Sunday, 29 December 2013

The USA and the world: 1960s-70s: the Détente

Pages 26-27 of the textbook: "The Détente" (LESSON 3, 1960s-70s)

Direct relations between the superpowers got a little easier (there was a “détente”) after the Berlin Crisis (1958-61) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).

Progress was made on:
  • nuclear tests (the Test Ban Treaty signed in August 1963 in Moscow);
  • non-proliferation (the 1968 Non Proliferation Treaty);
  • limiting the number of nuclear weapons (SALT I in 1972);
  • improving international relations (Helsinki Accords in 1975).


Khrushchev left office in October 1964 and Leonid Brezhnev took over as Party Leader (until his death in 1982).

LBJ being sworn in as President after the assassination of JFK on 22 November 1963

Lyndon B. Johnson became President of the USA in 1963 (until 1969). He was followed by Richard Nixon (1969 to 1974), Gerald Ford (1974 to 1977), and Jimmy Carter (1977 to 1981).

There were, however, conflicts (but not involving both superpowers fighting each other directly) during this period which made people question the systems in which they lived, on both sides of the Iron Curtain: the Vietnam War and the Prague Spring.

Editorial cartoon by William Papas (1963)

Page 26: An easing off in international relations…

Comments on document 1, page 26:

JFK and Khrushchev set up a means to converse via teletype in 1963: the Washington-Moscow “hotline” or “red telephone”. This was a means to keep dialogue ongoing and avoid misunderstanding so as to avoid nuclear war. The cartoon (document 1) is a satirical comment on the fact that, despite this means of direct communication controlled directly by the leaders themselves, the enormous number of nuclear weapons (symbolized by the huge missile over the heads of JFK and Khrushchev) remained a potential threat to safety which two men would not necessarily have the wisdom to not use (they are shown as babies playing with their “red telephone”); the world “feels safer”, sure, but an accident or a misunderstanding could still have catastrophic consequences…

Comments on document 2, page 26:

The 1968 Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was an attempt to stop the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to countries that did not have nuclear weapons. Of the five recognized nuclear powers, only the USSR, USA and UK signed (France and China finally did so in 1992).

Comments on document 3, page 26:

The USSR wanted to have its borders officially recognized (those of 1945). It therefore called for an international conference. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe was held in Helsinki (Finland) in 1975. All European countries were present (except Albania) plus, on the demand of the Europeans, the USA and Canada. The Final Act Declarations (aka as the Helsinki Accords) of the Helsinki Consultations included the recognition of the USSR’s 1945 borders, and the principle of restraint in the use of force in international relations. Other principles included: equality of rights among nations, territorial integrity, human rights. These principles were not respected in the USSR or its dictatorial satellite states. Thanks to the fact that the USSR signed the Helsinki Accords, dissenters within Soviet Bloc countries could then justify their attitudes and acts against their countries’ regimes (the Accords guaranteeing people’s freedom to express their opinions and right to choose their own governments)…

Page 27: …which doesn’t preclude conflict

Though the 1960s and 1970s were supposedly a time of “détente” between the superpowers, there were conflicts…

Vietnamese victory poster:
"30-4-1975 Vietnam Complete Victory. Both the North and South move towards Socialism"

Comments on document 4:

The Vietnam War (1958 to 1975, with US involvement at its peak from 1963 to 1973) was a conflict between communist North Vietnam and US-supported South Vietnam. US combat units were sent there in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69). Probably about one million people were killed, including 60,000 US troops.

John McNaughton, Assistant Secretary of Defense, had advocated, with Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense (1961 to 1968), the massive use of bombing to intimidate North Vietnam. In this document, he admits the failure of the US military strategy and expresses his concern about the negative affect on the “American national consciousness.” The Vietnam War was a military and political failure; Americans were far less sure about their position regarding international affairs or even in the supremacy of their system after the Vietnam War. The conflict made the USA unpopular abroad too. (Read the document and answer the questions)

Comments on document 5:

Map of Czechoslovakia in 1985

In 1968Dubček, the communist leader of Czechoslovakia, launched his “socialism with a human face” policy in his country. The Prague Spring ended when Warsaw Pact troops entered Prague. Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, wanted “limited sovereignty” and to avoid the danger of the Warsaw Pact breaking up. (Describe the document and answer the questions)

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