Détente can be defined as a period of lessening or relaxation of tension between the two superpowers. It came about in 1963, with the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and its main achievements had a noteworthy impact on international relations during this period.
One achievement of détente, SALT (or the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty), signed in 1972, had the purpose of reducing the number of nuclear weapons of both sides. Its significance lies mainly with the Basic Principles Agreement, were both superpowers vowed to “do their utmost to avoid military confrontations”. This brought about improvements economically since trade was encouraged – and indeed, international trade increased significantly. However, this trade was in practice limited to grain supplies from the US.
In addition, Nixon’s visitation to China in 1972 put the USSR on guard, as it was witnessing possible cooperation between its two adversaries – tension between the USSR and China was at a high. However, despite SALT’s limitations and an actual increase in tension between the USSR and China, it was a significant achievement for détente as the two superpowers were willing to cooperate regarding the arms race matter.
Another major achievement was the Helsinki Agreement of 1975, a turnabout from the tense situation that existed between East and West when Stalin was in power. With this agreement, the US recognized the USSR’s territorial control of Eastern Europe, and the USSR agreed to respect human rights, such as the freedoms democracy advocated. It was a huge improvement considering the circumstances of the 1940-50s, where both sides attacked and retaliated through speeches, the formation of organizations (such as NATO and Cominform), and economic measures such as the Marshall Plan and Comecon. Thus the Helsinki Agreement was a high point in international relations.
Mutual cooperation in many areas also resulted in easing of tensions. The two countries worked together with the research of heart disease and cancer, and the Soyuz and Apollo ships docked together in space missions. Again, it was a major improvement from the hostile situation of earlier years – both sides were willing to work together for a common cause, and was a significant achievement of détente.
Although détente was a period of relaxing in tensions and increase stability between the two superpowers, many of the agreements established were very limited and not strictly adhered to. In addition, tension was high between the USSR and China. Further events would lead to the breakdown of détente, but its accomplishments were significant improvements from previous years and thus decidedly noteworthy.
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Topic: Assess the main achievements of Détente
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