“Let me emphasize – and I cannot do so too strongly – that our decision to go ahead with a limited ABM deployment in no way indicates that we feel an agreement with the Soviet Union on the limitation of strategic nuclear offensive and defensive forces is in any way less urgent or desirable.”

                                                Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, 1967


Diplomacy and bargaining play a crucial role in the formulation, completion and implementation of any treaty. Treaties of disarmament or those related to the limitation of arms require even more sophisticated involvement of diplomacy and bargaining. An important was signed following the détente that prevailed in the US and USSR relations in the 1960s was the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaties known as the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties SALT I  in 1972. Another similar treaty followed in 1979, known as SALT II, but it is of less concern for two reasons: first of all, it was an extension of SALT I, both in terms of the treaty itself and the diplomatic efforts that led to it; and secondly, the treaty was never ratified by the American Congress, and hence, it never entered into effect.

The two treaties aimed at limiting the development of sea-based, air-based, space-based or mobile land-based ABM systems. The formulation of both treaties involved very long, painstaking and controversial rounds of negotiation and bargaining by the diplomatic teams of both sides. Although SALT II was never ratified by the American Congress, and hence, it never went into effect, the signing of both treaties is still considered to be a major leap towards the elimination of destructive weapons (Tomascovic, p. 22).

This paper will serve several objectives at the same time. First of all, it will provide a historical background of the events and circumstances that led to the signing of the two treaties. Secondly, it will discuss the various diplomatic efforts that were conducted by the US and the USSR, along with an analysis of these efforts and their effectiveness. Thirdly, the paper will analyze the current situation of both treaties and evaluate their implementation. Finally, there will be an overall assessment of the two treaties and the diplomatic efforts that were used to achieve them.


By the mid-1960s, the US and the USSR were getting over the embarrassment of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Actually, it was this crisis that in 1961 and 1961 initiated what was later came to be known as détente, that is, the thaw in the ice of relation between the US and the USSR. The death of Stalin also represented the elimination of a major obstacle to the development in the relations between the two superpowers (Tomascovic, p. 24).

The Cuban crisis made the leaders of the two superpowers reach the same conclusions albeit with different perceptions. For the US, the crisis resulted in an enhancement of the American nuclear and diplomatic superiority while at the same time, it made the American policy makers realize that the outbreak of a nuclear war was much riskier and easier than they had imagined or expected. For the Soviet leaders, the same conclusion was arrived at, but also with the fact that the Soviets had finally achieved parity with the US on the nuclear power level (Tomascovic, p. 25).

Thus, basically, following the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, both sides were ready to look at their relations from new perspectives, perspectives that at least were promising for the future in relation to the organization and regulation of nuclear armament. In January 1964, the first promising initiative was made by the US when the American Administration proposed a Geneva-based 18-nation Disarmament Committee (“Treaties”, online).

The Soviets did not respond positively to the proposal, especially that they were keen at growing their nuclear capabilities in order to boost their position before they joined any negotiation processes with the US. However, in 1966, the Chinese successfully completed their first nuclear tests, and hence, the nuclear race took a new and dangerous turn. In March 1967, President Johnson and Premier Kosygin began corresponding on the possibility of taking measures in order to bring the arms race under control (Kissinger, p. 748).

Although the initiative was not fruitful, it at least represented a positive signal. Indeed, on July 1, 1968, discussions began again, and although they arrived nowhere, it became apparent that the two sides were seriously trying to tackle the issue.

Evidently, by then, the lack of trust and open communication prevented the two sides from achieving a breakthrough although positive relations were beginning to develop. The lack of trust and communication is a critical aspect that makes it impossible for any negotiation process to continue or even to initiate (“Treaties”, online).


When diplomatic efforts started in the mid-1960s between the US and the USSR, aiming at starting negotiations and talks over arms limitation, the two sides were trapped in what is known as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” In other words, each side feared that it would commit itself to the terms of whatever treaty would result while the other side cheated, and eventually, it would find itself falling behind with respect to the arms race and the military technology (Hopmann, pp. 74-75).

Indeed, neither the Soviets nor the Americans were in a position to trust each other, and the arms race between the two sides was at its peak. Public feelings at home, especially in the US were still negative and charged due to the Cuban Missiles Crisis, and the initiation of direct talks was almost impossible. Accordingly, the US and the Soviet Union had to start “back channel” negotiations, that is secret negotiations that involved politicians on the highest levels such as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin and Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko. These senior officials in the “back channel” talks did not bring up the subject of the talks directly, nor did they try to define the issues to be discussed in the talks. Rather, they only laid the general platform from which the talks would start. The frequent visits and communications between the senior politicians on both sides served to reduce the “jams” in formal negotiations before and during the start of the negotiations (Hopmann, p. 172).

