Detente, 1969-1975

 

A New Number One Enemy

 

From Beijing, Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders observed the Soviet mil­itary occupation of Czechoslovakia with alarm. China feared that the so­called Brezhnev Doctrine, the "right" of the Kremlin to impose its own brand of orthodoxy on another socialist state, might be attempted elsewhere - even against China itself. But China also saw this as an opportunity to alienate the Soviet Union from its satellites. Premier Zhou Enlai claimed that the "so­cialist camp" no longer existed, and Beijing launched a new campaign of polemics against what it described as Soviet expansionism. In the demon­ology of China, the Soviet leaders were now denounced as the "new tsars," replacing the Americans as Number One Enemy.

 

Tensions between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China had arisen in the Korean War, when, with no Russian ground troops at risk and with China losing nearly half a million men, the Soviets still made the Chinese pay cash for arms and armament. This grievance festered after Sta­lin's death. Mao Zedong never accepted Khrushchev as head of the Com­munist world; instead he began to see himself as leader of the international socialist revolution. To this personal rivalry was added ideological conflict. Mao felt that the Soviet Union's new policy of "mutual co-existence" with the United States, following its failure to keep missiles in Cuba, was a sign the Soviet Union was going soft. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was a further indi­cation of collusion between Moscow and Washington. In addition, Beijing felt that Moscow was treating China in the same high-handed way it treated its East European puppets when it came to sharing industrial and military exper­tise, and this affronted proud Chinese sensibilities. The crunch came when the USSR withdrew its nuclear aid programme from China. Beijing decided to go it alone, without Soviet know-how, and despite the industrial chaos of Mao's Great Leap Forward, China still managed to test its own independent atomic bomb in October 1964, and a thermonuclear bomb less than three years later. In the immense upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, millions of Red Guards created chaos in a frenzied attempt to purify the Communist sys­tem. Moscow was terrified by what it saw. To the Soviet leaders China ap­peared to be wild, anarchic, unpredictable.

 

The long border between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China meanders for thousands of miles through remote Central Asia. At its easternmost point, where it divides the mountains of Russia from the plains of northeastern China, the boundary follows the graceful line of the Ussuri River. The border was a focus for Sino-Soviet disputes throughout the 1960s. In 1961 the Soviets had employed only twelve half-strength divisions to guard it. By the late 1960s this had risen to twenty-five full-strength divisions; a mil­lion Soviet troops and 1,200 warplanes were facing a million Chinese soldiers. In March 1969 the Chinese raised the level and intensity of border clashes; in one incident, at a tiny, disputed island in the middle of the Ussuri, thirty-one Russian soldiers were killed. For months clashes continued. The Soviets asked their Warsaw Pact allies for military support along the border, but the Romanians, nudged on by the Chinese, spoke out openly against Moscow and declined to offer assistance, claiming that the pact was intended only for the defence of Europe. Moscow quietly abandoned the idea.

 

Through the summer of 1969 the number and scale of dashes grew worse, with new flare-ups along the Kazakhstan-Xinjiang border. Pravda hinted that the Soviets might even consider using nuclear weapons in the dis­pute, and 120 brand-new SS-11 medium-range ballistic missiles were deployed along the border. Mock attacks were staged against Chinese nuclear targets. Mao Zedong fanned the flames. He ordered the accelerated building of under­ground tunnels and air-raid shelters with the slogan "Prepare for War – Dig Tunnels." In Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and other major cities of China, armies of volunteers, in gigantic acts of state-supported vandalism, tore down ancient city walls and historic buildings to provide stone and gravel for under­ground construction. The face of China's ancient cities was altered for ever.

 

Playing the China Card

 

In Washington, watching this extraordinary spat between the two Com­munist giants, newly elected president Richard Nixon instructed his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, to "play the China card." Nixon and Kissinger recognized this as an opportunity to exploit the Sino-Soviet split to diminish Soviet power, and to end the hopeless war in Vietnam, from which the first US troops already had been withdrawn. Washington was convinced that China was backing North Vietnam in the war, so courting Beijing could have the effect of isolating Hanoi. Although Nixon had been one of the most ardent enemies of Chinese communism in the early 1950s, he had no trouble now changing his spots. Ideology gave way to realpolitik. Both Nixon and Kissinger were wary of the Washington bureaucracy, which they saw as mono­lithic and slow moving. They preferred to work in secrecy and now opened back channels of communication through Pakistan and Romania, sending the message that they wanted to establish contact with China, and end its iso­lation. Even senior members of Nixon's government were not privy to this major policy realignment.

