The Rise and Fall of Detente

Causes and Consequences

by Harry Gelman

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This paper considers four issues surrounding the decline in U.S.-Soviet relations over the past decade: (1) whether the decline was inevitable given opposing assumptions held about the goals of the relationship from the outset; (2) to what extent the changes introduced into the relationship since the end of the 1970s represent a sharp break with what went before; (3) what, if anything, remains of detente; and (4) what might be considered "normal" for the U.S.-USSR relationship. Among his conclusions, the author suggests that the relationship between the two nations is essentially adversarial, and this reality is probably not subject to change by U.S. policy; given the certainty of continued intense competition between the superpowers, much will depend upon whether Soviet leaders emerge who are willing to modify the past Soviet view of acceptable geopolitical compromise; and the political viability of any nuclear negotiations between the two powers will remain vulnerable to the political consequences of an advance by one party at the expense of the other in the world arena.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Occasional paper (Soviet) series. The occasional paper series was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1985 to 1992. It included the occasional paper education (OPE) and occasional paper Soviet (OPS), which was issued jointly by the RAND/UCLA Center for Soviet Studies (CSS) to facilitate the exchange of ideas among those who shared the research interests of the Center and of scholars participating in its research and seminar programs.

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