The political and diplomatic flirtations and communications between the two sides represent a systematic development in diplomacy. Traditionally, the relations between the two superpowers were characterized with serious tensions and the application of coercive diplomacy. In a second phase after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the relations entered the phase of non-violent conflicts of interest phase before détente was finally achieved. Without the achievement of détente, a phase that involved the openness for communication between the two sides, although through “back channels” was crucial for the initiation of the SALT I talks.


On January 20, 1969, the newly elected President Nixon declared support for the talks with the USSR over arms limitation. In the summer of 1970, Nixon started direct communication with Kosygin to establish the framework for the SALT I talks. Between November 17 and December 22 of that year, the American negotiation team headed by Gerald Smith was involved in negotiations with the Soviet delegation. However, the goal of this round was to get the two sides to know each other better and to establish a common understanding of each other’s view.

The first rounds of talks were characterized by hostility and the repetitive occurrence of deadlocks, especially that negotiators on both sides resorted to hard tactics of bargaining and inflexibility. This of course gave the opportunity for politicians such as Nixon and Kissinger to dominate the talks, although this could have been avoided had the two negotiating teams tried to use more flexible means of communication (Hopmann, p. 203).

Evidently, the rounds of talks that followed were not easy at all. Both sides had different agendas and they were both stimulated by different needs and pressures. Thus, by the Spring of 1971, the two sides had arrived at a deadlock. Deadlocks were expected from the beginning due to the differences in the agendas of the two sides. While the Americans were concerned about a general limitation of ballistic missile development, the Soviets were concerned about limiting technologies in the field where they had already achieved supremacy. Evidently, both sides were aware of these problems, but then, neither was willing to give in, particularly that the talks were the first of their kind.

In addition to this, neither side trusted the other. Although the senior leaderships in both countries were willing to start the process seriously, the lack of trust of the other’s intentions and the fact that internal political pressures were very hard to ignore made it impossible to facilitate the process. Flexibility was therefore totally lacking during the first rounds of talks.

One major area of disagreement was the intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Soviets wanted to exclude the intermediate range missiles something that would enhance the Soviet threat over the Western Europe. The American delegation refused to give in on this issue and the deadlock continued until May 20, 1971 when communication between the leaders of the two countries helped to push the discussions further. As a result, the talks were successful in imposing qualitative as well quantitative limitations on both sides. In addition to this, a US-Soviet Standing Consultative Commission was formed in order to keep communication between the two sides after the talks were concluded.

The initiation of SALT II was much easier than initiating SALT I. Already the relations between the two sides were established and despite the change in American leadership, there was a general understanding on the principles of negotiations and talks. Both the Soviets and the Americans were interested in continuing their negotiations, taking SALT I as a starting point. The talks succeeded in imposing limitations on the number and types of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. However, this treaty never entered into force for various reasons that will be discussed later.


Diplomatic efforts by the American and Soviet decision makers were initiated to arrive at the SALT agreements for many reasons, but with respect to the first talks, the American and Soviet leaders had very different agendas. It is important to mention, however, that the SALT I agreement did not actually start as a result of the efforts that were made at the time it started, but rather, as a result of the long efforts of communication between the two sides.

For the Soviets, SALT I was an opportunity through which they could achieve a formal recognition of the US of their nuclear and military might. Indeed, the Nixon-Brezhnev summit of 1971 in Moscow resulted in an agreement on the basic principles of relations between the two sides. For Nixon, this agreement was nothing but a formality. For Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the USSR, it was much more than this. It simply implied that the US had finally come to recognize the USSR as an equal rival in world affairs. It is noticed that following this agreement and recognition, the USSR began formulating foreign policies towards the Third World, especially as the Soviets considered the agreement as a recognition by the US of their right to protect their rights through the use of power in Third World countries. Specifically, this was concluded from the agreement which emphasized peaceful co-existence and “recognition of security interests on the basis of equality” (Dunn, p. 71).

However, with respect to the SALT I talks, analysts argue that they were actually the product of opportunist and pragmatic negotiations and diplomacy conducted by President Nixon himself. Nixon, who had failed to bring the Vietnam war to an end was looking for any possible achievement on the peace level. SALT I was the only way out for him to polish his image (Dunn, p. 76). This explains his eagerness to make the summit with Brezhnev successful, and more importantly, this explains his persistence on excluding the entire negotiating team that he had earlier appointed to manage the negotiations with the Soviets.

Nixon’s diplomacy aimed at two goals: to conclude the agreement with the maximal possible gain for the US, and to achieve a political success for himself. It was for this reason that he delegated Kissinger to continue the talks in Moscow. Kissinger, however, although a very clever negotiator, was not an expert at arms negotiations. He was not aware of the technicalities that were involved in these negotiations. Besides, Kissinger was as eager for political success as President Nixon himself. Accordingly, he allowed himself to get involved in secret negotiations with the Soviet negotiators, thus going on with the SALT I talks without even receiving approval from the president or from the military agencies that were represented in the American delegation (Dunn, p. 76).

