“They talk about who lost and who won. Human reason won. Mankind won.” These words were spoken by the Soviet leader, Khrushchev, after the Cuban Missile Crists of 1962. President Kennedy felt the same. Both men knew that for ten days they had been close to bringing death to millions of people. They began working harder to make such dangerous situations less likely.
In August 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a treaty agreeing to stop testing new nuclear weapons in the atmosphere or under water. They also set up a special telephone link between Washington and Moscow. On this “hotline” American and Soviet leaders could talk directly to one another. In future any dangerous crisis would be dealt with more quickly and with less risk of misunderstanding.
The hotline proved its value in 1967. War broke out between Israel and Egypt. The United States was friendly with Israel, and the Soviet Union with Egypt. But both took great care not to let these friendships drag them into fighting one another.
By then Kennedy was dead and Khrushchev had been removed from power. But new American and Russian leaders went on trying to reduce tension. Even the long and bloody war in Vietnam was not allowed to interfere with “detente,” as these moves were called.
The Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, attacked detente. He accused Soviet leaders of “revisionism” —that is, of altering some of communism’s most important ideas. He declared that the only way to deal with American capitalism was to be ready to fight it to the death. But a lot of the arguing about whether Russians or Chinese were the best communists was just a smoke-screen biding the real quarrel between them, which was about land. The Chinese claimed that almost one million square miles of the Soviet Union were rightfully theirs’. Big armies watched and sometimes fought on the long frontier between the two countries.
The enmity between China and the Soviet Union had important effects on both countries’ relations with the United States in the early 1970s. Detente between the Soviet Union and the United States went on.
And detente between the United States and China began.
In May 1972, President Nixon flew to Moscow to sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) with the Russians. The idea of SALT was to slow down the arms race. It was intended to save both countries money as well as to make war between them less likely. Each agreed how many missiles of various types the other should have, how many submarines to fire them from, and so on.
The first sign that China, too, was interested in detente with the United Scatcs came in 1970. For years the Chinese government had made it very difficult for anyone from western countries to visit China. But in 1970 it invited an American table – tennis team to play there. The American government, correctly, took this as a hint that the Chinese wanted to settle some of their differences with the United States.
The man behind the Chinese move was Zhou Enlai, China’s Prime Minister. Zhou believed that China needed friends on the international scene, especially while the Soviet Union was so unfriendly. He persuaded Mao Zedong to try to end the twenty – ycar-old feud with the United States.
President Nixon’s adviser, Henry Kissinger, flew to China for secret meetings with Zhou. Late in 1971 the United States agreed to communist China joining the United Nations, something it had vetoed for
President ‘ixoti with Zhou Enlai in (‘hitw, 1972.
years. In February 1972, Nixon flew to China to meet Mao. Mao was still suspicious of the Americans. But in the years that followed China and the United States made important agreements on trade and other matters, especially after Mao’s death in 1976.
As China and the United States became more friendly, tension grew again between Russians and Americans. Russians still feared that the United States wanted to wipe out communism. Americans still feared that the Soviet Union wanted to conquer the world. American fears grew7 stronger when Russian soldiers marched into the Soviet Union’s neighbor, Afghanistan, in December 1979. Because of the Soviet action, Congress refused to renew the SALT agreement.
Both the Soviet Union and the United States had continued to develop new and more deadly nuclear missiles during the years of detente. Attempts were made to slow down this arms race. But neither side would stop while it felt that the other was ahead. In the early 1980s, detente looked dead.