Quotations: Détente and the 1970s

This page contains a collection of Cold War quotations, made by political leaders, notable figures and historians, pertaining to Détente and the 1970s. These quotations have been researched and compiled by Alpha History authors. We welcome contributions and suggestions for these pages. If you would like to submit a quote, please contact Alpha History.

Détente did not mean replacing the Cold War with a structure of peace, to be sure, despite the pious rhetoric from both sides… Rather, it meant managing the Cold War in a safer and more controlled manner, so as to minimise the possibility either of accidental war or a destabilising arms spiral. Competition continued, especially in the Third World, which remained a cauldron of instability and revolutionary change. Each side, moreover, harboured a fundamentally different understanding about the meaning of Détente.”
Robert J. McMahon, historian

“In the 1970s, while there was a preference on both sides for détente over unbridled confrontation, it remained in the framework of the Cold War. Détente was a more sophisticated and less belligerent way of waging the Cold War, rather than an alternative to it.”
Raymond L. Garthoff, historian

“In many respects Détente was a natural outcome of changes to the global balance of power. In 1967 the People’s Republic of China perfected the H-bomb, and in 1969 the Soviet Union finally achieved nuclear parity with the United States. The result was a ‘triangular diplomacy’ as the United States entered into a new era of cooperation rather than confrontation with China and the Soviet Union.”
Bradley Lightbody, historian

“Let us reexamine our attitude toward the Soviet Union. It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write… No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements.”
John F. Kennedy, US president, June 1963

“Even though two states in Germany exist, they are not foreign countries to each other. Their relations with each other can only be of a special kind.”
Willy Brandt, West German chancellor, October 1969

“I ask you to rise and join me in a toast to Chairman Mao [Zedong], to Premier Zhou [Enlai], to the people of our two countries – and to the hope of our children that peace and harmony can be the legacy of our generation to theirs.”
Richard Nixon, US president, during his visit to China, February 1972

“The USA and USSR have a special responsibility… to do everything in their power so that conflicts or situations will not arise which would serve to increase international tensions. Accordingly, they will seek to promote conditions in which all countries will leave in peace and security and will not be subject to outside interference in their internal affairs.”
Memorandum from the Moscow Summit, May 1972

“We seek a stable structure, not a classical balance of power. Undeniably, national security must rest upon a certain equilibrium between potential adversaries. The United States cannot entrust its destiny entirely, or even largely, to the goodwill of others. Neither can we expect other countries so to mortgage their future.”
Richard Nixon, May 1973

“Détente does not mean the end of danger. Improvements in both the tone and substance of our relations have indeed reduced tensions and heightened the prospects for peace. But these processes are not automatic or easy. They require vigilance and firmness and exertion. Nothing would be more dangerous than to assume prematurely that dangers have disappeared… Détente is not the same as lasting peace.”
Richard Nixon, May 1973

“The Helsinki [Accords] involve political and moral commitments aimed at lessening tension and opening further the lines of communication between peoples of East and West… If it all fails, Europe will be no worse off than it is now.”
Gerald Ford, US president, July 1974

“A strong defence is the surest way to peace. Strength makes détente attainable. Weakness invites war, as my generation knows from four very bitter experiences.”
Gerald Ford, US president, August 1974

“On Monday, Washington time, the airport at Saigon came under persistent rocket as well as artillery fire and was effectively closed. The military situation in the area deteriorated rapidly. I therefore ordered the evacuation of all American personnel remaining in South Vietnam.”
Gerald Ford, US president, announcing the fall of Saigon, April 1975

“We Communists have to string along with the capitalists for a while. We need their agriculture and their technology.”
Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet leader, 1976

“Detente is a readiness to resolve differences and conflicts not by force, not by threats and sabre-rattling, but by peaceful means, at the conference table.”
Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet leader, 1977

“My job is to stop Britain going red.”
Margaret Thatcher, British Conservative politician, 1977

“It’s expensive to keep communism alive today. I’ve already got a huge foreign debt staring me in the face, and I can’t reduce it by exporting tomatoes or toilet paper. We should be making dollars any way we can. And we should be exporting arms any way and every way, openly and secretly, legally or by smuggling, I don’t care how.”
Nicolae Ceausescu, Romanian dictator, 1977

“With what moral authority can [the US] speak of human rights… the rulers of a nation in which the millionaire and beggar coexist; where the Indian is exterminated; the black man is discriminated against; the woman is prostituted; and the great masses of Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Latin Americans are scorned, exploited, and humiliated… Where the CIA organises plans of global subversion and espionage, and the Pentagon creates neutron bombs capable of preserving material assets and wiping out human beings.”
Fidel Castro, Cuban leader, 1978

“I hate extremes of any kind. Communism [seeks] the domination of the state over the individual… All my life I have stood against banning Communism or other extremist organisations because, if you do that, they go underground and it gives them an excitement that they don’t get if they are allowed to pursue their policies openly. We’ll beat them into the ground on argument.”
Margaret Thatcher, British prime minister, 1978

“My opinion of the Russians has changed most drastically in the last week… It’s only now dawning upon the world the magnitude of the action that the Soviets undertook in invading Afghanistan.”
Jimmy Carter, US president, December 1979

“History teaches very few clear lessons. But surely one such lesson learned by the world at great cost is that aggression, unopposed, becomes a contagious disease.”
Jimmy Carter, responding to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, January 1980

“Détente’s been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its aims.”
Ronald Reagan, incoming US president, January 1981