As a result, in the course of the negotiations, Kissinger agreed to exclude the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missles (SLBMs) from the discussions with the Soviets over offensive weapons. He thus gave the Soviets an easy victory for which they had been debating with their American counterparts for years. Not only was the US position damaged with respect to the talks over the offensive weapons, but the consistency and the position of the entire delegation in relation to the future of the talks were completely undermined. Gerald Smith, the head of the American team later commented on this Soviet victory arguing that “Dobynin pocketed the offer diplomatically” (Dunn, p. 252).

The Soviet victory did not last for long, and the American team had to undertake very vigorous diplomatic efforts before the previous situation was retained. Obviously, had Kissinger not permitted himself to go into the details to capture the lights of success, he would not have put the American delegation in such a precarious position (Dunn, p. 252).

Another fault committed by President Nixon was his attempt to use the Cruse Missiles as a bargaining clip. These missiles were slower than the Soviet missiles, but they were much more accurate and destructive. Nixon declared that the US was going to further develop these missiles before the second round of SALT I started. The aim of this, Nixon planned, was to increase the American cards during bargaining. Indeed, this happened and the Soviets were very concerned about the development and possible use of these missiles, an aspect that they focused on during their SALT I negotiations. The reason is that the Soviets feared that Cruise missiles represented a shift in the US foreign policy from a deterrence-second strike policy to a disarm-first strike policy. What happened, however, was that President Nixon did not realize the embarrassing situation that he had put himself into by simply relying on political rather than on military advice. Accordingly, Nixon came to face resistance from the military establishment when these found out that Nixon was actually bargaining with the Soviets using the Cruise missiles (Hopmann, pp. 204-205).

After the conclusion of SALT I, the talks related to SALT II started in 1974, but the process of the negotiations was very slow. This is despite a number of summits that took place between 1974 and 1979. In 1974, President Ford met with Brezhnev in a ‘getting-to-know you’ summit but this did not result in any productive developments with respects to the arms limitation talks. Yet, when Carter came to office, his diplomacy was based on bringing the arms race to an end, partly out of his will to continue the efforts started in SALT I and partly because he himself loathed nuclear weapons.

Although Carter’s position and intentions were very different from those of Nixon, he committed mistakes that rendered the American diplomacy ineffective. To start with, Carter was very eager for concluding SALT II as soon as possible, partly because he wanted the agreement signed to make use of the détente with the USSR, and partly because he wanted to boost his opportunities for a re-election. In addition to this, Carter was trying to secure support for SALT II in Congress, and hence, he had to offer the Soviets several bold propositions in relation to limiting the nuclear transportation vehicles. This, however, was not applauded by the Soviets. On the contrary, the Soviets became suspicious, and eventually, they even started to create obstacles during the negotiation process. Although the agreement was signed in the end, the fact is that it took several years more than it should have (Dunn, pp. 80-81). It is important to mention the fact that President Carter had to lobby for his diplomacy’s position in the SALT II through gaining the support of the military establishment by promising increases in the nuclear fund (Dunn, p. 82).

Apparently, both Nixon and Carter exploited diplomacy in order to have the SALT I and SALT II concluded. But it is also obvious that the two presidents committed serious faults in their diplomatic efforts because of their concerns for political gain. Nixon was trying to polish his image whereas Carter was searching for a cause to get re-elected. SALT I and SALT II represented such opportunities for the two presidents respectively.

Nixon’s diplomacy, although taking a serious twist in his attempt to negotiate secretly through Kissinger with the Soviets, did not result in a negative impact on the talks. After all, SALT I was concluded successfully without any problems. President Carter, on the other hand, failed in getting the treaty ratified in Congress. This failure was due to several causes. First of all, Carter failed to gain the sufficient votes in Congress because many senators did not see the treaty convincing. But more importantly, the ratification was rejected because tensions with the Soviet Union were rising, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (Hopmann, p. 204).

Yet, it is important to point out some of the important aspects of diplomacy that were involved in the talks between the two sides between 1969 and 1979. The SALT I talks involved some very professional diplomatic efforts and tricks that helped push the talks further and to get over a number of obstacles that rose in the way. For example, Nixon’s visit to Moscow in 1971 was announced seven months before it was due. The aim of this declaration was to force the negotiating teams on both sides to achieve some breakthrough in the talks before the summit. Evidently, the use of the summit and the imposition of a deadline on the negotiating teams helped in pushing things forwards, and this reflects the willingness of the two sides at the highest levels to achieve improvements with respect to the negotiation process over SALT I (Dunn, pp. 75-75).

