What challenged détente in the 1970s?

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2011 at 12:27 am

The Middle East
The middle east, with its oil – traditionally dominated by the west. When Truman announces Truman doctrine, he wants money not only for Greece, but to Turkey as well. However Stalin never really challenged western interests in the Middle East. This is different when Kruz. comes into power.

Background to Events


– Nasser’s regime receives aid from both Czechoslovakia and USSR
– Creation of Baghdad pact, this is so that communism can be contained in middle east

Suez Crisis occurs, making the Middle East an important areas in the Cold War struggle. Though the US wasn’t involved in the Western attack, the US’s two most important allies in Europe were involved. The Anglo-French attack discredited Western interests in the region, and opened it up for Soviet influence.


Eisenhower launches the Eisenhower doctrine, and the US congress gives him the right to provide economic and military assistance to any Middle Eastern country that is threatening with armed aggression or internal subversion. As a result of this, US is able to intervene in Lebanon in 1957.


Soviet-Mediterranean fleet is formed

USSR signed an agreement that would provide the Soviets a naval base in Egypt. This is of major strategic importance to the USSR, because they could now really counter US activities in the area for the first time.

Six Day War takes place, and Egypt, Syria and Jordan are both humiliated by Israelis. The USSR now starts to give massive military aid to Egypt, with a complete air defense system and 20 000 military advisors. The USSR becomes an ally to several Arab countries. US support to Israel angers the Arabs. The Israel-Arab conflict becomes very tense after the Six Day War when the Israelis occupy the West Bank and conquer Jerusalem.

When the Soviets refuse to supply Egypt with more modern offensive military systems and refuses to help the Arabs capture territories that they had lost during the Six Day War, Nasser’s successor Sadat expels Soviet military advisors from the country. The Soviet refusal was due to its concern for the détente process that it had started with the US.

What happens:

So anyway, on October 1973, Egypt and Syria launch a surprise attack on Israel (Yom Kippur War). The Israelis are taken by surprise while celebrating Yom Kippur, their most important religious festival. The Arab alliance initially makes big advances. Both the US and the USSR start with large scale airlifts with weapons to their allies. Israel recovers quickly and it launches a large scale counter attack. The invade Egypt and they cross the Suez Canal and soon surround an entire Egyptian army.

The USSR now calls for joint US-Soviet intervention and threaten to intervene unilaterally if the US didn’t accept the plan. Nixon refuses, and he upgrades the alert status of US military forces worldwide. The USSR had to accept the US proposal of a USSR peacekeeping force, and the Israelis are forced to reluctantly accept a cease-fire.

The war is seen as a fiasco for the USSR. Her allies in the region had been defeated and humiliated and it was the US who had played a leading role in solving the crisis.

In the US, many politicians question the intentions of the USSR in the détente process. They had foreknowledge about the attack and neither prevented it or informed the United States.

The Soviet attempts to extend her influence to new areas previously dominated by the West also has negative effect on the détente process. Naval bases around the world were of strategic importance. The Warsaw Pact had more ships and submarines than NATO, but NATO could keep twice as many submarines at sea due to better access to bases. In 1972, the USSR lost her most important base in the Mediterranean, and in Egypt.

However, while the Yom Kippur war had put strains on superpower relations, there had been too much political prestige invested in the détente process to allow it to be destroyed by one international crisis.


In the early 1960s, Khrus. had declared that the ultimate victory of communism would be achieved through wars of national liberation. During the 1970s, the ‘Third World’ went through a period of turbulence, often rooted in indigenous development, regional rivalry, and most importantly, decolonization. Traditionally, the Third World had been dominated by western power, but the challenge to this order (once initiated by Khrus.) would continue and increase.

In 1975, the Portuguese colonies Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau were granted independence, following a revolution in Portugal in 1974.

Anyway, the USSR was rather eager to get some naval bases, especially after the loss of its base in Egypt in 1972.

In Angola, different guerrilla groups had fought for independence since the 1950s. The MPLA was supported by the Soviets, while the FNLA and the UNITA were supported by the US, China, and South Africa (Note: From what I have, the US did not support UNITA, and South Africa did not support the FNLA).

The Civil war started in February 1975.

In 1973, the US Congress passes a bill called the War Powers Act, restricting the President’s ability to send troops into foreign countries without a formal declaration of war. Post-Vietnam US has reluctance to get involved in Third World conflicts. So when the Soviets provide the MPLA with military aid + Cuba provides them with soldiers, the US can’t provide equivalent support.

1976 – MPLA rules most of the country

Anyway, some other stuff:
– Angola concludes a friendship treaty with the USSR in 1976
– Ethiopia, the regime is supported by USSR against Somalia in 1977-1978
– In 1970s, USSR has a long list of states with Pro-Soviet policy: Angola, Benin, Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique. Other states have strong links to China.

The Emergence of The New Right
– New Right is an alliance between Republicans and Democrats, arguing that Détente is a ‘one way street’ allowing for the Soviets to extend influence.

The policy of détente rested on a US acceptance of Soviet nuclear parity and to respect the Soviet sphere of influence, hence a balance of power. [Through détente] Soviet support for an arms agreement, a withdrawal from Vietname, and stability in the third world would be accomplished.