 

At the beginning of 1970 Nixon and Kissinger began to play a double game with the Communist world. While stepping up the SALT talks with the Soviet Union, they opened secret negotiations with the Chinese in Warsaw. In Vietnam, Nixon appeared to wind down the war by handing over day-to-day combat operations to the South Vietnamese army - a process known as Viet­namization. This enabled the United States to prepare to withdraw 150,000 American ground troops. Then in May, Nixon suddenly escalated the war by invading Cambodia, which he justified with the claim that destroying the enemy's supply bases would speed up American withdrawal. Nixon's invasion ignited a new round of violent protests against the war. At the campus of Kent State University in Ohio, National Guard troops were called out, and they opened fire on the demonstrators, killing four students and wounding ten. At Jackson State University in Mississippi, another two students were shot dead by police. America was more divided than ever.

 

In protest at the American incursion into Cambodia, the Chinese can­celled the next round of secret meetings. Mao denounced the United States, calling on the "people of the world" to "unite and defeat the US aggressors and all their running dogs." But, despite this public rhetoric, Mao favoured continuing the secret talks with Washington. A power strug­gle took place in Beijing. Those opposed to any sort of rapprochement with the United States were led by Lin Biao, Mao's designated successor, and Zhen Boda, the ideologue of the Cultural Revolution. Zhou Enlai and Mao himself were for dialogue. At a crucial plenum of the Central Committee in August, the pro-American faction won the day. Zhou was given more free­dom to manoeuvre.

 

In October 1970 Nixon dropped a clear hint in an interview in Time mag­azine: "If there is anything I want to do before I die, it is to go to China." The back door to talks with Beijing eased open a fraction, and this time did not swing shut even when South Vietnamese troops moved into Laos. In April 1971 the United States lifted its twenty-one-year-old trade embargo with China. In the same month an unexpected breakthrough came from the un­likely setting of a table tennis championship

 

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Aftermath of Kent State

 

In. the furore following the US incur­sion into Cambodia, President Nixon called the anti-war demonstrators 'bums" which poured fuel on the fire of protest. After the killings at Kent State and Jackson State, anger turned into fury, as teachers and administra­tors joined the movement against broadening the war. Five hundred campuses were dosed -fifty of them-for the rest of the term. The governors of four states declared their universi­ties in a state of emergency; sixteen states, called out the National Guard.

 

But opinion polls showed that a majority of the population supported the action in Cambodia, and three out of four Americans opposed the protests against the government. Workers came out into the streets and attacked the anti-war demonstrators.

 

Conservatives lined up behind Nixon, while opponents called for his impeachment.

"Four Dead in Ohio," sang the rock group Crosby, Stills, and Nash in the outcry that followed the Kent State shootings. "The crisis has roots in a division of American society as deep

as any since the Civil War," reported the presidential commission investi­gating the protests. The report went on: "A nation driven to use the weapons of war upon its youth is a nation on the edge of chaos."

 

Meanwhile, the president autho­rized wiretaps, surveillance, and "surreptitious entry," a euphemism for burglary, against the leaders of the anti-war movement. The administra­tion had stepped onto a slippery slope that would end in Watergate.

 

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In early 1971, a US Ping-Pong team had been in Japan for the world champ­ionships, as was a Chinese team. One day an American player by mistake got on the Chinese team bus. Since talking to a foreigner was a crime, most of the Chinese players ignored the young American in their midst. However, the team captain, Zhuang Zedong, felt that this was alien to the spirit of Chinese hospi­tality and offered the American player a gift, which broke the ice. The next day the American team captain approached Zhuang and asked if the Chinese would invite the Americans to compete in an upcoming tournament in Beijing. No American teams or official delegations had visited China for many years, but the Chinese Ping-Pong players liked the idea and passed on the request. It was soon realized that although this was sport, it was also a politi­cal issue. The request was referred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but no one would take responsibility for the momentous decision. Eventually, it got to j Mao himself, who did not hesitate to invite the American team to China.

