President Gerald R. Ford, Henry Kissinger, and the U.S. Delegation Listening to Discussions in Finlandia Hall during the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), in Helsinki, Finland
Gerald R. Ford White House Photographs
Détente (French pronunciation: [detɑ̃t], meaning "relaxation") is the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation. The term is often used in reference to the general easing of the tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States which began in 1969, as a foreign policy of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford called détente; a "thawing out" or "un-freezing" at a period roughly in the middle of the Cold War. Détente was known in Russian as разрядка ("razryadka", loosely meaning "relaxation of tension"). After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the two superpowers agreed to install a direct hotline between Washington D.C. and Moscow (the so-called red telephone), enabling leaders of both countries to quickly interact with each other in a time of urgency, and reduce the chances that future crises could escalate into an all-out war. The U.S./U.S.S.R. détente was presented as an applied extension of that thinking. The SALT II pact of the late 1970s continued the work of the SALT I talks, ensuring further reduction in arms by the Soviets and by the US. The Helsinki Accords, in which the Soviets promised to grant free elections in Europe, has been called a major concession to ensure peace by the Soviets. The period was characterized by the signing of treaties such as SALT I and the Helsinki Accords. Another treaty, START II, was discussed but never ratified by the United States. There is still ongoing debate amongst historians as to how successful the détente period was in achieving peace. Détente ended after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and US boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980, based in large part on an anti-détente campaign, marked the close of détente and a return to Cold War tensions. In his first press conference, president Reagan said "Détente's been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its aims.
Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. (July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) served as the 38th President of the United States from 1974 to 1977. He is the only person to have served as both Vice President and President of the United States without being elected to either office. As he was appointed to fill a vacancy and then succeeded to the presidency, Ford also earned the distinction of being the only person in American history to neither begin nor finish either a presidential or vice presidential term on the date of a regularly-scheduled inauguration. Before vice-presidency, Ford served 25 years as Representative from Michigan's 5th congressional district, the final 9 of them as the House Minority Leader. Ford's reputation for integrity and openness had made him popular during his 25 years in Congress. When Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974, he declared, "I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances.... This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts." As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward détente in the Cold War. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam nine months into his presidency, U.S. involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Ford acted vigorously to maintain U. S. power and prestige after the collapse of Cambodia and South Vietnam. Domestically, Ford presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. He granted a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. In the GOP presidential primary campaign of 1976, Ford defeated then-former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. He narrowly lost the presidential election to the Democratic challenger, then-former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, on November 2. Following his years as President, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. He died on December 26, 2006 and lived longer than any other U.S. president, 93 years and 165 days. "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our constitution works."