Changing relations between the superpowers, 1968-89

Changing relations between the superpowers, 1968-89


  • Era of Détente: During the late 1960s-1970s, there was a thawing of Cold War tensions, termed as the Détente. This period was characterised by negotiations and treaties to prevent nuclear war.

  • Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT): USA and USSR entered into SALT I (1972) and SALT II (1979). These agreements aimed at limiting the production of strategic weapons and easing nuclear tensions.

  • Helsinki Accords (1975): This marked another high point of the Détente, where Western and Eastern Bloc countries made certain commitments to respect human rights and sovereignty.

Renewed Tensions

  • Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan (1979): The USSR’s intervention in Afghanistan was seen as an expansionist move, escalating tensions again.

  • End of Détente: The Afghanistan invasion, coupled with issues related to human rights violations in Eastern Europe and the failure to ratify SALT II, effectively ended the Détente.

  • Reagan Doctrine: Under President Reagan, the USA adopted a hardline stance against communism, particularly restraint of the USSR through economic and military pressure.

Concept of MAD and Arms Race

  • Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD): This concept came to the forefront during the 1980s and meant that any use of nuclear weapons by one superpower would result in the destruction of both.

  • Star Wars Programme: Reagan’s proposal to develop a space-based missile defence system escalated the arms race.

End of Cold War

  • Mikhail Gorbachev’s Policies of Glasnost and Perestroika: These were aimed at reforming the Soviet political structure and revitalising the economy, and resulted in a greater openness and weakening of the USSR’s influence on its satellite states.

  • Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989): The tearing down of the Berlin Wall was a symbolic end to the the East-West division in Europe and preceded the eventual dissolution of the USSR.

  • Revolutions of 1989: Communist governments in Eastern Europe were overthrown and peaceful revolutions marked a shift away from the USSR.

  • Collapse of USSR (1991): This marked the definitive end of the Cold War, with the United States emerging as the sole superpower.

Focus on these points to understand the complexities of the relationships between the superpowers in this period, and the eventual resolution of the Cold War.