The use of summits is recognized as a diplomatic means through which negotiations and talks such as SALT I could be enhanced and improved significantly. Ironically, however, the summit between Nixon and Brezhnev was itself used by Nixon for a political purpose, namely to focus the lights on Nixon as the most important party contributing to the success of SALT I. Regardless whether this was achieved or not, summits remain an important aspect of diplomacy (Dunn, p. 76).

The use of military pressures during the process of negotiations for SALT I represents a very important aspect, particularly that it served as a pressure card. Although both the US and the USSR possessed the sufficient nuclear and mass destructive arsenals to destroy each other, their military capabilities were not actually symmetrical or equal, with the US enjoying a favorable position in relation to quality. During the SALT I talks, the Soviets continued to deploy their Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) although they were included and specified as part of the missiles to be limited during the talks. In the four years of the SALT I talks, the number of ICBMs increased from 1,000 to 1,500 at the rate of about 200 annually. Meanwhile, the submarine-based launchers quadrupled. Both the Soviets and the Americans continued their arms race during the talks in order to empower their diplomatic leverage on the negotiation tables. Gaining military superiority was very critical to support the position of each side during the talks (“ACDA,” online).


Evidently, while SALT I was implemented successfully, despite the rising tensions between the two superpowers in the late 1970s and throughout most of the 1980s. However, and despite the number of other treaties that were later on negotiated and signed between the two countries such as STARK, no serious negotiations were actually conducted starting from SALT I. SALT II on the other hand, was never ratified. Accordingly, all the diplomatic efforts that were conducted to conclude this treaty were lost.

The deterioration of the Soviet-American relations after 1979 also contributed to the failure of any further attempts to bring the two sides to any agreement over arms limitation during that period. President Reagan, for example, refused to cooperate or even meet with any of the three Soviet leaders, Brezhnev, Andropov and Cherninko (Dunn, pp. 70-72). In fact, President Reagan announced several times that his administration was not approaching the Soviets for any talks until the US had completed its nuclear built-up. Evidently, this blocked the way for any diplomatic efforts, and at the same time, increased the tensions and the mistrust between the two sides. Thus, the achievements accomplished through SALT I and SALT II did not produce any positive results during the 1980s, and on the contrary, the relations between the two superpowers continued to deteriorate until Gorbachev started his reforms that resulted in the collapse of the USSR and in ending the division of Europe (Dunn, p. 75).


The most important characteristic of SALT I and SALT II is that it resulted in a favorable and equal relationship between the US and the USSR. Both the US and the Soviet Union had sincere concerns about the arms race, and the two treaties represented truthful diplomatic and political efforts to bring the arms race under control. It is not possible to speak of a win-lose  situation because neither side incurred a loss. To the contrary, despite the diplomatic and political background planning, both sides were concerned about achieving an arms control treaty that would limit the arms race, and in the end, SALT I was capable of achieving this goal successfully.

It was seen that the American diplomats committed a number of mistakes that allowed the Soviets to make use of them during the SALT I talks. However, the conclusion of this treaty could not have been possible if the Soviets had exploited these errors. Evidently, the fact that the US negotiators were capable of bringing things back to order, meant that an equality in terms of interests, objectives and achievements was established between the two sides at the end of the talks.

SALT I was therefore a declaration of mutual understanding, cooperation and commitment by the two sides. The scale of loss and victory is not applicable here, but what is applicable is that both sides were able to achieve common goals without sacrificing their strategic positions. SALT I, therefore, can be seen as the product of growing détente between the two major powers and as the fruit of their sincere commitment to bringing the arms race under control.

It is important to mention that the negotiations during SALT I and SALT II were never easy. The sides were negotiating over a very serious strategic matter that would decide their future positions. Trust was a scarce commodity, and in addition to this, political and other interests were always in the background. Great caution was involved in the talks, sometimes making progress almost impossible, but it was the willingness of both sides at the highest official and political levels to bring the talks to a successful conclusion that made it possible to sign both treaties successfully.

The diplomatic efforts related to the initiation and conclusion of SALT I were much more complicated and straining than those related to SALT II. This was due to the fact that before SALT I, there was no similar precedent that would stand as a platform from which the negotiations would start. The diplomats and politicians on both sides had to experiment communication among them on this level of seriousness for the first time, whereas in the case of SALT II, the efforts and progresses achieved in SALT I represented an important example to follow.


Dunn, David. (1996). Diplomacy at the Highest Level: The Evolution of

International Summitry. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Hopmann, P. Terrence. (1998). The Negotiation Process and the Resolution of

International Conflicts. United States: University of South California


Kissinger, Henry. (1994). Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Tomasovic, Gerald. (1994). Diplomacy & Bargaining. New York: West House


“Treaties: SALT I & SALT II.” (1999).  Strategic Arms Limitation Talks,


“Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I). (1999). ACDA, online.

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