While the United States and Soviet Union ratified the Strategic Arms Limitation Talk Treaty (SALT I) on May 26, 1972, the treaty was set to expire only five years later in 1977. In an effort to continue limiting the two superpower’s nuclear capabilities, President Gerald Ford travelled to Vladivostok for a two day meeting with the Soviet Union’s Secretary General, Leonid Brezhnev, in 1974. From Nov. 23 to Nov. 24, the two world leaders discussed maintaining the regulation and control of strategic nuclear-capable assets. President Ford and General Secretary Brezhnev came to an agreement on Nov. 24, 1974—an agreement which ultimately paved the way for SALT II and, later, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START).
A paucity of international accords regarding the development and deployment of nuclear arms led to a drastic and rapid increase in global nuclear capabilities, primarily in the United States and Soviet Union. Not only did a sizable deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) emerge in the early-1960s, but the construction of Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Defense Systems surfaced by the end of the decade as well. ABM systems, in combination with a massive nuclear arsenal, offset the possibility of mutually assured destruction and, thus, negated the strategic concept of nuclear deterrence.
In an endeavor to regulate the strategic arms race between the United States and Soviet Union, President Lyndon B. Johnson organized a Strategic Arms Limitation Talk (SALT) with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin in 1967. However, it was not until Nov. 17, 1969 that the talks actually commenced. More than two years later, on May 26, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed a treaty, deemed SALT I, which fixed the number of ABM, ICBM, and SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) systems each country could deploy for the next five years. While SALT I established a baseline arms control agreement between the two nations, the treaty had its flaws, primarily in regards to the regulation of Multiple Independently Targeting Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). Nevertheless, SALT I ultimately set a precedence for restricting nuclear arms, as it was the first international treaty to limit nuclear capabilities.
Shortly after both nations agreed to the terms of SALT I, discussions about continuing the treaty beyond five years occurred by the end of 1972. This new treaty, SALT II, would further reduce the United States’ and Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenals. President Gerald Ford met with Secretary General Brezhnev on Nov. 23, 1974 in Vladivostok. During the Vladivostok Summit Meeting, the two leaders came to an accord which restricted each nation’s nuclear-capable delivery vehicles to 2,400. In acknowledgement of the advancing missile technologies and how they reshaped the strategic nuclear environment, Ford and Brezhnev also agreed to limit the number of MIRVs to 1,320. Though neither nation had yet ratified SALT II, President Ford declared the accord “an appropriate ending to a journey designed to strengthen ties with old friends and expand areas of agreement with potential adversaries.”
While the two nations came to an accord, neither entity signed SALT II for another five years. Due to a variety of reasons relating to each nation’s nuclear capabilities and strategic worries, leaders from both nations continuously postponed signing the treaty. Finally, on June 18, 1979, President Jimmy Carter and Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev met in Vienna to officialize SALT II. However, the United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December. Still, both nation’s agreed to uphold the nuclear arms controls established earlier that year. The United States’ and Soviet Union’s dedication to reduce and limit their nuclear capabilities ultimately evolved into a new series of treaties known as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START), which are still upheld by the United States and Russia today.
(This information is a result of research conducted by the Department of the State’s Office of the Historian and the staff at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum.)
Kyle Brislan is the Historian for the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base. He is a prior history instructor, published author, and Air Force veteran. His historical expertise includes: military history, early-twentieth century Russian history, and labor history.