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Soviet intervention
The USSR intervened because it was losing control over Czechoslovakia. Under Dubcek’s reforms, the country would be run in accordance with the wishes of the people, rather than the wishes of the USSR. Russia was afraid of losing power – and, of course, worried that other satellite states might begin to develop similar ideas.
There was a definite ideological dimension to the crisis in Czechoslovakia in 1968 – the people showed an increasingly strong identification with the ideas of freedom and democracy.

1. What do you understand by the word ideology?
2. Explain the most important differences between the ideologies of the USA and the USSR.
3. Think about the examples of crises and conflicts during the Cold War which you have studied. Make up an information leaflet about the role of ideology in the Cold War. In your opinion, how important was ideology as an issue dividing the two sides? (Try to use some specific examples in your answer.)

Section 13: Attempts to improve relations between the Superpowers

Throughout the period of the Cold War, there were efforts by both sides to resolve problems, and to maintain and develop contacts with each other. This became crucially important with the accelerating development of nuclear weapons. Both sides had to accept the necessity for the avoidance of war between them – nuclear weapons made war unthinkable.
The post-Stalin era: peaceful co-existence
Once more, our starting point is the death of Stalin, in 1953. The new Soviet leadership, particularly Nikita Khrushchev, began to speak of the need for ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the capitalist West, due to the total rejection of nuclear war. The communist and capitalist worlds would have to exist, peacefully, side-by-side. Accordingly, it made sense for both sides to work actively, to reduce tension and the risk of war. The first ‘Thaw’ in the Cold War was under way.
The ‘Thaw’
The first signs of an improvement in relation were quite encouraging.

  • The Austrian State Treaty, 1955 – USSR accepted that Austria would now be a neutral state and all occupation forces were withdrawn.

  • A naval base was returned to Finland by the USSR.

  • Relations between USSR and Yugoslavia improved.

  • A summit conference was held at Geneva in July 1955. Discussions were held about a number of topics, particularly the division of Germany. Although the Geneva Conference achieved little in concrete terms, the fact that it had taken place at all was highly significant – the two sides were now talking to each other. Further progress was expected.

Khrushchev’s aims
Khrushchev was determined to improve relations with the West. If this happened, then Russia could devote more of its resources to developing its economy, and spend less on defence. In this way, Soviet prosperity would demonstrate the inevitable triumph of socialism to the world.

The Soviet action in Hungary in 1956 was a setback to Khrushchev’s policy of improving relations with the West. However, within a short time, the drive to achieve better relations had resumed.

