Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty I, 1972

One major objective of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in seeking détente with the Soviet Union was to conclude agreements limiting the further growth of nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems.  At a May 1972 summit meeting in Moscow, Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed two strategic arms limitation treaties, jointly known as SALT-I, which took effect the following October.  The ABM Treaty limited anti-ballistic missile defense sites in each country to two, neither hosting more than a hundred ABMs.  The Interim Agreement froze for five years the number of nuclear warheads each side possessed, giving the Soviets numerical superiority (2,328 to the American 1,710) in exchange for accepting the American lead in multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), the delivery system.  SALT-I allowed its signatories to upgrade their nuclear weaponry provided they observed these limits.  Although American conservatives regarded them with suspicion, these treaties were widely viewed as a diplomatic triumph for Nixon, the first major arms control agreements concluded since the beginning of the Cold War.  Further warming in Soviet-American relations was anticipated.  Several Soviet-American commercial agreements followed the disarmament accords, providing for Soviet purchases of $750 million of American grain, largely financed by American credits; various business contracts; maritime understandings; and comprehensive trade agreements settling outstanding Soviet debts to the United States and promising the Soviets most-favored trading nation status.  At a second Nixon-Brezhnev summit, held in Washington in June 1973, the two leaders signed the Agreement on Prevention of Nuclear War, binding them to consult whenever international crises which might precipitate nuclear war between them or with other states arose, and to act "in such a manner as to help prevent the development of situations capable of causing a dangerous exacerbation of their relations." They also concluded four executive agreements on oceanography, transport, agricultural research, and cultural exchange, and issued a declaration of principles intended to accelerate talks at Geneva designed to produce a second, permanent nuclear arms limitation agreement (SALT-II).  Airline services were expanded and trade missions established.  The SALT agreements seemed a triumph for Nixon-Kissinger triangular diplomacy, promising further progress in the direction of Soviet-American détente, but in practice they marked its high tide.

The United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, hereinafter referred to as the Parties,

Convinced that the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems and this Interim Agreement on Certain Measures with Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms will contribute to the creation of more favorable conditions for active negotiations on limiting strategic arms as well as to the relaxation of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States,

Taking into account the relationship between strategic offensive and defensive arms,

Mindful of their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,

Have agreed as follows:


The Parties undertake not to start construction of additional fixed land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers after July 1, 1972.


The Parties undertake not to convert land-based launchers for light ICBMs, or for ICBMs of older types deployed prior to 1964, into land-based launchers for heavy ICBMs of types deployed after that time.


The Parties undertake to limit submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers and modern ballistic missile submarines to the numbers operational and under construction on the date of signature of this Interim Agreement, and in addition to launchers and submarines constructed under procedures established by the Parties as replacements for an equal number of ICBM launchers of older types deployed prior to 1964 or for launchers on older submarines.


Subject to the provisions of this Interim Agreement, modernization and replacement of strategic offensive ballistic missiles and launchers covered by this Interim Agreement may be undertaken.


1. For the purpose of providing assurance of compliance with the provisions of this Interim Agreement, each Party shall use national technical means of verification at its disposal in a manner consistent with generally recognized principles of international law.

2. Each Party undertakes not to interfere with the national technical means of verification of the other Party operating in accordance with paragraph 1 of this Article.

3. Each Party undertakes not to use deliberate concealment measures which impede verification by national technical means of compliance with the provisions of this Interim Agreement. This obligation shall not require changes in current construction, assembly, conversion, or overhaul practices.


To promote the objectives and implementation of the provisions of this Interim Agreement, the Parties shall use the Standing Consultative Commission established under Article XIII of the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems in accordance with the provisions of that Article.


The Parties undertake to continue active negotiations for limitations on strategic offensive arms. The obligations provided for in this Interim Agreement shall not prejudice the scope or terms of the limitations on strategic offensive arms which may be worked out in the course of further negotiations.


1. This Interim Agreement shall enter into force upon exchange of written notices of acceptance by each Party, which exchange shall take place simultaneously with the exchange of instruments of ratification of the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems.

2. This Interim Agreement shall remain in force for a period of five years unless replaced earlier by an agreement on more complete measures limiting strategic offensive arms. It is the objective of the Parties to conduct active follow-on negotiations with the aim of concluding such an agreement as soon as possible.

3. Each Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Interim Agreement if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Interim Agreement have jeopardized its supreme interests. It shall give notice of its decision to the other Party six months prior to withdrawal from this Interim Agreement. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying Party regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.


Further Reading
"Interim Agreement Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Certain Measures with Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms." May 26, 1972. United States Treaties and Other International Agreements 23, pt. 3435.

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