Detente meaning "relaxation" is the easing of strained
relations among parties, especially in a political situation.
It was implemented to ease out the
geo-political tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States which
began in 1969, as a foreign policy of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald
Ford called détente; a 'thawing out' or 'un-freezing' at a period
roughly in the middle of the Cold War.
The period was characterized by the signing of treaties such as the SALT I
and the Helsinki Accords. A second Arms-Limitation Treaty, SALT II, was
discussed but never ratified by the United States. There is still ongoing
debate amongst historians as to how successful the détente period was in
After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the two superpowers agreed to
install a direct hotline between Washington D.C. and Moscow to enable leaders
of both countries to quickly interact with each other in a time of urgency, and
reduce the chances that future crisis could escalate into an all-out war. The
U.S. /U.S.S.R. détente was presented as an applied extension of that thinking.
The SALT II pact of the late 1970s continued the work of the SALT I talks,
ensuring further reduction in arms by the Soviets and by the US. The Helsinki
Accords, in which the Soviets promised to grant free elections in Europe, has
been called a major concession to ensure peace by the Soviets.
Détente ended after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, which led to the
United States to boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Ronald Reagan’s election
as president in 1980, based in large part on an anti-détente campaign, marked
the close of détente and a return to Cold War tensions. In his first press
conference, President Reagan said "'Détente' has been a one-way street
that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its aims."