 

In April 1971 the American table tennis players attended the tournament and were among the first Westerners to visit China in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. Against a backdrop of posters denouncing US imperialism, the young Americans received a warm welcome and played good table tennis against some of the best competitors in the world. The Chinese came up with a slogan for the tour: "Friendship First, Competition Second." They still beat the Americans easily.

 

The prize from Ping-Pong diplomacy presented itself in July 1971 when Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing, the first American official to, visit the People's Republic of China since its founding in 1949. Kissinger was smuggled in and out from nearby Pakistan; not even Secretary of State William Rogers knew of the secret mission. Kissinger met Mao and Zhou, and was charmed by both of them. They discussed Vietnam and Taiwan, which the United States still defended and recognized as the Republic of China. In his enthusiasm to curry favour, Kissinger offered to keep Beijing informed of all Washington's dealings with Moscow - an extraordinary promise to make. In return the Chinese invited Nixon to visit China for a summit the following year. In February 1972 the trip went ahead; Nixon went to China. Amidst great fanfare the old Red-baiter met Mao; they shook hands, toasted each other, and even looked jovial together. The key moments - Zhou Enlai proposing a toast to the American president in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, and a visit to the Great Wall - were all covered live on US television. The Chinese were as keen on this coverage as Nixon, who was beginning his campaign for re-election. Television coverage of world events was becoming part of the events themselves.

 

The visit was more symbolic than practical; it failed to normalize full relations between the two nations, but it did mark a recognition that the two countries had common interests, and it helped lessen tensions between them over Vietnam and Taiwan. At the end of the visit, Nixon talked up the trip to historic proportions. In his toast to his Chinese hosts and the people watching back home he proclaimed, "This was the week that changed the world." The main effect, however, was to put new pressure on the Soviet Union.

 

Signing SALT I

 

For the Soviets a rapprochement between China and the United States was a ter­rifying prospect. They feared that an anti-Soviet coalition was being assembled, which put pressure on them to quicken agreement at the SALT talks in Helsinki and Vienna. In Washington, Soviet ambassador Dobrynin had asked earlier that Nixon go to a summit in Moscow before visiting China. But Kissinger was determined that his master visit China first. After the trip to Beijing, Kissinger made another top secret visit, this time to Moscow. Although instructed to dis­cuss only reopening the stalled peace talks on Vietnam, he actually negotiated with Brezhnev on the final stumbling blocks over SALT. Slowly, both sides edged towards an agreement.

As Nixon basked in the success of his triangular diplomacy, Hanoi launched a massive Easter offensive across Vietnam's demilitarized zone. The South Vietnamese army was overwhelmed, and even looked as if it might break up. Nixon feared that South Vietnam would be lost - and with it his presidency. His advisers argued that to escalate the war would jeopardize the upcoming summit in Moscow and the signing of the arms-limitation treaties. But Nixon decided to risk it. He knew that Moscow was arming the North Vietnamese and that these very arms were killing American soldiers. He ordered a massive escalation of the war - a new, heavy bombing campaign against Hanoi, as well as the mining of Haiphong harbour, in which many Russian supply ships were moored. His gamble paid off. In the face of appeals from North Vietnam to cancel, Brezhnev decided the summit must still go ahead. The Central Committee ratified the decision just three days before Nixon was due to arrive. In the air, en route to Moscow, Kissinger told Nixon, "This has got to be one of the major diplomatic coups of all time."

 

On 22 May 1972 Richard Nixon became the first serving American presi­dent to set foot inside the Kremlin. Despite the escalating war in Vietnam, the Soviets warmly welcomed the American leader. For Nixon and Kissinger, detente was a way of managing their opponent, as the USSR grew into a power that could match American military might. The Kremlin saw detente as an acknowledgement of the Soviet Union's superpower status. Nixon and Brezh­nev signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), an event of con­siderable significance.

After twenty-five years of hostility, the Soviet Union and the United States had agreed to curb spiralling arms-race costs, and reduce the risks of nuclear war. Four days later Nixon and Brezhnev signed a further charter for detente: The Basic Principles of Relations between the US and the USSR. This spoke of "peaceful co-existence" between the two superpowers, and of the need for both sides to "do their utmost to avoid military confrontations and to prevent the outbreak of nuclear war." It pledged both sides not to exploit regional ten­sions, nor to claim spheres of influence in different parts of the world. The Soviets attached as much importance to the Basic Principles as to SALT I, whereas to Nixon and Kissinger it was secondary, Nixon probably never even read the thousand-word text before signing it.

