“Détente” typically arouses thoughts of summits and treaties concerning the vast arsenals of nuclear weapons held by the Cold War superpowers. However, the so-called cooling off period between the United States and the Soviet Union, led by President Nixon, encompassed a wider range of pioneering policy. The President’s versatile approach to the communist East included strengthening the international economy.
Although establishing better trade policies with the presumed enemy might seem counterproductive, President Nixon sought to improve relations with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on all fronts. In the third year of his presidency, President Nixon began experimenting with the concept of expanding détente into the realm of international economics.
In a 1971 memo, Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs, Peter Peterson, informs the President on the prospects of liberalizing trade between the West and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Peterson reported that twelve government agencies participated in a study analyzing the potential benefits of a increased trade with the East. The study concluded that unrestricted trade would be advantageous for the American economy.
With the Cold War limiting the trade markets open to American businesses, and strict trade rules only deepening the divide between the East and West, improved economic links provided a strategic step towards détente. Removing the layers of restrictions placed on trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe promised to double the United States’ total trade of goods by 1975. Conservative estimates determined that lifting trade constraints would have added a billion dollars worth of U.S. exports.
With the prospects of free trade between the East and West, President Nixon sent the memo on to Henry Kissinger for further investigations. President Nixon’s détente attempted to end the high-stakes game of mutually assured destruction and deal with the Soviet Union at the negotiating table. Such negotiations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. helped the two countries reach a point where economic cooperation was not only possible, but profitable.