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BEHIND THE BACK CHANNEL: ACHIEVING DÉTENTE IN U.S.-SOVIET RELATIONS, 1969-1972 Open Access

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Many consider détente, a reduction in tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, to be one of the major achievements of the Nixon administration. The changing international environment, Soviet progress towards reaching strategic nuclear parity with the United States, and the economic desirability of better East-West relations provided the international environment in which it was possible to have détente. Backchannel diplomacy--confidential contacts between the White House and the Kremlin, mainly between National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin--transformed the possibility into reality. This dissertation argues that although backchannel diplomacy was useful in improving U.S.-Soviet relations in the short term by acting as a safety valve of sorts and giving policy-actors a personal stake in the improvement in relations, it provided a weak foundation for long-term détente. Ironically, this focused examination of U.S.-Soviet backchannel diplomacy also mitigates some of criticisms levied against Nixon and Kissinger in their secretive conduct of diplomacy. In fact, this dissertation shows that backchannels were both necessary and an effective instrument of policy.

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