Incidents‐At‐Sea Treaty, U.S.–Soviet

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Incidents‐At‐Sea Treaty, U.S.–Soviet (1972).This treaty, signed in Moscow 25 May 1972, prescribed measures to prevent incidents at sea and in the air space over it between the ships and aircraft of the U.S. and Soviet navies. Agreed procedures were necessary for ships and aircraft operating in close proximity to diminish chances of dangerous accidents. It was also agreed that there should be no simulated attacks upon each other's ships, such as aiming guns, missile launchers, torpedo tubes, and other weapons, or illuminating each other with searchlights. At U.S. insistence, this treaty did not provide rules for submarine‐versus‐submarine operations.

The rapid expansion of the Soviet Navy in the mid‐1960s brought their fleet from a coastal force to one with worldwide capability, sailing to troublespots where U.S. ships operated. After two serious collisions between Soviet warships and U.S. destroyers in April 1970 and October 1971, it was obvious something had to be done.

In 1968, the United States invited the Soviets for discussions to reduce incidents, and in 1970 the Soviets accepted this invitation. The first negotiating session was held in Moscow in late 1971 and the second just prior to signing in 1972. This treaty, still in effect, was negotiated in only two nine‐day sessions because it was a practical discussion conducted by naval staffs and successfully kept out of the political limelight.

The formal signing was conducted by Admiral of the Fleet Sergei G. Gorshkov and Secretary of the Navy John Warner during a historic visit to the Soviet Union by President Richard M. Nixon.


Incidents‐at‐Sea Treaty, U.S.‐Soviet (full text), reprinted from the New York Times, 26 May 1972, p. 4.

William D. Smith