Cold War détente between the United States and the Soviet Union originated in the 1960s. President Richard Nixon’s opening to China and the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) between the superpowers in 1972 were landmark events in easing tensions between the West and the communist world. Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe (=CSCE) (1973–1975) pursued better East-West relations in Europe.
Neutrals like Austria played an important role in these negotiations. The Helsinki Final Act signed on August 1, 1975 by 35 nations represented the culmination of détente in Europe. The signatories for the first time accepted that treatment of citizens within their borders as a matter of legitimate international concern. This helped human rights in the Soviet sphere of influence and spawned dissident organizations like Charta 77 in Prague. More importantly, the CSCE was not a one-time affair, but developed into a long-term process (eventually it became the “Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe”). The CSCE-process with its follow-up conferences was later given credit for helping build democracy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, thus contributing to the end of the Cold War.
President Gerald R. Ford continued SALT negotiations with the USSR. Chairman Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter signed the SALT II treaty in June 1979 in Vienna. Although it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during Christmas 1979, both superpowers adhered to the agreement. The Afghanistan invasion spelled the end of superpower détente for the early 1980s.
Austrian President Rudolf Kirchschläger and Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (on left) meet President Jimmy Carter during the Vienna Summit of June 1979 during the signing of the SALT II Treaty.