Detente Research Paper

This sample Detente Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. Free research papers are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality research paper on history topics at affordable price please use custom research paper writing services.

The term detente is often used to describe the improvement in relations between political parties or nations. Though most commonly associated with President Nixon’s Cold War policy, detente has been used to describe the peaceful agreements between many nations throughout history. It is not commonly used in political language during the twenty-first century, but the term’s impact on historical relations remains significant.

In the field of international relations and diplomacy, detente means relaxation of tensions between two or more hostile powers. Detente may lead to further rapprochement, or improved relations, and may culminate in an entente, or understanding, and possibly even an alliance. In French the word detente means relaxation or slackening. During the classical period of European diplomacy, usually seen as the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, detente had a very specific and exact technical meaning. However, during the period from 1963 until the late 1980s the term entered into the mainstream of public debate and was used in the context of relations between the Cold War superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States.

Detente and Classic Diplomacy

Diplomats of the nineteenth century saw detente as the first stage in improvement of relations between states. Detente usually implied informal or formal contacts between statesmen and diplomats of rival countries with the objective of gaining preliminary agreement on ways to resolve outstanding grievances. A prime example can be found in the successful detente that took place between Britain and France during the years from 1898 to 1904. Historically France and Britain had been bitter rivals and had fought many wars, most notably the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars of 1792 to 1815. Imperial rivalry between the two countries continued throughout the nineteenth century. In 1898 France and Britain came close to war during the Fashoda incident, a confrontation over possession of the African territory of Sudan. The crisis was resolved only when the French decided that war with Britain was not in their national interest. Soon after the crisis the French indicated to the British their desire for improved relations. Progress was very slow, and the next step was taken only in May of 1903, when King Edward VII of Britain visited Paris. Soon after, Emile Loubet, the president of France, paid a return visit to London. Behind the scenes diplomats had been negotiating to resolve outstanding disputes between the two countries. The efforts of the diplomats culminated on 8 April 1904 when France and Britain signed the Entente Cordiale, which marked a new beginning in relations between the two historic rivals. Between 1904 and 1914 Britain and France drew steadily closer together, primarily because of the perceived threat from Germany. The British were reluctant to enter into a formal alliance with the French, but military staffs from the two countries held secret talks and discussed war plans. By 1914 Britain and France were effectively allies. But the first step had been taken during the long process of detente from 1898 to 1904.

Detente and the Cold War

During the Cold War the term detente was used to describe a policy pursued by President Richard Nixon (1913–1994), first elected in 1968, and his chief foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) toward the Soviet Union. The detente advocated by Nixon and Kissinger had earlier echoes. The 1963 Cuban missile crisis convinced many in both the USSR and the United States that tensions between the two superpowers had to be reduced. In the late 1950s Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had promoted a form of detente that he referred to as “peaceful coexistence.” Today, however, detente is most often associated with Nixon and Kissinger.

Nixon and Kissinger wanted to reduce Cold War tensions by engaging the USSR in a series of agreements on a wide range of issues. They hoped that the Soviets would find a greater incentive in maintaining good relations with the United States and the West than confronting and challenging American interests around the world. The Nixon-Kissinger initiatives resulted in the signing of a host of agreements during Nixon’s time in office. The most important agreements were signed during a summit meeting between Nixon and Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow in May 1972. The two leaders signed the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, known popularly as SALT I (SALT is an acronym for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks), which limited the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that each side could possess. An additional agreement placed restrictions on antiballistic missiles. Nixon and Brezhnev also agreed to begin talks aimed at scaling back nuclear weapons in Europe and endorsed a document outlining general principles of their new relationship. Later in 1972 a major trade deal led to the sale of American wheat to the USSR. Nixon resigned office in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, but Kissinger continued as secretary of state under the new president, Gerald Ford. In July 1975 the Helsinki Final Act, the keystone of detente, was signed by thirty-five countries. Under the terms of the Final Act, the Soviets promised to respect human rights in exchange for Western recognition of post-1945 territorial boundaries in Eastern Europe.

However detente was already under attack from hard-liners in the United States who refused to trust the Soviets. They believed that the Soviets were only using detente to lull the West into a false sense of security while continuing to seek advantages wherever and whenever they could. Critics of detente in the United States pointed to perceived Soviet gains in Africa and continued Soviet human-rights violations. The Soviets charged that the United States was trying to shut them out of the Middle Eastern peace process. The presidency of Jimmy Carter, who held office from 1976 to 1980, saw the deterioration of detente, despite the conclusion of SALT II in 1979. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, followed the next year by the election of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States, marked the end of detente. Detente was revived as a policy late in the 1980s as Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR, along with his counterparts in the White House, Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, sought to end the Cold War. By that point the term detente was seldom used publicly by any of these leaders, since it was so strongly associated with Nixon, Kissinger, and the 1970s.

Detente has gone from being a technical term used by diplomats to a term associated with a contentious phase of the Cold War. Although seldom heard in public debate any longer because of its controversial past, detente in fact forms a crucial component of international diplomacy.


  1. Andrew, C. (1968). Theophile Delcasse and the making of the Entente Cordiale: A reappraisal of French foreign policy 1898– 1905. London: Macmillan.
  2. Bell, C. (1977). The diplomacy of detente. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. Bell, P. (2001). The world since 1945: An international history. London: Arnold.
  4. Dunbabin, J. (1994). The Cold War: The great powers and their allies. London: Longman.
  5. Judge, E., & Langdon, J. (1996). A hard and bitter peace: A global history of the Cold War. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  6. Kissinger, H. (1979). White House years. Boston: Little, Brown.
  7. Kissinger, H. (1982). Years of upheaval. Boston: Little, Brown.
  8. Kissinger, H. (1994). Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  9. Reynolds, D. (2000). One world divisible: A global history since 1945. New York: Norton.
  10. Rolo, P. (1969). Entente Cordiale: The origins and negotiation of the Anglo-French agreements of 8 April 1904. London: Macmillan.

See also:

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to buy a custom research paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price.


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655