Evaluate the factors which led to detente between the US and USSR between 1971 and 1979.

 One of the most intriguing aspects of the Cold War, the geopolitical and ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, is the era of detente. The period between 1971 and 1979 witnessed a seemingly unexpected relaxation of tension between the two superpowers, marking a stark departure from the overt hostility and bellicose rhetoric that had hitherto characterized their relations. Several factors influenced this evolution towards detente, and to understand its genesis, it is essential to explore those underpinning elements: namely, the strategic, economic, and ideological considerations that guided US-Soviet relations during this period.

The first pillar that led to the inception of detente was undoubtedly the strategic considerations and changing realities of the Cold War. By the early 1970s, both the United States and the Soviet Union had amassed significant nuclear arsenals that had the capability to obliterate the other. In this context of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), the idea of a 'hot war' became untenable. For instance, historian John Lewis Gaddis in his work 'The Cold War: A New History' argues that the strategic imperative of preventing nuclear holocaust was central to the shift towards detente. Both countries recognized the need for arms control measures to prevent the Cold War from spiralling into a full-scale nuclear conflict. Consequently, this led to the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) in 1972, a landmark agreement that marked the formal beginning of the detente.

Parallel to the strategic considerations were the economic factors that influenced the move towards detente. The United States, in particular, was grappling with the economic fallout of the Vietnam War. The war had led to an increase in inflation, exacerbated the fiscal deficit, and put a strain on the US dollar. Furthermore, the Oil Crisis of 1973 hit the global economy hard, including both the US and USSR, revealing a level of economic interdependence that neither could afford to ignore. As historian Melvyn Leffler posits in his work 'For the Soul of Mankind', economic issues undoubtedly played a role in making the superpowers recognise the need for cooperation, rather than confrontation. The detente era, therefore, saw an increased emphasis on trade and economic ties, with the US and USSR signing agreements to increase trade and cooperation in scientific and technological fields.

The third pillar that underpinned the evolution of detente was the subtle ideological shifts occurring within both superpowers. Under the Nixon administration, the United States began to recalibrate its foreign policy from one of 'containment' to one of 'detente'. This policy was driven by Henry Kissinger, Nixon's National Security Advisor, who believed in 'realpolitik', where international relations are based on practical and material factors rather than ideological or moral considerations. Historian Robert Dallek, in his biography of Kissinger, 'Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power', suggests that Kissinger's influence in reorienting US foreign policy towards detente was paramount.

In the Soviet Union, the leadership under Leonid Brezhnev also showed an openness towards dialogue with the West. As William Taubman elucidates in his biography 'Brezhnev: The Power and the Tragedy', Brezhnev recognised the necessity of coexistence with the United States for the survival of the Soviet Union. The ideological shift was reflected in the doctrine of 'Peaceful Coexistence', which placed a greater emphasis on diplomacy and negotiation over conflict.

The era of detente between the US and the USSR between 1971 and 1979 was a complex period that resulted from a confluence of strategic, economic, and ideological factors. It was an era shaped by the imperatives of nuclear parity, economic realities, and ideological shifts within the superpowers. It marked a significant departure from the previous confrontational strategies, favouring instead dialogue, negotiation, and cooperation. It was an era that reflected the evolving nature of international relations, underlining that even the most entrenched of foes could find common ground in the face of shared realities and mutual interests.

An additional, often overlooked factor in the establishment of detente was the role of individual personalities, particularly of leaders in both countries. Personal diplomacy played a significant role in the process, demonstrated most noticeably in the relationship between US President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Nixon, despite his staunch anti-communist reputation, had a pragmatic view of foreign policy, while Brezhnev sought stability in international relations. Both were well-disposed towards negotiations and dialogue. As historian Jeremi Suri argues in 'Power and Protest', the personal rapport between Nixon and Brezhnev eased the path towards a more cordial relationship.

Looking at the detente in retrospect, historians have offered various evaluations. Some, like Gaddis, have commended the effort to reduce Cold War tensions and prevent nuclear escalation. He sees detente as a necessary response to the changing dynamics of the Cold War. On the other hand, critics such as Vladislav Zubok in 'A Failed Empire' argue that the Soviet Union saw detente as a means to legitimise its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and continue its arms build-up. He contends that this eventually undermined the potential of detente. However, it is worth noting that regardless of the differing perspectives on the success or failure of detente, it remains a significant chapter in Cold War history as an attempt to alter the trajectory of US-Soviet relations.

Lastly, the detente had considerable implications on the global stage. It led to the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), resulting in the Helsinki Accords of 1975, a major multilateral agreement that enshrined the principles of respect for human rights and territorial integrity. As Tony Judt underscores in 'Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945', this was significant as it held the Soviet Union accountable for human rights, a move that would have far-reaching implications in the final years of the Cold War. Moreover, detente influenced the dynamics in other regions. For instance, the US, seeking to counterbalance Soviet influence, opened relations with China in 1972, a major geopolitical shift.

In conclusion, the period of detente between 1971 and 1979 was influenced by an interplay of strategic, economic, and ideological factors. It was a product of the need to prevent nuclear annihilation, the realities of economic pressures, the shifts in ideological doctrines within the superpowers, and the personal diplomacy of leaders. Evaluations of detente are mixed, with some viewing it as a necessary de-escalation, and others seeing it as a strategic miscalculation. However, the consensus remains that it was a defining period in the Cold War era, marking a shift in international relations and having far-reaching global implications. The detente era, though transient, offered a brief respite from tensions and opened a new chapter in the complex narrative of US-Soviet relations.