From 1975 to 1990 US Russian relations got better and worse as different leaders led the two nations. The relations changed due to events and stances brought on by the leaders of the Superpowers. From the early 1970’s relations between the USA and Russia continued to get better and better. In 1970 the two superpowers began Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT 1) to try and bring an end to the nuclear arms race; by 1972 the countries had signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Interim Agreement which limited their production of certain nuclear arms.
This was seen as a great step to towards the end of the cold war and proved that that USSR and USA were capable of working together. Following SALT 1 a new round of negotiations was needed as SALT 1 only covered a five year period; these talks were to be SALT 2. In early 1975 American astronauts and Soviet Cosmonauts met up and shook hands in Space. This was quite literally the high point in detente, showing the world that the two nations were working together.
In August 1975, 35 countries met in Helsinki and agreed that the frontiers of post 1945 Europe should be permanent. The leaders also agreed to a declaration of human rights, all countries concerned would allow freedom of speech, religion, movement and freedom from unfair arrest. The US hoped this would mean more freedom for those under communist control. However, the Communists were becoming more and more confident due to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all turning communist so the USA was unsure as to what the Russians would do next.
The USSR had no intentions of keeping its promises made in Helsinki. In 1977 while the talks went on, began to secretly position new Soviet SS-20 medium range missiles in Europe; the US and Western European countries saw this as a threat. As retaliation Jimmy Carter, the newly elected US president, allowed more weapon development in the USA and publicly criticised the USSR’s failure to recognise human rights. NATO began placing what would end up being 500 Cruise and Perishing missiles in Western Europe as a deterrent to this threat of Soviet attack.
The countries seemed to have taken a step back in trust as the arms race had started again, relations were rapidly worsening. SALT 2 had led to another agreement, signed in June 1979 between Carter and Brezhnev limiting the number of long range missiles the countries could produce. However the SALT 2 agreements were never ratified by congress as on Christmas Day in 1979 the USSR invaded Afghanistan to protect the pro soviet regime from Muslim opposition forces, the Mujahedeen. The USSR was maintaining the Brezhnev doctrine.
The USA was already uneasy about its position in the Middle East due to the Pro Western ruler of Iran, the Shah, being replaced by an Islamic Republic. As the USA now had no influence in the Middle East they began to worry that the USSR might gain control of their oil supplies and so began to secretly supply the Mujahedeen with arms and money. This was a role reversal for the two countries America had previously been fighting in Vietnam and the USSR had been supplying the NVA with money and arms to fight the Americans; now the USA was supplying the Mujahedeen.
The two countries were effectively fighting against each other and both sides knew it. Jimmy Carter Openly expressed how the US felt about this when he said the Soviet invasion was “the most serious threat to peace sinceWW2” stating that “an attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States, & such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force. ” The Period of Detente was over and relations had hit rock bottom.
Carter gave military assistance to all countries surrounding Afghanistan, set up a rapid deployment force, cancelled grain shipments to the USSR and forbid the selling of any high-tech equipment to the Russians. In 1980 the US Athletes boycotted the Moscow Olympics as the Soviets refused Carters demand, to withdraw from Afghanistan. In 1984 the USSR and her satellite states did the same and refused to take part in the Los Angeles Olympics. Arms talks between the superpowers were deteriorating to a standstill. President Carter failed to respond effectively when US diplomats were taken hostage in Iran.
This helped to bring the right wing, anti-soviet President Ronald Reagan to power in 1981. Regan had the support of several Western European Leaders, such as Margret Thatcher, in taking a firm stance with the Russians. Straight away Reagan offered the ‘Evil Empire’ ‘Zero option’, dismantling and removing weapons from Europe. Brezhnev refused. In 1982 Strategic Arms Reduction Talks took place aiming to limit number of ICBM’s in Europe. By 1983, nothing had been achieved and talks closed. This proved that the nations were no longer willing to co-operate and relations had progressively got worse since 1975 Reagan went NUTS!