March 1959: The British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, visited Moscow.
May-August 1959: A conference of foreign ministers was held in Geneva.
September 1959: Khrushchev visited the USA and President Eisenhower, whom he described as a ‘man of peace’. A further summit was arranged to be held in Europe in 1960.
January 1960: Khrushchev announced big cuts in the manpower of the Red Army.
The Paris Summit Conference May 1960
Both sides hoped for significant gains from this conference.
Khrushchev hoped to achieve a settlement to the developing problem of Berlin, where East Germany was losing a steady stream of key personnel through the enclave of West Berlin. A success here would enhance Khrushchev’s position considerably.
The Russians also hoped for agreements on nuclear weapons– prohibiting them from Germany and also from the Pacific. Khrushchev hoped for a triumph in Paris to respond to challenges from China over alleged Soviet weakness.
The Americans also hoped to make significant gains from the summit. Eisenhower was increasingly worried about the quickening pace of the nuclear arms race. He was convinced of the urgent need to slow down the arms race and to move towards nuclear disarmament. Eisenhower was also hoping to end his presidency on a note of diplomatic success.
Therefore, both leaders were keen to work towards peaceful co-existence, although for different reasons. Both leaders faced domestic criticism over their policies.
The U-2 Incident
On 5 May 1960, on the eve of the conference, Khrushchev announced that the USSR had intercepted an American spy-plane, a Lockheed U-2, on a mission over Russia. The pilot, Captain Gary Powers, was captured.
For the USA, the situation was a diplomatic nightmare. Khrushchev denounced American treachery, and laid down conditions required if the Summit Conference was to take place: the USA to apologise for the U-2 Incident, stop all future flights and punish those responsible. Eisenhower cancelled future flights, but nothing else.
Khrushchev, in a rage, left Paris after further denouncing the American action. He deliberately insulted Eisenhower by declaring that the Summit should reconvene in six to eight months – when Eisenhower would no longer be president.
The Paris Summit Conference was a total failure.
The Vienna Summit, June 1961
Again, the main emphasis was on Berlin. Khrushchev and Kennedy, the new US president, agreed to meet in Vienna. Khrushchev was hoping for concessions from Kennedy, whom he believed to be weakened due to the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba.
The Conference was a failure. Khrushchev again pressed for a peace treaty to resolve the Berlin problem. If the USA would not agree, then he threatened a separate Soviet Treaty with East Germany, which would have the effect of blocking access to West Berlin. Kennedy refused to concede this, and the Conference ended in disagreement, with the Berlin situation worsening steadily.
The ‘Hot Line’, June 1963
This was a direct telephone and telex link between the White House and the Kremlin, established in June 1963. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, there had been serious concern at the delays in urgent messages reaching their destinations. The ‘Hot Line’ was an attempt to improve on this.
After the near disaster of the previous autumn, this was a positive move.
The Test Ban Treaty, August 1963
This was seen as a further big step in improving East–West relations. The USSR, USA and the UK signed a treaty prohibiting the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in outer space and underwater. If the two Superpowers could agree to refrain from testing nuclear weapons, then agreement might well be possible in other areas.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1968
This was a natural follow-on to the Test Ban Treaty of 1963. The intention was that those countries that already possessed nuclear weapons should try to prevent their spreading further or proliferating.
The Treaty was originally drawn up by the USA, USSR and the UK, providing for the creation of an International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), based in Vienna, to inspect countries developing atomic power for peaceful purposes, so that nuclear materials could not be used to make bombs.
The Treaty had only limited success. By 1985, 131 countries had signed it, agreeing not to build nuclear weapons. However, some countries then tried to find ways around the treaty; for example, North Korea never allowed IAEA inspectors to carry out checks. Some countries did not sign it, such as Israel, which had a nuclear capability, and India, which tested a bomb.
However, although the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had flaws, it did mark a further step in building and developing contacts between the nuclear powers.
Détente in Europe I: Ostpolitik
The later 1960s and early 1970s saw major efforts to improve East–West relations in Europe. Here, the initiative for progress came from the Federal Republic of West Germany, and the development of Ostpolitik (Policy towards the East), developed by Willy Brandt, first as Foreign Minister, and then as Chancellor after 1966.
Brandt had been Major of West Berlin at the time of the Berlin Crisis – he knew, better than anyone, the bitterness of the division of Germany. However, Brandt was a realist: re-unification in the present political climate was impossible. However, much could be done to improve relations between West Germany and Eastern Europe and the USSR.
Brandt offered to recognise the frontiers of Poland and Czechoslovakia as permanent, as a first step towards improving relations. Moreover, he declared his support for any moves to reduce arms levels in Europe.
January 1967: West Germany and Romania established diplomatic relations.
February 1968: West Germany opened a trade mission in Czechoslovakia.
September 1968: Ban lifted on West German Communist Party.
March 1969: Brandt visited the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
August 1970: Non-Aggression Treaty agreed between West Germany and USSR.
December 1970: Non-Aggression Treaty agreed between Poland and West Germany.
December 1972: Treaty between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic covering trade and cultural links was agreed, leading to a major improvement in relations.
Détente in Europe II: The Helsinki Conference 1972–5
By the early 1970s, due to the success of Brandt’s Ostpolitik, the situation in Europe had improved greatly. The USSR was developing greater economic links, including a natural gas pipeline from Russia to the West. It was felt that the time was ripe for more general discussions to reduce tension in Europe.
In July 1972, the first round of talks on European security and co-operation opened at Helsinki in Finland. The conference came to an end in August 1975 with the Helsinki Final Act, a 30,000 word document signed by 33 European countries, the USA and Canada. This was more a statement of aims and intentions, than a treaty.
The Final Act consisted of four headings, known as ‘baskets’:
Basket 1

The signatories pledged to recognise the inviolability of Europe’s frontiers – any changes to frontiers would have to be agreed peacefully. The signatories further agreed to refrain from interference in the affairs of other countries, to renounce the use of force and to respect minority rights.

