By the late 1960s the Soviet Union was facing a number of problems, in both domestic and foreign policy, that made it seek a closer relationship with the United States. 1 First, the economy was stagnating. In the 1950s the gross national product (GNP) in the Soviet Union had grown by over 6 per cent; by the late 1960s it had fallen to under 4 per cent. One way to increase productivity without reforming the system was to import technology from and increase trade with the West. A second and more important reason that persuaded Moscow to move towards détente with the West was its growing rift with China. As we have seen in Chapter 5, the Sino-Soviet split of the early 1960s had almost culminated in a war in 1969. It was now a matter of crucial importance for Moscow to keep China isolated from the West by itself seeking a détente with the West.
The third factor that pushed the Soviet Union into a better relationship with the United States stemmed from the need to avoid a nuclear confrontation. Here the drive towards détente arose not from a problem but an achievement—by the late 1960s the Soviets had reached a rough strategic nuclear parity with the United States. By 1971, for example, the Soviet Union had surpassed the United States in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by 1,300 to 1,054. The United States still remained