Year
1980

Carter reacts to Soviet intervention in Afghanistan

In a very strong reaction to the December 1979 Soviet military intervention into Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter requests that the Senate postpone action on the SALT-II nuclear weapons treaty and recalls the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. These actions indicated that the U.S.-Soviet relationship had been severely damaged by the Russian action in Afghanistan and that the age of détente had ended.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the establishment by the Soviets of a puppet government in that nation, brought U.S. relations with the Soviet Union to the breaking point. Carter’s press secretary, Jodie Powell, called the Russian action “a serious threat to peace.” On January 2, he announced that the Carter administration had asked the Senate to postpone deliberations on SALT-II, the complicated treaty dealing with nuclear arms. Carter also recalled U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. home, ostensibly for “consultation.” As Carter administration officials made clear, however, this action was intended to send a very strong message to the Soviets that military intervention in Afghanistan was unacceptable. In addition, the Carter administration was thinking about new trade restrictions against the Soviets and a boycott of the 1980 summer Olympics, which were to be held in Moscow.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan marked a critical turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations. With the action, the age of détente and the closer diplomatic and economic relations that were established during the presidency of Richard Nixon came to an end. Carter lost the election of 1980 to Ronald Reagan, who promised—and delivered—an even more vigorous anticommunist foreign policy.

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