Basket 2

This dealt with co-operation in the fields of economics, science, technology, and the environment – trade agreements were encouraged.

Basket 3

This dealt with co-operation in humanitarian and cultural fields, such as freedom of movement, and the re-unification of families.

Basket 4

This provided for a follow-up conference in Belgrade.

1. Why were both Khrushchev and Eisenhower both keen to improve relations between the Superpowers in the late 1950s?
2. How successful were the moves to limit the nuclear arms race in the 1960s?
3. To what extent was the West German policy of Ostpolitik successful in reducing tension in Europe in the 1970s?

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)
By the later 1960s, it was felt that there might be a chance of the Superpowers reaching an agreement on limiting the development of strategic nuclear weapons – the most powerful and destructive nuclear weapons. Both sides had their own distinct reasons for wishing to do this – if successful, the world would become a safer place.
A key factor driving the Superpowers in the direction of limiting strategic nuclear weapons was the quickening pace of technology. In particular, the development of anti-ballistic missile systems (ABM), whereby attacking nuclear missiles could be intercepted and destroyed before reaching their targets. If this continued, then there would be a massive, vastly expensive acceleration of the arms race – and, inevitably, a heightened risk of actual nuclear war.
This had begun in 1963, with the USSR starting to deploy an ABM system (known as ‘GALOSH’) to defend Moscow. In 1967, the USA began to develop an ABM system of its own, ‘Safeguard’. However, by 1969, the US Congress had begun to criticise the Safeguard programme, on grounds of cost.
Why did both sides agree to open a dialogue on strategic nuclear weapons?
The Russians

Most probably, they were worried about the American Safeguard ABM system, which would reduce their capability to inflict heavy damage on the USA. Also, their own Galosh system did not work very well.

The Americans

Nixon was hoping for Soviet support in ending the Vietnam war. Also, he knew that Congress might well ‘pull the plug’ on the US ABM system – it made sense to use it as a bargaining chip. Finally, Nixon was very worried about the increasing numbers of Soviet ICBMs. Due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam war, heavy increased defence expenditure could be difficult – it might not be well received by American voters.

The first SALT Treaty was signed at a summit conference held in Moscow, in May 1972, between Nixon and Brezhnev. SALT I consisted of two parts.
1. An interim agreement set a five-year freeze on US and Soviet missile launchers at their existing levels:









Long-range bombers



(The USA had already deployed multiple warhead missiles (MIRVs), hence its readiness to concede greater numbers of launchers to the Russians. In warheads, the USA had a three to one lead.)

2. The second agreement consisted of an Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, with each side permitted two ABM screens: one for their capital cities, and the other for a major missile site.
The Limitations of détente
Although the conclusion of SALT I and the Helsinki Final Act seemed to be significant progress, the second half of the 1970s saw a steady slackening in the pace of detente. There were several factors involved in this.
The collapse of the Nixon presidency

The unravelling of the Watergate Crisis led eventually to Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and his replacement by his vice-president, Gerald Ford. This weakening of presidential authority reduced US enthusiasm for further agreements with the Russians, particularly from American conservatives.

Weakness in SALT I

SALT I had imposed limits on launchers, not on what was launched. In 1973, to American horror, the USSR successfully deployed MIRV warheads on its missiles, as the USA had already done. (MIRVs are Manoeuvrable Independently Targetable Re-Entry Vehicles: each missile could carry three or more warheads, each aimed at a separate target.) This meant a new, accelerated pace to the arms race.

Human rights

There was growing concern in the West at the question of human rights within the USSR, particularly over the treatment of prominent dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov.

