Cold War Détente: Perturbation during a Period Designed for Peace

Authored by Ryan McDonnell

Photo of a primary source document in the Center for Migration Studies of New York’s Arthur P. (“Skip”) Endres Papers Collection. Congressional Record – Extension of Remarks: What Price Détente?, submitted by Honorable John R. Rarick of Louisiana in the House of Representatives, December 12, 1974.

During the late 1960s period of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union began to share concerns over rising geopolitical tensions in a world ever conscious of the potential for nuclear devastation. Such concerns led to a roughly ten-year period of “détente,” where both nations sought to ease tensions through negotiations pertaining to arms control from 1969 to 1979 (Cahn 1998, 96). Though initially détente was popularly perceived as a step toward a safer and more peaceful world, a growing number of U.S. citizens condemned the program for functioning against the social and economic welfare of the nation (Zanchetta 2013). The 1974 article “What Price Détente,” found in a Congressional Record from the Arthur P. (“Skip”) Endres Papers Collection of the Center for Migration Studies, features a strong argument that sought to reveal the economic harm of the détente in order to garner support for the modification or abandonment of this foreign policy initiative.

“What Price Détente?” was submitted by Honorable John R. Rarick, a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, with the aim of raising the awareness of the United States to the foretold dangers of détente. His primary concern was related to improvements in Soviet-U.S. trade relations at a time of high inflation and economic stagnation. The article denounced the U.S. decision to lend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to the Soviet Union, as well as the U.S. companies who sought to capitalize on Soviet requests for assistance in industrial construction.

Embedded in much of the article’s criticism are anti-communist sentiments. One segment stated that “the Soviets … remain free to pursue their basic political objectives of achieving world conquest by whatever means necessary” (U.S. Congress 1974, E-7115). Closely following is a statement which defines the Soviet workforce as “slave labor” (U.S. Congress 1974, E-7115). “What Price Détente?” thus exemplifies the consternation over competing political ideologies which loomed over much of the Cold War period (Mandelbaum 2019).

Détente seemed most promising in 1972, when President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev began the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I). People all around the world began to recognize a “new and less dangerous era dawning” (Cohen 2018, 187). A second round of negotiations and agreements were held in 1979, under the title SALT II (Zanchetta 2013). However, the promise of future progress in arms control was stymied in 1980 after the U.S. disapproval of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (Olson and Mendoza 2015).

The Cold War détente was established for a variety of reasons, but the most important was perhaps the explicit commitment to limiting weapons for the purposes of peace and security. Despite its criticism, the initiative was in alignment with the Vincentian ideas upheld in St. John’s University Mission and Values statement (St. John’s University 2015). The Vincentian tradition encompasses an effort to establish global peace and progress for the realization of a world where all compassionately express care for one another. All can benefit from efforts to reduce arms competition for the attainment of a more peaceful world.


Cahn, Anne. 1998. Killing Detente: The Right Attacks the CIA. University Park: Penn State University Press.

Mandelbaum, Michael. 2019. The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth. New York: Oxford University Press.

Olson, James S., and Abraham O. Mendoza. 2015. American Economic History: A Dictionary and Chronology. Santa Barbara: Greenwood.

St. John’s University. 2015. “St. John’s Mission and Values.”

U.S. Congress. 1974. Congressional Record–Extension of Remarks. Honorable John R. Rarick. E-7115. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Publishing Office.

Warren I. Cohen. 2018. A Nation Like All Others: A Brief History of American Foreign Relations. New York: Columbia University Press.

Zanchetta, Barbara. 2013. The Transformation of American International Power in the 1970s. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.