 

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US Sells Grain to USSR

At the Moscow summit Nixon urged the Soviets to buy American grain,

a gesture he thought would look good back home. The Soviets made no public response. However, a month _after the summit a Soviet deputy minister of agriculture made an unpublicized visit to Washington and negotiated a massive purchase of 400 million bushels of wheat, worth $700 million. Along with this the USSR, on the back of the new detente

~; agreements, negotiated $750 million worth of credit loans at the market interest rate. On the terms agreed, the price was low and, initially, the Soviets benefited from the US subsidy

payments to grain dealers. The Soviets quietly purchased nearly the entire US surplus grain reserve. When this was realized there was an outcry at the scale of the sale and the favourable terms afforded the USSR. The event came to be called "the great grain robbery" and showed how shrewd the Soviets could be when operating in the capitalist marketplace. Kissinger later admitted the methods used were "those of a sharp trader skillfully using our free market system.... The Soviets beat us at our own game.

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Both superpowers faced internal opposition to this momentous codifi­cation of arms limitation and the ringing declarations of political detente. Back in Washington, General Alexander Haig, Kissinger's military adviser, spoke of a "day of national shame." When President Nixon returned after the summit he assured Congress that the United States would continue its own defence programme to maintain its national security and to secure its vital interests. The president vowed, "No power on earth is stronger than the United States of America today. And none will be stronger than the United States of America in the future." Soviet military leaders also guaranteed that they would continue to defend the USSR and to deter attacks against it. The chief of the general staff testified to the Supreme Soviet: "The Soviet armed forces have at their disposal everything necessary reliably to defend the state interests of our motherland." But SALT I, and the long-running series of talks it sparked off, marked a historic moment. It established a working relationship between Washington and Moscow and relaxed ten­sions; it heralded a new era of detente. Links between the superpowers would now grow, trade would increase; the Soviet Union would be allowed credit; scholars would exchange visits, and tourists would travel, at least from West to East.

 

Two weeks after Nixon's triumphal return from the first summit with Brezhnev in Moscow, five men, including the security chief for Nixon's re­election committee, were arrested for breaking into Democratic Party head­quarters at the Watergate apartment and office complex in Washington. This was the beginning of a drama that would come to dominate the affairs of Nixon's administration, and ultimately destroy it, overshadowing his foreign policy achievements, at least until seen in the longer perspective of history.

 

Finding a Way Out

 

The Nixon administration's primary foreign policy objective was still to find a way out of the war in Vietnam. As Kissinger put it to Dobrynin, in trying to enlist Soviet support to end the war, "A settlement in Vietnam is the key to everything." Kissinger had played the "good cop, bad cop" game in the back­channel dealings with Dobrynin: Nixon, the tough hard-liner, would escalate the war unless Kissinger was able to deliver positive results. After SALT I, Nixon and Kissinger made it clear they were keen to pull off a cease-fire before the presidential elections in November. But the United States kept up the mil­itary pressure on Hanoi, with relentless bombing of the North. More than forty thousand bombing sorties were flown over the next five months. Soviet president Nikolai Podgorny went to Hanoi to urge the North Vietnamese to settle, and Kissinger made another visit to Beijing to win China's support.

 

Now Beijing made it dear to Hanoi that the time had come to end the conflict.
Kissinger had started to hold secret meetings with representatives of
North Vietnam as early as 1969, when the peace talks in Paris, which had
begun in 1968, seemed hopelessly stalled. Early in 1970 he began to meet pri­
vately with Le Duc Tho, the chief North Vietnamese negotiator in Paris. In
August 1972 the Politburo in Hanoi finally voted to authorize a negotiated set­
tlement, calculating that it could obtain better terms now, before the elec­
tions, while Nixon was keen to be seen as a peacemaker. But Kissinger was

moving too fast. After a three-week campaign of intense negotiations, he got a secret deal with Le Duc Tho on 9 October 1972. But he had failed to consult with President Thieu in Saigon. Ten days later Thieu's government saw the deal as an impossible surrender to the North, and refused to sign. At a press conference a week later, just days before the election, Kissinger still went ahead and announced: "We believe that peace is at hand. We believe that an agreement is within sight."

