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International Relations In The Era Of The Cold War Detente Notes

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Mike Bowker & Phil Williams. Superpower Détente: a Reappraisal. London: Sage Publications, 1988 Aaron L. Friedberg. 'The Evolution of US Strategic "Doctrine"'. Samuel P. Huntingdon (ed.), The Strategic Imperative: New Politics for American Security. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1982 Keith L. Nelson. The Making of Détente: Soviet-American Relations in the Shadow of Vietnam. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins UP, 1995 John L. Gaddis. The Long Peace. New York: Oxford UP, 1987 Raymond L. Garthoff. Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1985 Olav Njølstad, 'The Collapse of Superpower Détente, 1975-80'. Melvyn P. Leffler & Odd Arne Westad (eds). Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. 2 Jussi M. Hanhimäki, 'Détente in Europe, 1962-1975'. Melvyn P. Leffler &
Odd Arne Westad (eds). Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. 2


Mike Bowker & Phil Williams. Superpower Détente: a Reappraisal. London: Sage Publications, 1988 Chapter 1: Differing Interpretations of Détente

The deterioration of European détente was less marked than the global one: the relative benefit for Europe of continuing détente after Afghanistan was greater than for the US.

The traditionalist equivalent of détente is that it was an 'American illusion and Soviet trick', that the USSR moved to deceive the West for low-risk gains, employing a tactical shift that could be repealed when no longer expedient; détente ended because the US realised it was being tricked.

Détente is 'a relationship between adversaries'.

Chapter 2: From Cold War to Détente

The effect of ideology was to render superpowers 'oversensitive to possible changes in the allegiance of minor states' as a corollary of how they perceived each other. It provided superpowers with a symbolism with which to mobilise domestic support, and this ended up constraining policymakers: it made it impossible for them to not respond if the public really viewed the USSR as a totalitarian aggressor akin to Nazi Germany.

Disarmament negotiations in the 1950s were a 'propaganda exercise': each side publicised demands it knew the other could not accept, to 'convince world opinion that the real obstacle to progress was the obduracy of the opponent'. Arms race intensified.

It is possible that Khrushchev wanted to deploy weapons on Cuba simply because it was cheaper than massive investment in long-range missiles; he thought that it was a quickfix, perhaps convinced from Vienna 1961 that Kennedy would accept a fait accompli.

The Cold War contained an international order, which détente was an attempt to 'extend and codify': the superpowers aimed at strategic stability through deterrence, with alliances to reduce the risk of miscalculation by containing problems, and mutual recognition of spheres of influence signalled 'tacit codes of conduct'. This diminished the risk but did not cover all contingencies: Cuba revealed the fragility of stabilising mechanisms, thereby increasing the threat perception and the relative value of détente. It enabled the superpowers to recognise the existence of shared interests and act upon them, instead of making everything conditional on the resolution of further problems. Détente was an attempt to render explicit what had previously been implicit.

Kennedy only announced the sale of grain to the USSR only after a domestic impetus: American farmers wanted to sell it, following Canada, and JFK didn't wish to block it. However, Congress later refused to ease restrictions on trade with the Soviet bloc.

The USSR could engage in détente only insofar as it was confident in the viability of the Eastern bloc in a period of reduced tension: it intervened in Czechoslovakia to 3

facilitate détente, because the USSR could not afford to reduce tensions if E. European countries might go rogue. Chapter 3: Superpower Interests in Détente

Détente was originally limited but expanded when policymakers realised that certain interests coincided (beyond the shared interest in avoiding nuclear war)… but girded by 'incompatible expectations, divergent objectives and differing conceptions' of détente.