Regan’s most radical plan was to end the arms race by escalating it to such a level the USSR could not keep up. The defence programme included 100 MX missiles, 100 B-1 long-range & supersonic bombers, construction of a new Stealth bomber that was impossible to detect by radar, new Trident nuclear submarines & development of the neutron bomb. Defence spending increased by nearly 50% during Reagan’s first term of office. Reagan brought in a programme of Nuclear Utilization Target Selection (NUTS) which would bring an end to the period of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) leaving the USA dominant over the USSR.
He proposed a Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI or Star Wars) that would shield the USA from nuclear missiles using a laser system based on the ground and in space. In 1984 the USA successfully destroyed a missile from space proving that this was possible. Reagan had effectively upped the stakes on the USSR showing no compromise and plainly stating that the USSR was the enemy of the Americans. Reagan proved he was not messing about with the communists when in 1983 he sent US forces to crush a communist coup in Grenada. It was hard to talk with the Russians in the early 1980’s as their leaders kept dying.
In 1982 Brezhnev died ending an era or hard line communist rulers. His successor Andropov died in 1984 and his successor Cherenkov died in 1985. Without clear leadership it was near impossible for the USA to get anywhere with talks. On the 10th of March 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became leader and was more or less immediately liked by the Western leaders and detente resumed. Gorbachev had realised that the only way that the USSR could survive was by modernising its economy and society. The two key concepts were perestroika- the reconstructing or soviet society and economy.
This meant allowing capitalism. The second concept was Glasnost- Freedom of speech and recognition of human rights. This led to a drastic improvement in relations as from this point onwards the West could rely on Gorbachev to work towards the end of the arms race and towards freedom all over the USSR. From 1985 Gorbachev starts to work closely with the Regan and in 1987 he announces the withdrawal of soviet troops in Afghanistan. The first Major summit attended by Regan and Gorbachev was in Geneva November 1985. Initially Gorbachev was not too fond of Regan describing him as “A political dinosaur”.
However they put aside their differences and agreed, only by word of mouth, to cut military spending by 50%. The meet had not actually achieved much but put both men at ease with each other, they knew change was coming, relations were at the best that they had ever been. The second time they met was in Reykjavik in 1986. This meet broke down as the USA refused to give up their Star Wars programme. However Gorbachev confirmed to Regan that the USSR would withdraw from Afghanistan and that no more Russian nuclear tests would take place if the US did not test any either.
The Russians were not happy that the Americans refused to give up Star Wars but recognised that things were still getting better for both countries. The Third meet, in 1987, was without question what the others had been building up to. In Washington Gorbachev and Regan both signed the Intermediate- range Nuclear Forces Treaty which stated that both sides would remove all medium range nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. They allowed each other to inspect their installations to ensure that this was happening. Research into Star Wars stopped.
Both countries were now on the sure path to significant Nuclear disarmament. There was a sense that the end was near and the threat of full scale nuclear war had almost gone; relations were excellent in comparison to just a few years back. In September Gorbachev allowed the Hungarians to open their borders to Austria creating a hole in the Iron Curtain and on the 9th of November 1989 let the Berlin Wall fall as the Gates were opened and people flooded into West Berlin. This was a crucial point in the demise of the USSR; Gorbachev would not intervene and stop the Eastern Bloc from reforming or turning to capitalism.
The world at this point knew the Cold War was coming to an end and the world started to relax. In 1989 President Regan retired and Gorge Bush took over. His first meeting with Gorbachev was in Malta, December 1989. Bush and Gorbachev drew up proposals to reduce strategic nuclear weapons, reduce conventional forces in Europe and declare the Cold War over. In 1991 Gorbachev and Bush finally sign the Strategic Arms Reductions Talks Agreement. After nine years the two superpowers agreed to destroy a third of their nuclear weapons and declare the Cold War over.
In conclusion, the relations between the two superpowers fluctuated due to the stance of their Leaders. Brezhnev was a hard liner and was determined to spread communism and would never give up communist goals. That is why the US got nowhere with him, they could meet with him and he would promise things and maybe appease the US by doing small things but would never give up his goals. Almost contrasting to this was Gorbachev who realised that the USSR and communism needed to modernise however this all came far too late. The people were angry and wanted drastic change there was no saving communism.