An example of Real Politik. It was not only Soviet that would benefit from reduction of Nuclear development, but the US as well. The reluctance to increase taxes during the Vietnam war had resulted in budget deficits, and thus inflation. Furthermore, the US was facing competition from Japanese and W. German industry. Plus after the Yom Kippur War, Arab States had started to use Oil in order to place pressure on the US over the Israel-Palestine issue. Increase of Oil prices (Oil Crisis) leads to an economic recession in the Western World in mid-1970s. In the US in particular:

– GNP stagnant
– inflation is at 10% per year
– unemployment at 7.5%
– US share of global economic output goes down from 38% to 35% between 1970 and 1980.
– Oil prices quadrupled (USSR benefits from this since it exports oil)

Anyway, Ford (who replaced Nixon in 1974 thanks to the Watershed incident) loses the presidential elections in 1976 to Jimmy Carter.

So if Kissinger’s detente is due to a balance of power, Carter’s detente is based on morals. What Carter wants:

– an end to US supporting repressive regimes simply because they are anti-communist

March 1977 – proposal to Moscow to reduce ICBMs and MIRVs. Initiative is rejected by the Soviets.

Many people are of the opinion that detente isn’t doing anything and politicians are divided when it comes to whether detente is worth pursuing or not.

Negotiation over a SALT II agreement is going on and domestic pressure forces US delegation to take a tougher stance.

Carter is indecisive, one reason for this is the fact that his two most trusted advisors have two very different views on foriegn policy. One wanted to continue detente (Cyrus Vance) because he was of the opinion that it would ease tention and enable the US to cut her defense budget (economic reasons)

The other one is some polish guy (Zbigniew Brzezinsky) who doesn’t trust the Soviets, and is of the opinion that the only thing that will make the Soviets agreeable is a hard-line approach. Only US strength can make Soviets agreeable, and a renewed arms race could also ruin the Soviet economy, which was now showing clear signs of stagnation.

Developments in Africa put pressure on Carter, and what happened in Afghanistan was viewed by the New Right as confirming their suspicions re: Detente.

It is the soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 that brings an end to the process of detente.


In 1978 a left-wing group from the PDPA overthrow the regime held by Muhammad Daoud. The new regime led by Muhammad Taraki soon sign a friendship treaty with the USSR.

Left wing reform program introduced (land reform + women’s rights) and these policies invoke the rage of Islamic fundamentalists and there is a civil war. Civil war escalated in 1979, factional fighting escalates as well.

In December 1979, the USSR sends 85 000 troops to Afghanistan in order to get control going. The leader of the Parcham faction, Babrak Kamal is installed as President, and again there is widespread resistance to the regime and 100 000 Soviet troops are involved in a war against a highly motivated Muslim guerrilla. This guerrilla is being provided with funds and with weapons by the Americans.

It isn’t until 1988 that Gorbachev announces a gradual withdrawal, and this is completed in 1989. The civil war continues, however, and the Taliban finally comes to power.

Why did the US react so strongly to the invasion?
– Many leading politicians in the US had started to question the detente process and could now argue that this was another example, not only in Africa, where the Soviets exploited detente in order to extend influence to new areas. This put pressure on Carter to take action.

– In the same year, the pro-American Shah in Iran had been deposed in a fundamentalist revolution, denouncing American influence. A radical anti-American fundamentalist revolution in the oil-rich Middle East threatened vital American interest. If the USSR extended its influence in the region, it was another threat. By opposing the Soviets and supporting the guerrilla in Afghanistan, the US saw an opportunity to side with the Muslim world at a critical moment.

Consequences of Afghanistan
In the Muslim world, the USSR suddenly had a third front. Not only the capitalists in the west and China that it needed to be worried about.

Brought an end to detente, thus there is now the risk that nuclear development could start again. (It is often said that it was this war the convinced Carter to follow the hard-line policy of the other advisor). So anyway. Carter went ahead and freeze SALT II (Signed in 1979), places an embargo on grain exports to USSR, and decides to boycott Moscow Olympics (1980). Persian Gulf is also militarized by USA, and Carter introduces the Carter Doctrine:

“The Persian Gulf is of vital strategic importance to the US, and the US would deal directly with an outside force attempting to gain control of the region”

In 1980, US also provides China with military equipment for the first time. The actions that Carter takes are often described as the start of the Second Cold War.

It can be argued that a war in Afghanistan contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan as Pres. In 1980. Reagan often described USSR as the “evil empire”

USSR loses influence in the third world + non-aligned movement.

Economic pressure on Soviet economy, already suffering from stagnation.

Relations with USSR satellites and with China are affected.

In the Asian republics within USSR, there is a large Muslim population. This invasion destabilize this part of the empire, Radical Islamist groups gain support.

USSR loses 15 000 soldiers, and 37 000 are wounded. Estimated that 1 million Afghans dead.

Deployment of Soviet SS-20 Missiles
Another factor challenging detente is the deployment of SS-20 missiles by Soviets, a new range of intermediate range missiles in 1977. These are targeted on W. Europe and China. They were moveable, had a longer range compared to previous missiles they replace, and were of the MIRV class.

As a response, the US and NATO decide to deploy missiles. In 1979, it is announced by NATO that in 1983, there would be 108 Pershings and 464 Tomahawks deployed in Western Europe. This alarms Soviets as they see it as a western attempt to get first strike.


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