End of the Cold War – The High & Low Points of Détente

End of the Cold War – The High & Low Points of Détente

The High Points of Dtente

Time - Detente - History GCSE RevisionDuring the 1970s, the US and the Soviet Union signed a couple of different treaties that were designed to calm down the conflicts between them.

Some important agreements on nuclear arms were made between the US and the USSR in the 1970s; the treaties were bundled into two different rounds of negotiations, named SALT I and SALT II as well as the Helsinki Agreement.


Negotiations for this treaty began in 1969, and ended in 1972. Under the terms of the treaty the two sides basically agreed to not increase the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers that they owned. The talks also involved agreement on limiting numbers of anti-ballistic missiles, which were missiles that are used to take down any ICBMs before they hit their target. Overall these agreements hardly amounted to everyone throwing away their weapons and becoming bestest friends, but the idea was that the next round of negotiations would bring further improvements.

The Helsinki Accords, 1975

Helsinki - History GCSE RevisionThis agreement actually involved the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries as well. It created a set of principles that all the countries involved committed to. The Agreement had 10 main points, the most important ones being: respect for one another’s borders and internal affairs; respect for human rights of individuals and self-determination of peoples; peaceful settlement of disputes and not using threats or force.

This all sounded very impressive on paper, but in reality no countries changed their positions on things like personal freedoms as a result of it. And in many ways it is possible to argue that the points of the Treaty about not interfering in one another’s affairs was simply the West recognising that the Soviet Union was in full control behind the Iron Curtain.


The SALT II talks took place between 1977 and 1979, and their most positive result was that they actually limited the overall number of nuclear weapons of any sort that either side could have, down to 2,250 each. Nuclear technology had become a lot more advanced and complicated by the late 1970s compared to its early days, and the talks also aimed to discourage more technological advances, even if both sides kept certain research programmes going.

The Failures of Dtente

Unfortunately, the good vibes of SALT II were unfortunately killed off later in 1979.


Russia Afghanistan - History GCSE RevisionIn December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Its reason for doing this was to protect Afghanistan’s communist government (which had only come to power in April 1978) against the Mujahideen, an Islamist guerrilla force. Just like today’s war in Afghanistan, the Red Army found itself fighting in inhospitable territory against small groups who knew the area much better than them, and made little progress in their attempts to fight the Mujahideen. The Soviets started to withdraw in 1987, having failed in their objective of keeping Afghanistan communist.

US Response

The invasion of Afghanistan also had important consequences outside of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The United States was furious with the Soviet Union.

One of its responses was to refuse to participate in the 1980 Olympics, which were held in Moscow. This decision was taken by President Jimmy Carter. However, the man who replaced him as President after defeating him in the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan, led the USA to taking a much more aggressive stance in the Cold War.

Ronald Reagan

Reagan - History GCSE RevisionReagan was a much more anti-communist figure than Carter, and changed US foreign policy so that it challenged the Soviet Union much more. He reversed the 1970s trend of reduced military spending and began to increase the US’s nuclear weapons supply. The US announced to the world that it had developed some ultra-futuristic forms of defence against nuclear weapons, such as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) (1984), which would apparently include weapons based in space that could easily take down Soviet nuclear warheads.