Today In History: Russian Detente Ends
Today in 1980, in response to the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in December of 1979, President Carter recalled the American ambassador to Moscow and postponed planned action on the SALT II nuclear treaty. It was a pointed gesture to the Soviets, indicating that the era of relatively convivial economic relations between the two nations, nurtured by Nixon, was over.
The Carter administration was afraid that the Soviet invasion would destabilize Pakistan and Iran and secure USSR control over middle eastern oil. Carter called the invasion “a serious threat to peace” and moved to pressure the Senate not to follow through on ratification talks on the SALT II treaty, which Carter and Leonid Brezhnev had already signed. Carter also withdrew Thomas J. Watson, U.S. ambassador to the USSR. The hope was that the Soviets would respond to the warning shot.
They didn’t, and remained in Afghanistan. The Untied States then froze a number of exports to the USSR and boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, held in Moscow. The US also began financially subsidizing anti-Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. Millions of CIA dollars were funneled into the region to train Mujahadeen resistance fighters, a policy that had direct ties to the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Carter lost his re-election campaign to Ronald Reagan. Reagan was more hawkish than Carter, and pursued an aggressive anti-Communist foreign policy, dubbing the Communist sphere of influence the “evil empire.” Reagan believed that America had a moral responsibility to suppress Communism around the world, or at least used that rhetoric as justification for a sharp spike in defense spending and an escalation in the nuclear arms race with the USSR.
The Soviet Union imploded in 1991, leaving America the world’s greatest superpower and ending the Cold War conclusively. The United States enjoyed many years of virtually unrivaled military and diplomatic supremacy on the world stage.
The post-Soviet era of globalized, American-style Capitalism was famously dubbed “The End of History” by political scientist Francis Fukuyama. It was believed that the market would gradually pull the entire world into compounding prosperity, spreading Democracy without violence. It was also believed that some form of freemarket economics, coupled with European-style social safety controls, was the final and optimal iteration of all foregoing socio-economic models of governance.
Those hopes have increasingly frayed in recent years, leading to a renewed interest in social democracy, socialism and even Communism, ideas that were previously miles outside of America’s Overton Window.