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Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties


Coming on the heels of the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the two components of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT) represented a willingness by the United States and the Soviet Union to constrain an arms race that both recognized was costly and potentially destabilizing. Soviet nuclear advantage in the early 1970s concerned the United States, and the Soviets recognized that American fears would likely translate into a massive weapons program aimed at regaining nuclear superiority. Thus the Soviet Union chose to forsake short-term advantage in favor of guaranteed parity over the long term. Both sides agreed that strategic parity would significantly contribute to stability.

The chief products of SALT I were the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972, and an interim agreement which set limits on the total number of offensive missiles allowable (further addressed in SALT II). The ABM Treaty limited the number of defensive weapons, indicating that both the United States and the Soviet Union accepted the idea that mutual vulnerability would increase stabilitythereby institutionalizing mutual assured destruction (MAD). SALT II limited the total number of all types of strategic nuclear weapons. However, although agreed upon by both countries, SALT II was never ratified because American President Jimmy Carter withdrew his support after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

While the SALT agreements represent important progress in terms of quantitative arms limitation, a significant flaw was that they failed to address the issue of qualitative advancements in weapons systemswhich threatened the utility of the MAD regime. This qualitative problem was addressed in the subsequent Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.

See also: anti-ballistic missile treaty; arms control; dÉtente; strategic arms reduction talks; strategic defense initiative


Payne, Samuel B., Jr. (1980). The Soviet Union and SALT. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wolfe, Thomas W. (1979). The SALT Experience. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

Matthew O'Gara

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