Arms Control and Soviet Strategic Forces: The risks of asking SALT to do too much



Few diplomatic enterprises in the postwar era inspired as much enthusiasm in the West and especially the United States as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) with the Soviet Union. Despite occasional criticism, during the early 1970s the view that the negotiations offered an important and promising means of reducing the risk of East-West nuclear war and of engaging the Soviet Union in a more generalised process of detente became widely-shared. This consensus — which, for the most part, still exists — reflected several deeply-felt beliefs. These were that in an era of strategic parity (a) the political utility of nuclear weapons had declined; (b) the military contingencies in which the use of nuclear weapons could be credibly threatened had correspondingly been reduced in number; (c) a conceptual framework for working out a stable super-power strategic relationship existed; and (d) efforts by either side to achieve some vaguely-defined position of strategic ‘superiority’ was counterproductive and perhaps dangerous. These sentiments were reinforced by the successful efforts of US and Soviet negotiators to agree on the terms of accords limiting ballistic missile defences and ballistic missile deployment in 1972.1 Although the so-called SALT I accords, particularly the five-year Interim Agreement controlling land- and sea-based missile deployment, contained several imperfections, the very fact that they were reached demonstrated to many in the West that the Soviet leadership shared, or at least was sensitive to, prevailing western notions of deterrent stability and nuclear ‘sufficiency’.


Nuclear Weapon Ballistic Missile Civil Defence Cruise Missile Strategic Power 
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  1. 1.
    Norman Polmar, ‘Thinking about Soviet ASW’, Proceedings (of the US Naval Institute), May 1976, pp. 110–29.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Colin Gray, ‘SALT: Time to Stop’,Strategic Review Fall 1976, pp. 14–22.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gerard Smith, ‘Negotiating with the Soviets’, New York Times Magazine (reprinted in Survival, May/June 1977 ).Google Scholar

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© Richard Burt 1979

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