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Gerald Ford and Leonid Brezhnev signing a joint communiqué on the SALT treaty in Vladivostok, November 23, 1974.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks refers to two rounds of bilateral talks and corresponding international treaties involving the United States and the Soviet Union-the Cold War superpowers—on the issue of armament control. There were two rounds of talks and agreements: SALT I and SALT II. A subsequent treaty was START.

The first ever negotiations started in Helsinki, Finland, in 1970. They were held during Apollo 12's flight - four months after astronauts from Apollo 11 had returned safely home. Primarily Focused on limiting the two countries' stocks of nuclear weapons, the treaties then led to START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). START I (a 1991 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union) and START II (a 1993 agreement between the United States and Russia) which placed specific caps on each side's number of nuclear weapons.



SALT I is the common name for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement, also known as Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. SALT I froze the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers at existing levels, and provided for the addition of new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers only after the same number of older intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and SLBM launchers had been dismantled.

The strategic nuclear forces niche of the Soviet Union and the United States were changing in character in 1968. The U.S.'s total number of missiles had been static since 1967 at 1,054 ICBMs and 656 SLBMs, but there was an increasing number of missiles with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads being deployed. MIRV's carried multiple nuclear warheads, often with dummies, to confuse ABM systems, making MIRV defence by ABM systems increasingly difficult and expensive. One clause of the treaty required both countries to limit the number of sites protected by an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system to two each. The Soviet Union had deployed such a system around Moscow in 1966 and the United States announced an ABM program to protect twelve ICBM sites in 1967. A modified two-tier Moscow ABM system is still used. The U.S. built only one ABM site to protect Minuteman base in North Dakota where the "Safeguard Program" was deployed. Due to the system's expense and limited effectiveness, the Pentagon disbanded "Safeguard" in 1975.

Negotiations lasted from November 17, 1969 until May 1972 in a series of meetings beginning in Helsinki, with the U.S. delegation headed by Gerard C. Smith, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Subsequent sessions alternated between Vienna and Helsinki. After a long deadlock, the first results of SALT I came in May 1971, when an agreement was reached over ABM systems. Further discussion brought the negotiations to an end on May 26, 1972 in Moscow when Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Interim Agreement Between The United States of America and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. A number of agreed statements were also made. This helped improve relations between the USA and the Soviet Union.

Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev sign SALT II treaty, June 18, 1979, in Vienna.


It was a controversial experiment of negotiations between Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev from 1977 to 1979 between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which sought to curtail the manufacture of strategic nuclear weapons. It was a continuation of the progress made during the SALT I talks. SALT II was the first nuclear arms treaty which assumed real reductions in strategic forces to 2,250 of all categories of delivery vehicles on both sides. SALT II helped the U.S. to discourage the Soviets from arming their third generation ICBMs of SS-17, SS-19 and SS-18 types with many more MIRVs. In the late 1970s the USSR's missile design bureaus had developed experimental versions of these missiles equipped with anywhere from 10 to 38 thermonuclear warheads each. Additionally, the Soviets secretly agreed to reduce Tu-22M production to thirty aircraft per year and not to give them an intercontinental range. It was particularly important for the US to limit Soviet efforts in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) rearmament area. The SALT II Treaty banned new missile programs (a new missile defined as one with any key parameter 5% better than in currently deployed missiles), so both sides were forced to limit their new strategic missile types development although US preserved their most essential programs like Trident and cruise missiles, which President Carter wished to use as his main defensive weapon as they were too slow to have first strike capability. In return, the USSR could exclusively retain 308 of its so-called "heavy ICBM" launchers of the SS-18 type.

An agreement to limit strategic launchers was reached in Vienna on June 18, 1979, and was signed by Leonid Brezhnev and President of the United States Jimmy Carter. In response to the refusal of the U.S. Congress to ratify the treaty, a young member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, met with the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko, "educated him about American concerns and interests" and secured several changes that neither the U.S. Secretary of State nor President Jimmy Carter could obtain.

Six months after the signing, the Soviet Union deployed troops to Afghanistan, and in September of the same year senators including Henry M. Jackson and Frank Church discovered the so-called "Soviet brigade" on Cuba[citation needed]. In light of these developments, the treaty was never formally ratified by the United States Senate. Its terms were, nonetheless, honored by both sides until 1986 when the Reagan Administration withdrew from SALT II after accusing the Soviets of violating the pact.

Subsequent discussions took place under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

USA/USSR arms limitation treaties

  • Partial or Limited Test Ban Treaty (PTBT/LTBT): 1963. Also put forth by Kennedy; banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in space. However, neither France nor China (both Nuclear Weapon States) signed.
  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): 1968. Established the U.S., USSR, UK, France, and China as five "Nuclear-Weapon States". Non-Nuclear Weapon states were prohibited from (among other things) possessing, manufacturing, or acquiring nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. All 187 signatories were committed to the goal of (eventual) nuclear disarmament.
  • Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM): 1972. Entered into between the U.S. and USSR to limit the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems used in defending areas against missile-delivered nuclear weapons; ended by the US in 2002.
  • Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties I & II (SALT I & II): 1972 / 1979. Limited the growth of US and Soviet missile arsenals.
  • Prevention of Nuclear War Agreement: 1973. Committed the U.S. and USSR to consult with one another during conditions of nuclear confrontation.
  • Threshold Test Ban Treaty: 1974. Capped Nuclear tests at 150 kilotons.
  • Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF): 1987. Eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges, defined as between 500-5,500 km (300-3,400 miles)
  • Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty I (START I): 1991. This was signed by George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev; reduced the numbers of U.S. and Soviet long-range missiles and nuclear warheads from 10,000 per side to 6,000 per side.
  • Mutual Detargeting Treaty (MDT): 1994. U.S. and Russian missiles no longer automatically target the other country; nuclear forces are no longer operated in a manner that presumes that the two nations are adversaries.
  • Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty II (START II): 1993. Will reduce the numbers of U.S. and Russian long-range missiles and nuclear warheads from 6,000 per side to 3,500-3,000 per side. (START III proposed for 2007).
  • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 1996. Prohibits all nuclear test explosions in all environments; signed by 180 states, and ratified by 148. The United States has signed, but not ratified, the CTBT.
  • Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT/Moscow Treaty (2002)). Established bilateral strategic nuclear arms reductions and a new "strategic nuclear framework"; also invited all countries to adopt non-proliferation principles aimed at preventing terrorists, or those that harbored them, from acquiring or developing all types of WMD's and related materials, equipment, and technology.

See also

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