 

Nixon was re-elected, defeating Senator George McGovern in a landslide. But a month later the talks in Paris broke down, leaving Kissinger out on a limb. Nixon responded by trying to bludgeon Hanoi into agreement and ordered a major B-52 bombing assault over Christmas. For twelve days the North came under the most sustained bombing campaign of the war. American prestige, and Kissinger's reputation, suffered immensely. But Hanoi was forced back to the negotiating table, and within a month a cease-fire agreement was formally signed. The Paris Accords brought a US troop with­drawal and the return of prisoners of war. Viet Cong troops, however, were allowed to remain in the South. Thieu's objections were ignored, but he was offered continuing US economic aid and military assistance if Hanoi resorted to military action again. Nixon spoke of "peace with honor," but the major issue of who would govern South Vietnam was left unresolved. On 29 March 1973 the last contingent of American soldiers left Vietnam.

 

The people of Vietnam still had two more bloody years of fighting to endure. In the South, American aid began to dry up as Nixon became embroiled in Watergate and Congress was preoccupied with other priorities. Massive inflation, heavy unemployment following the US withdrawal, and increasing corruption sapped the will of many South Vietnamese to fight on. In early 1975 the North launched another military offensive and took control of the Central Highlands. The cities of Hue and Da Nang fell. A military rout turned into political collapse, and Thieu fled. Within days the Communists finally captured Saigon. The last helicopters carrying Americans and pro­American Vietnamese took off from the rooftop of the US Embassy in Saigon on 29 April 1975. Many frantic Vietnamese were left behind.

 

Ostpolitik

 

The late sixties and early seventies were a period of dramatic change in Europe. President Charles de Gaulle refused to permit the stationing of US nu­clear weapons on French soil, loosened his ties with the West, withdrew from NATO, and looked east. This realignment can be said to have helped instigate the process of detente - which, after all, is a French word. But, though di­vided, Germany had been and still was at the heart of Europe. In 1966 a "Grand Coalition" of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in West Germany began making tentative overtures to the East, moving away from the rigid position taken by Konrad Adenauer. Social Democrat Willy Brandt's accession to power in October 1969 initiated a new active policy; for the first time West Germany would recognize East Germany and the territorial changes made at the end of the Second World War. This was known as Ostpolitik.

 

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Reverberations of the Vietnam War

 

failed to perform; Vietnam was doomed to a poverty that it took a generation to shake off.

The South fell, but this did not immediately trigger the domino effect: as reminders of. a war most people agreed was a mistake. Although the. United States remained undefeated on the battlefield, it had consistently underestimated its enemy's political will to fight, and overestimated the American people's willingness to support the war After years of debate, the wounds only began to heal when, in 1982, the Vietnam­Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington.

 

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In his first speech as chancellor, Brandt accepted the existence of the East German state. He was soon the first West German leader to visit East Germany. Brandt's strategy initially was to negotiate with the Soviet Union; in August 1970 he and Kosygin signed a non-aggression pact in Moscow. In December a treaty was concluded with Poland recognizing its postwar borders on the Oder-Neisse, finally ending German claims on the lands carved from East Prussia at the end of the war. With memories of wartime atrocities still strong, Brandt made an emotional visit to the Warsaw Ghetto memorial, where he expressed contrition for Nazi crimes. At the memorial to those who died, he knelt in homage.

 

From the Soviet perspective these advances from their old foe were most welcome; now only the GDR's Walter Ulbricht, the last Stalinist in the East, stood in the way of further progress. Ulbricht had ordered the shooting of rioting workers in 1953, and had bullied Moscow into approving his plans for a wall through Berlin in 1961. Now, in May 1971, under pressure from Moscow, he finally resigned. He was replaced by Erich Honecker, the loyal party man who planned the operation that built the Berlin Wall; he was more willing to accommodate Soviet wishes. The breakthrough came in December 1972, when the two German states finally signed a treaty of mutual recognition. The reality of the postwar settlement was now at last formally accepted by the key players. Simultaneously, agreement in Berlin removed the city from the focus of Cold War quarrels. The Soviets guaranteed civilian access to West Berlin from West Germany, and recognized the continuing role of the three Allied powers in the Western part of the city. The Western powers accepted that East Berlin was now an integral part of East Germany, which they for­mally recognized. The new mood of detente penetrated even into the heart of NATO, where there was talk of mutual force reductions and the "twin pillars" of defence and detente. All this coming together transformed the politics of Europe, and provided the backdrop against which Nixon's visits to China and the Soviet Union took place.

