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Gerald Ford and Leonid Brezhnev signing a joint communiqué at the Vladivostok Summit, November 24, 1974

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) were 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. The two rounds of talks and agreements were SALT I and SALT II.

Negotiations commenced in Helsinki, Finland, in November 1969.[1] SALT I led to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and an interim agreement between the two countries. Although SALT II resulted in an agreement in 1979, the United States chose not to ratify the treaty in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which took place later that year. The United States eventually withdrew from SALT II in 1986.

The treaties led to START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which consisted of START I (a 1991 completed agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union) and START II (a 1993 agreement between the United States and Russia, which was never ratified), both of which proposed specific capacities on each side's number of nuclear weapons. A successor to START I, New START, entered proposal and was eventually ratified on February 2011.


SALT I is the common name for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement, also known as the 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.[2]

The strategic nuclear forces of the Soviet Union and the United States were changing in character in 1968. The total number of missiles held by the United States 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. MIRVs carried multiple nuclear warheads, often with dummies, to confuse ABM systems, making MIRV defense by ABM systems increasingly difficult and expensive.[2]

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 United States built only one ABM site to protect a 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 US 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 both 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.[3] A number of agreed statements were also made. This helped improve relations between the United States and the USSR.

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


SALT II was a series of talks between United States and Soviet negotiators from 1972 to 1979 which sought to curtail the manufacture of strategic nuclear weapons. It was a continuation of the SALT I talks and was led by representatives from both countries. 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 United States to discourage the Soviets from arming their third generation ICBMs of SS-17, SS-19 and SS-18 types with many more Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (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 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 United States 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. However, the United States 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 Jimmy Carter. In response to the refusal of the United States Senate to ratify the treaty, a junior 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 Secretary of State nor Carter could obtain.

Six months after the signing, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and in September of the same year, the United States discovered that a Soviet combat brigade was stationed in Cuba. (Although President Carter claimed this Soviet brigade had only recently been deployed to Cuba, the unit had been stationed on the island since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.)[4] In light of these developments, the treaty was never 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 Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

See also


  1. Paterson, Thomas G. (2010). American Foreign Relations - A History. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. pp. 376. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 SALT I, 1969-1972, US State Department's Foreign Relations Series (FRUS)
  4. Gaddis, John (2005). The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin. pp. 203. 


  • Burr, William (ed.), The Secret History of The ABM Treaty, 1969-1972, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 60, The National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 8 November 2001,
  • Clearwater, John Murray, Johnson, McNamara, and the Birth of SALT and the ABM Treaty, 1963-1969 (Dissertation.Com, 1999) ISBN 978-1581120622
  • Garthoff, Raymond L., "Negotiating SALT," Wilson Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 5, Autumn 1977, pp. 76–85,
  • Garthoff, Raymond L., Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1994), esp. pgs. 146-223
  • Haslam, Jonathan and Theresa Osborne, SALT I: The Limitations of Arms Negotiations. U.S.-Soviet Talks Leading to the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, 1969-1972, Pew Case Studies in International Affairs, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1987
  • Mahan, Erin R. and Edward C. Keefer (eds.), Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2010),
  • Newhouse, John, Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973)
  • Payne, Samuel B. The Soviet Union and SALT (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1980)
  • Savel'yev, Alexander' G. and Nikolay N. Detinov, The Big Five: Arms Control Decision-Making in the Soviet Union (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995)
  • Smith, Gerard C., Doubletalk: The Story of SALT I by the Chief American Negotiator (New York: Doubleday, 1980)
  • Smith, Gerard C., Disarming Diplomat: The Memoirs of Ambassador Gerard C. Smith, Arms Control Negotiator (Toronto, Ontario: Madison Books, 1996)
  • Talbott, Strobe, Endgame: The Inside Story of Salt II (New York: Harpercollins, 1979)

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