Brinkmanship Breaks Down
Nuclear war seemed possible as the brinkmanship policy that followed during the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson led to worldwide crises.
In 1960, the U-2 incident prevented a meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union to discuss the buildup of arms of both sides.
- The 1960 U-2 incident happened during the Cold War on 1 May 1960, during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the leadership of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev when a United States U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace.
The Cuban Missile Crisis made the use of nuclear weapons possible.
The crisis ended when Soviet ships turned back to avoid a confrontation at sea.
After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson became president and escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
John F. Kennedy 1917-1963
- He was the 35th President of the U.S.
- He had a careful approach to the Cuban Missile Crisis and encouraged the Space Race.
- In addition, he secured a limiting nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union.
- Important events that happened during his office include the building of the Berlin Wall and increased US involvement in the Vietnam War.
- Nuclear war seemed possible during his presidency.
- He was assassinated in 1963.
The United States Turns to Détente
Widespread popular protests wracked the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
In addition, a policy of lessening Cold War tensions, called détente, replaced brinkmanship under Richard Nixon.
This move to détente grew out of a philosophy known as realpolitik (“realistic politics”).
While the U.S. continued to try to contain the spread of communism, the two superpowers agreed to pursue detente and to reduce tensions.
Nixon Visits Communist Powers
Nixon’s new policy represented a personal reversal as well as a political shift for the country.
His rise in politics in the 1950s was mainly due to his strong anti-communist position and 20 years later he became the first U.S. president to visit Communist China.
Nixon wanted the Chinese to be with them when they negotiated with the Russians.
After a series of meetings called the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), Nixon and Brezhnev signed the SALT I Treaty.
SALT I Treaty: this five-year agreement, limited to 1972 levels the number of intercontinental ballistic and submarine-launched missiles each country could have.
In 1975, 33 nations joins the United States the Soviet Union in signing a commitment to détente and cooperation, the Helsinki Accords.
The Collapse of Détente
US improved relations with China and the Soviet Union under presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford.
In 1979, Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II agreement.
In turn, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify SALT II when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan later in the year 1979.
As a result, concerns mounted as more nations, including China and India, began building nuclear arsenals.
Reagan Takes an Anti-Communist Stance
In 1981, Ronald Reagan, a fiercely anti-communist U.S. president, took office.
Reagan increased defense spending which put both economic and military pressure on the Soviets.
In 1983, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a program to protect against enemy missiles. It was not put into effect but it remained a symbol of U.S. anti-communist sentiment.
In 1985, a change in Soviet leadership brought a new policy toward the United States and the beginnings of a final thaw in the Cold War.