 

In the 1970s, "convergence" became a buzzword of the Eastern bloc coun­tries. In the hope of kick-starting their stagnant economies, they imported Western technology. This created a legacy of debt that would later come home to roost. Detente continued to roll. At the end of 1972 negotiations began to extend the SALT agreements. In June 1973 Brezhnev visited the United States for the first time, for a second summit. A series of bilateral trade agreements came from this, along with a high-flown agreement, The Prevention of Nuclear War, by which both superpowers pledged to do all they could to pre­vent the outbreak of nuclear war between them. The Soviets again put great emphasis on this document as a landmark agreement at the core of the Cold War conflict; the Americans regarded it as little more than hot air. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it "Ballyhoo." Kissinger later doubted "whether the result was worth the effort."

At the summit Brezhnev warned Nixon that America's strong pro-Israeli stance in the Middle East was making it difficult for the Soviets to hold back their Arab allies. Another war there was a possibility. Four months later Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. The October War brought a major crisis to US-Soviet relations, and nearly succeeded in derailing detente. The superpowers co­operated in trying to bring about a cease-fire, while both rushed to reinforce their own allies in the region. When the cease-fire was breached, a major flare-up between Washington and Moscow even threatened the possibility of nuclear confrontation. The cease-fire finally took hold, and the crisis blew over. For the next year Kissinger, the frequent flyer, shuttled between the cap­itals of the Middle East. He obtained minor Israeli concessions, but did not address the key issue of Palestinian nationalism and the Palestinian people's need for a homeland. The conflict came no nearer to resolution. However, it was clear that now the key player in the Middle East was the United States, not the Soviet Union.

 

The October War was followed by a cutback in oil production by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), and a massive hike in oil prices. The ensuing energy crisis threw Western economies into chaos. In the United States motorists were enraged by having to wait in line for gasoline, the commodity that had always been cheap and freely available, and which had helped fuel the American dream. In Britain, where the crisis was followed by a miners' strike, the government introduced a three-day work week to cut down on the use of energy. The Western world suddenly came to realize how reliant it had become upon one single source of energy - of which a vast pro­portion came from Third World countries, and from beneath the deserts of the Arab Middle East.

 

In 1973 Congress had begun to consider granting the Soviet Union most favoured nation trade status. This provoked a curious coalition against the process of detente. At one extreme, liberals tried to tie most favoured nation status to the emigration of Soviet Jews, which was still severely restricted. At the other end of the spectrum, right-wing hawks, already opposed to recon­ciliation with Moscow, also argued against it. Their treatment of the USSR's Jewish population became a thorn in the side of the Soviet leaders. Dissident Soviet Jews, refuseniks, demonstrated in Moscow'streets for the right to leave the Soviet Union. Elsewhere, Jewish groups drew attention to the refuseniks' plight at every Soviet appearance, political or cultural, in the West.

 

Watergate Plays Out

 

Throughout Richard Nixon's last year in office, the Watergate drama, and the attempt to cover up, absorbed virtually all of the president's attention. Detente made little headway; the whole process became tainted as the grow­ing Watergate scandal imploded on its author. Senator Henry Jackson, a potential candidate for the presidency, stepped up his campaign against fur­ther measures of detente, including SALT. Jackson opposed improved trade relations with the USSR unless Moscow would relax its line over the emigra­tion of Soviet Jews and the treatment of political dissidents. Detente became bound up with domestic American politics.

