Détente means relaxation of tension between any pair or group of governments whose interests conflict. This is indeed the literal meaning of the expression razryadka napryazhonnosti, normally used in the Russian literature of the subject, whereas English language usage prefers a French word derived from the period when French was the internationally preferred language of diplomacy. 'Détente' in fact, as an abstract concept, has essentially the same meaning as 'appeasement', a word which in the late 1930s acquired, in the special historical conditions of the time, an unsavoury flavour. Considered in the abstract, both détente and appeasement are noble aims: it is when attempts are made to put them into practice that controversy begins.
Tension may be relieved in either of two ways: if each side to a conflict adopts a conciliatory posture, and makes substantial concessions to the other side; or if one side capitulates to the other. The second alternative is of course the optimum for the winning side, but does not usually benefit the loser. What was wrong with the 'appeasement' of the 1930s was precisely that Chamberlain made all the concessions - usually at the expense of third parties, his allies or dependents - while Hitler made all the gains. It is arguable that in the 1970s all the concessions - reduction of armaments programmes, abandonment of potentially important strategic positions and economic assistance to the other side - have been made by the United States, and that all the advantages have accrued to the Soviet Union.
There is a widespread belief that for some years past we have been living in a period of 'détente', which has replaced the earlier period of 'cold war'. This belief requires closer examination.
The expression 'cold war' came into general use soon after the end of the Second World War, Its invention is sometimes attributed to the American financier, Bernard Baruch, a close friend of President F.D. Roosevelt. Whether he was the author or not, it is certain that it was the American press which popularised the phrase, which was then adopted by most major languages of the world. The words 'cold war' denoted a state of affairs, a condition of the relations between governments. This was essentially the same as the condition described by Trotsky as 'neither peace nor war'. The antagonists in cold war do not fight each other directly. For the most part, they try to do every possible kind of