Factors Prompting De-Escalation in the Cold War
By Louis Kriesberg
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Louis Kriesberg, "Factors Prompting De-Escalation in the Cold War" from International Conflict Resolution, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) 65-68.
Kriesberg argues that de-escalation initiatives are influenced by domestic circumstances, by the international context and by the relations between the protagonists. He examines the domestic factors which influenced American de-escalation initiatives during the Cold War. During the 1950s the American Public was intensely opposed to communism. They were also very fearful of radioactive fallout from nuclear explosions. Domestic fear of radiation motivated the U.S. to pursue nuclear test ban negotiations. However, domestic antipathy to communism meant that proposals to create a nuclear free zone in Central Europe were met with disinterest in the U.S.
A strong domestic peace movement arose during the late 1960s and early 1970s. General social trends had reduced public animosity and increased public tolerance of Communism. These trends prompted President Nixon to attempt détente with the major communist powers.
President Reagan came into office opposed to the SALT II treaty, and calling for greatly increased military spending. The administration's militant rhetoric spurred a public backlash, and sparked a widespread nuclear freeze campaign. In the face of public demands, the Reagan administration softened its position on SALT II, and began to seek a more plausible position on arms control.
Early U.S.-Soviet relations
Early U.S.- Soviet relations were essentially bipolar. Both sides viewed the world as divided into two camps. Later leaders on both sides came to see their relation within a wider global context of multilateral relations. Communist ideology reached its peak of popularity in the 1960s. Communism's appeal has since declined in the face of economic difficulties. The U.S.S.R. achieved military parity with the U.S. by the 1970s, and began reducing its military in the 1980s. As the Cold War wore on, global economic changes made economic and technological exchanges increasingly desirable for both countries. More complex, multiple and interdependent relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. encouraged de-escalation.
The International View:
The international scene post-World War II was sharply divided into two opposing camps, but by the 1970s this bipolar system had loosened considerably. France had exerted increased independence. A number of third world nations had declared themselves non-aligned.
Kriesberg argues that this context facilitated peace and de-escalation initiatives in at least three ways. First, there were more independent or unaligned nations available to act as intermediaries in the U.S.- Soviet conflict. Second, the need to recruit these nations as allies encouraged the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to be more accommodating. Kriesberg notes that "demonstrating reasonableness and willingness to be accommodating is an important form of appeal."[p. 70] Third, the loosening of the bipolar international situation also loosed the UN from American dominance, and allowed the UN to play more significant role as an independent intermediary in conflicts.