 

On 8 August 1974 Nixon finally resigned and left the White House. Soviet leaders, as Anatoly Dobrynin later commented, looked on in amazement as the most powerful man in the Western world, who had led the rapprochement with the Soviet Union, was hounded out of office for what they characterized as "stealing some silly documents." Soviet history knew no parallel, said Dobrynin. Some people inside the Kremlin even suspected that the whole Watergate issue had been staged by those opposed to detente. Gerald R. Ford - appointed vice president in 1973 after Spiro T. Agnew resigned in the wake of a scandal of his own - now replaced Nixon, and tried to pick up the pieces of the detente policy. One of his first acts was to call Kissinger, now secretary of state, and say, "Henry, I need you. The country needs you. I want you to stay. I'll do everything I can to work with you." To this Kissinger dutifully responded, "Sir, it is my job to get along with you, and not yours to get along with me."

 

Ford strongly affirmed his faith in detente in a summit with Brezhnev in November. The two leaders met, at short notice, at a military base outside Vladivostok, after Ford had paid a visit to Japan and Korea. A framework for a new arms-limitation agreement was quickly worked out; it would attempt to balance out aggregate numbers of missiles and MIRVs, and ultimately curb both nuclear arsenals. The fact that both leaders agreed to equal levels of warheads was a major breakthrough - to which the military in both coun­tries objected. Ford was "euphoric" about the agreement, and hoped that, after a few remaining problems had been ironed out, a new SALT treaty could be signed in a matter of months. Unfortunately, the military problems proved more complex than the two leaders had optimistically imagined. Negotia­tions over details of definition and verification dragged on, as before, for month after gruelling month.

 

Despite delays in the second round of SALT negotiations, by 1975 the Kremlin was in a confident mood. The Soviet leaders believed, hopelessly over­optimistically, that their economic progress was pushing the Soviet Union ahead of the West. SALT I had relieved the worst strains of the arms race. The links with Europe were bearing fruit in new trading relations. In the spring final victory for the Communist-led nationalist movement in Vietnam showed up American weakness. And a new American president had agreed on the principles for another round of arms-limitation treaties.

 

Detente's High Point

 

The process of detente culminated in the Final Act of the Conference on .Security and Cooperation in Europe, signed in Helsinki in the summer of 1975. Representatives from thirty-three European countries, along with the United States and Canada, gathered to settle the postwar European borders, thus recognizing the division of Europe between East and West. The German policy of Ostpolitik now reached fruition. The final accord, drafted after more than two years of discussion, consisted of three main sections, or "baskets." The first dealt with security in Europe, and confirmed existing borders; it dealt with territorial integrity, co-operation between states, and the need for the peaceful settlement of disputes. The second basket, in the full spirit of detente, encouraged trade and cultural links and scientific and industrial co­operation between states. The third basket dealt with humanitarian issues; it guaranteed the free movement of peoples, and the free circulation of ideas and information.

 

Kremlin leaders were delighted with the first and second baskets, which recognized the political status quo in Eastern Europe, confirmed what the Soviet people had shed so much blood for during the Second World War, and largely assuaged their long-standing fears of the threat from a resurgent Germany. However, they were horrified at the third basket, human rights, which they regarded as unnecessary and interfering. During a fierce debate in the Politburo, many members had argued against signing. However, Bergen and Gromyko persuaded the rest that because the Soviet Union would get so much real benefit out of the Final Act, and because it had pur­sued the objectives of the conference for so long, they must sign up - and then overlook the clauses they objected to. As Brezhnev stated on human rights, "We are masters in our own house, and we shall decide what we imple­ment and what we ignore."

 

Many Americans, fearing the implications of recognizing the political sta­tus quo in Eastern Europe, had also opposed elements of the agreement. Senator Jackson, now declared as a Democratic presidential candidate for 1976, opposed it. Ronald Reagan, soon to declare as a Republican candidate, said, "All Americans should be against it." But Washington, like Moscow, bal­anced out the pros and cons and concluded that overall it was advantageous to sign. In Europe, a generally positive feeling towards the agreement saw it as bringing together the processes of European detente with a broader East­West reconciliation.

 

On 1 August 1975, the leaders gathered in Helsinki to sign the Final Act. Brezhnev had overcome the doubts of his colleagues. It would be his finest hour. President Ford flew from Washington to sign in person for the United States. As if to symbolize this new spirit of goodwill, the American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docked together in outer space, 140 miles above the earth. For two days the astronauts of rival systems carried out joint experiments while orbiting the earth. Detente had replaced decades of confrontation.