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Literally a "lessening of tensions", détente, is, in the context of international relations, broadly the successor to the Cold War relationship among People's Republic of China (PRC), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the United States of America (U.S.). It preceded the breakup of the Soviet Union. In many respects, it was the political model that created a relatively face-saving way for the U.S. to withdraw from the Vietnam War. Other major features included real U.S. recognition of China, preceded by secret negotiations by Henry Kissinger and symbolized by President Richard M. Nixon's state visit to China in 1972, with the issuance of the Shanghai Communique.

The relationship is based on a concept of balance of power and spheres of influence among the extant major powers. It draws from Kissinger's model of stability in nineteenth-century Europe[1]. At the time, these powers principally consisted of the U.S. and U.S.S.R., but, for reasons including the breakup of the Sino-Soviet Bloc and the border tension between China and the Soviet Union, had to include the PRC. In detente, the five-power model that characterized the Cold War, as well as the declaratory nuclear-armed powers of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), reduced the positions France and the United Kingdom as significant allies of the U.S. and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.


  1. Henry Kissinger (1973), A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822, Mariner Books