The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991

By Ronald E. Powaski | Go to book overview

6

Nixon, Ford, and
Détente, 1969-1977

The Revival of Détente

In his inaugural address on January 20, 1969, Richard Nixon declared that the United States was prepared to enter "an era of negotiation" with the communist world. 1 Considering his background as an ardent Cold Warrior, many were surprised by Nixon's apparent eagerness to bury the hatchet with the communist world, but beneath the veneer of anticommunism was a core of realistic pragmatism. What mattered most to Nixon was the advancement of U.S. interests. If cooperation with a communist state served that purpose, he was prepared to modify his Cold War reputation.

Nixon had a number of specific reasons for wanting to improve America's relationship with the Soviet Union and China. One was a desire to extricate the United States from the Vietnam conflict without suffering a humiliating defeat. He believed this could be achieved by isolating North Vietnam from its two main sources of supply and support, the Soviet Union and China.

Nixon also hoped that détente between the superpowers would facilitate the conclusion of a SALT agreement that would place a cap on an alarming Soviet nuclear buildup. Between 1967 and 1969 the size of the Soviet nuclear arsenal had increased from 570 to 1,050 ICBMs, giving the Soviets parity with the United States in numbers of that weapon system. With Congress reluctant to authorize additional defense spending, Nixon surmised that SALT was the only feasible way to restrain the Soviet strategic buildup. In addition, the prospect that the Soviets would build a nationwide ABM system made SALT an urgent necessity for the new president.

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