What Caused the End of Detente?

Two of the primary causes of the end of the United States' policy of detente towards the Soviet Union were the election of Ronald Reagan to the U.S. presidency in 1980 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The policy of detente, an attempt to relax Cold War tensions promoted by the previous administrations of presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, was viewed as one of appeasement after the Afghanistan invasion and the policy was deemed both a strategic and a moral failure. It was President Reagan's intention to negotiate with the Soviet Union, which he famously referred to as an "evil empire," strictly from a position of strength.

Public and congressional disapproval of the policy of detente that began during the Nixon presidency grew during the administration of President Ford. Criticism came from both the Republican and Democratic Parties and sometimes from within Ford's own cabinet. Reagan, who was the Governor of California at the time, held to the opinion that the U.S. was underestimating the threat of Soviet expansion and that the U.S. should assume the role of an uncompromising critic rather than offer any form of accommodation. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan served to validate Reagan's views and helped him win the 1980 presidential election in a race against the incumbent Carter.