There was considerable difficulty in the further development of agreements designed to limit nuclear weapons. New generations of weapons were being developed – new ICBMs and SLBMs – and also, more dangerously, new intermediate range weapons, like the American Pershing and the Soviet SS20. (These missiles were based in Europe, and had much shorter flight times to their targets, thereby giving both sides less time to decide on their response.)
Negotiations on a new set of strategic arms limitations lasted from 1977–9. Negotiations were long and difficult, but in June 1979, a SALT II treaty was signed at Vienna between President Carter and Brezhnev.
1. Strategic launchers of all kinds (ICBMs, SLBMs and bombers) were limited for both sides to 2400 with a planned further reduction of 2250 by the early 1980s.
2. Limits were placed on the numbers of MIRV warheads which could be deployed: up to ten on any ICBM, and up to 14 on any SLBM.
3. Only one new ICBM and one new SLBM could be deployed by either side.
SALT II was certainly a further step in the right direction, aimed at slowing down the arms race. It was intended to last for six years, up to 1985. However, SALT II was never ratified by the US Senate (a requirement for all US treaties), in response to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan at the end of 1979.
Although never formally completed, both sides actually followed the provisions of SALT II for a number of years.

1. What were the main motivations driving the USA and the USSR to attempt to limit the further development of strategic nuclear weapons in the 1970s?
2 Why did the SALT treaties only have limited success in achieving their objectives?

Source exercise
Source 1

From The Cold War, the Great Powers and their Allies, J P Dunbabin, 1994

‘The next stage of the US–Soviet nuclear relationship was the pursuit of a Non-Proliferation Treaty, to keep these terrible weapons in safe (ie existing) hands. Negotiating this was complicated since it involved the attempt to ensure that other countries did not divert nuclear fuel and turn it into bombs.
By 1968, this Treaty had been concluded. It allowed for international inspection of nuclear power developments, and was ratified by over 100 states. Several important countries refused to sign the Treaty and continued with nuclear research which limited the Treaty’s effects.
However, if the Non-Proliferation Treaty had only limited success, it did continue the habit of East West nuclear negotiations which had begun in the 1950s.’

How useful is Source 1 as evidence of some of the difficulties facing attempts to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict?

Section 14: Afghanistan
Russia’s Vietnam?
The Soviet decision to intervene in Afghanistan in December 1979 took the world by surprise. There is still debate about precisely why the Russians took the decision to move into what is probably one of the most difficult countries in the world to control by military force.
Almost certainly Leonid Brezhnev was concerned about the growth of Muslim opposition groups in Afghanistan, and the effect that they might have on the Muslim population of the USSR.
The Soviet occupation took pace rapidly – on 1 January 1980, a new Afghan government, sympathetic to Moscow, had been installed in power in Kabul, the capital city. Soviet troops now began to work with the Afghan army to defeat the opposition Muslim groups.

The struggle in Afghanistan

The Mujahideen, the Muslim opposition groups, were expert guerrilla fighters: they launched deadly ambushes, blew up Russian supply lines, attacked transport planes, and killed Afghans whom they suspected of helping the Russians. They also received arms from the Americans and the Chinese. Against them, the Russians deployed powerful ground and air forces, tanks, heavy artillery, air strikes, and all their latest military technology.
The Mujahideen had one more factor in their favour – Afghanistan itself. The Mujahideen knew the land – the mountains, the hidden trails over them, and the best places for ambush. The Russians did not; thus, their technology and firepower were ineffective in face of this.
During the 1980s, the USSR struggled to win in Afghanistan. By 1988, the country had been devastated, huge numbers of civilians had been killed and over 20,000 Soviet soldiers had died. Russian army morale was crumbling; the soldiers hated Afghanistan, and feared being posted there. In the USSR, the people had turned against the war because of the high casualties, and because of the drain on the Russian economy.

The Soviet withdrawal
Mikhail Gorbachev, who became Soviet leader in 1985, knew that this could not go on. The Afghan war was tearing Russia apart.
In 1988, an agreement was made to withdraw Soviet forces from Afghanistan

The international impact of the war

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan had two major effects on Russia’s international position.
First, it caused a serious deterioration in relations with the United States, after the high hopes of the détente period in the 1970s. President Reagan and his advisers saw the USSR as returning to its old ways of aggression and the subversion of neighbouring states. Reagan referred to the USSR as the ‘evil empire and began to increase the power of US armed forces in response to the perceived threat.
Second, within the USSR, the Afghan War was a disaster. The Russian economy was not strong enough to contain the costs of the conflict – the result was a slump in living standards for ordinary Russians. Increasingly, the Russian people began to question the actions of their own government. These feelings of hostility towards their rulers were heightened by the heavy loss of life in Russia’s armed forces.