Soviet interests and conceptions of détente (a) Ideology. Nazi-Soviet Pact is an example of how historically Russian security calculations have overridden ideological antipathies, to produce cooperation with a foreign threat. Peaceful coexistence laid the ideological groundwork for an extension; also, Soviet ideology said that capitalism was most bellicose when its power was threatened, so it was cautious to smooth the transition by not provoking tensions. (b) Economy. Growth was dependent on trade with the West, in absence of major structural reform: needed advanced tech for industry and unproductive agriculture. (c) China. Moscow hoped for détente as a step to anti-Chinese condominium. It had deployed 45 divisions by 1973 to guard against Chinese territorial revisionism. Damansky was a wake-up call; Sino-American rapprochement prompted USSR to seek comprehensive détente lest it fight a war on two fronts or the US support China. (d) Military. As USSR approached military parity, it considered strategic arms controls a means to avoiding nuclear war and guarding against American advances. (e) Politics. Negotiations would symbolise Soviet status as the US's equal; the feeling of inferiority was waning but leaders wanted American recognition of parity. (f) Europe. Brandt's Ostpolitik (dropping Hallstein Doctrine) enabled Moscow to legitimise its position in E. Europe. USSR preferred that the US dominate Europe than that a schism open up opportunities for W. German leadership.
Ø Détente made competition safer, thereby enhancing the cause of international socialism. The USSR could not accept a détente that appeared to prioritise SovietAmerican relations over the Third World; this would have undermined Soviet claims to leadership of the Communist bloc, thereby enhancing the preponderant threat from China. It was not deceiving the West, but was quite clear about its intentions.

American interests and conceptions of détente (a) Domestic pressures. Democrats had tolerated presidential predominance in FP out of party loyalty, but Congress now eschewed containment as a failed and costly strategy and pushed for retrenchment and immediate withdrawal from Vietnam; they also worried about the subordination of national welfare to national security, pressuring Nixon to scale back commitments worldwide. This prompted a general critical reexamination of the approach to the USSR, at the same time that the president needed to find a way to withdraw from Vietnam in a reasonably strong position. (b) Economic pressures. American hegemony was challenged by W. European and Japanese resurgence; commercial interests lobbied for access to forbidden markets, 4




which competitors had exploited. Not as important as domestic pressures: Nixon saw expanded trade more as a bargaining lever to influence Soviet behaviour, given relative advantage. Alliance management. Europe was pressing for détente; if US did not take lead role, it would allow the USSR to selectively exploit tensions and divide NATO members. Kissinger recognised that military bipolarity had encouraged political multipolarity, which he embraced as a counterweight to American 'impetuosity' and to prevent overreach. He argued that the US had to recognise Soviet strength and deal with it by negotiating on concrete issues for the sake of a stable order; the US had to relate commitments to interests more specifically, defined in terms of positive goals. If competition was inevitable, superpowers should outline what constituted legitimate or permissible behaviour. The approach was explicitly cautious and realistic. Détente policy: o For USSR. (i) Linkage: Consider everything linked, lest compartmentalisation encourage the USSR to cooperate in one area whilst striving for advantage elsewhere, and so the US could use strength in one bargaining area to compensate for weakness elsewhere; (ii) Concreteness: Focus on substantive sources of tension, not just create a 'spirit of détente'; (iii) Triangular diplomacy: Rapprochement with China to increase leverage over USSR, using diplomatic manoeuvre to compensate for military non-superiority; (iv) Restraint: Demanded as a test of Soviet sincerity; maintain containment at a lower cost by demanding 'self-containment' in exchange for inducements and checked by diplomatic penalties, thereby compensating for military weakness. o For allies. (i) Burden-sharing with NATO allies; (ii) Cultivation of regional proxy powers to bear burden of regional containment, lest American retrenchment create vacuums that would invite Soviet expansionism. Détente policy was designed to 'minimise the impact of the domestic pressures for retrenchment': it would recognise an erosion of the US's capacity to 'maintain an unchallengeable lead in an unrestrained strategic… competition' by creating rules.

There was no comprehensive convergence of interest, but a convergence of specific interests: the superpowers embraced détente for mutually incompatible reasons, each believing that détente empowered it to exploit its adversary's problems: US sought to discipline Soviet power, USSR sought opportunities to expand it. E.g. China: USSR adopted détente to secure American neutrality, but the US adopted it to render credible the threat of interference (gain a 'China card'). Trade: USSR wanted to strengthen its economy; US wanted to gain leverage over the USSR.

Chapter 4: The Substance of Detente

The US understood regional conflicts through the prism of Soviet-American relations: the USSR pressured Syria to withdraw from Jordan lest Israel respond; but US interpreted this as proof of the success of resolve (having committed to prevent Soviet interference). It conflated the client's interests with the patron's, assuming that since 5

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