1. Why did the USSR decide to intervene in Afghanistan?
2. What effects did the conflict in Afghanistan have on relations between the USSR and the USA?
Section 15: Poland
The growth of Solidarity
Poland was the largest of the East European satellite states, with a population of over 30 million people. During the 1950s and 1960s, the country had remained relatively calm, closely linked to the USSR through the Warsaw Pact and Comecon.
In the 1970s, all this was about to change, with the emergence of the Solidarity movement.
National feeling in Poland
Throughout its long history, Poland had always had a distinct sense of its own national identity. This was heightened by the fact that the vast majority of Poles were Roman Catholics – a religion that the Communist regime regarded with hostility. This link with Poland’s national identity and the Catholic Church was given a massive boost with the election, in 1978, of the Archbishop of Krakow as Pope John Paul II.
The Poles had accepted Russian domination after 1945 and its status as a satellite state –but this did not mean that they liked it. Poland and Russia have a long history of hostility going back several centuries. Events during World War II had, if anything, strengthened that hostility – Stalin had partitioned the country with Hitler in 1939.
In the 1970s, Poland was experiencing an economic slump, with falls in the standard of living. In 1970, serious anti-communist rioting took place in the city of Gdansk, which was suppressed by force.
A new communist leadership was established, under Edvard Gierek, to attempt reforms. However, the social and economic difficulties facing the country continued.
In 1980, the Poles had simply had enough! The country was massively in debt, prices were soaring upwards, there were shortages of basic items of

food, and a worsening fuel situation (a major problem, in view of the severity of Polish winters). The official party newspapers, inevitably, claimed that everything in Poland was fine. The Polish people knew better.

Once again, trouble erupted in the industrial city of Gdansk, where the shipyard workers went on strike. The workers’ anger was directed at the government, and at the total failure of the trade unions to do anything to help them. As with everything else in a communist state, official trade unions were part of the ruling party structure – and did what the party told them to.
This time, there was a major difference in the strikes. The workers found an inspiring leader in Lech Walesa, an electrician. Walesa was a brilliant speaker and organiser, and the workers swung behind him.
Walesa argued for the creation of a new, independent trade union movement, run by the workers themselves, not by the Communist Party – this movement would be called Solidarity. Walesa received massive backing for his ideas from the Polish people. In few months, Solidarity grew to be a formidable national movement, with over 9 million members.

The ruling Communist party had to decide what to do about Solidarity. In its terms, Solidarity was an illegal organisation, and should be suppressed, but suppressing 9 million people might be difficult. The government decided to negotiate. An agreement was eventually made.

Solidarity appeared to have made some spectacular gains. The government accepted that Polish trade unions would now be independent of state control. In addition, workers were granted the right to go on strike – no other communist state permitted this.


The following year, 1981, the troubles in Poland resurfaced. Strikes broke out in protest at continued economic problems. A new government led by an army officer, General Jaruzelski, took control. He was given an ultimatum by the Russians: either the strikes were stopped and Solidarity suppressed, or there would be direct military action by the USSR.
Jaruzelski acted quickly.

  • Martial law was declared across Poland

  • The leaders of Solidarity, including Walesa, were arrested.

  • Force was used to break up action by striking coal-miners.

The USSR was satisfied – there was no need for military intervention in Poland. Jaruzelski had at least saved the country from the potential brutality of Soviet military force, like that used against the Hungarians in 1956.

Walesa was released after a year in prison. Solidarity was suppressed, at least in public. However, underground and in secret, it remained highly active with strong and flourishing support. The people of Poland had enjoyed the taste of freedom, and would not forget it. There was no enthusiasm or support for the communist regime. It was something they would have to put up with – for the time being.
In a few years, Solidarity and Lech Walesa would return to the political stage.

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