Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972)

Title: Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed
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Soviet-American agreement limiting antiballistic missiles (ABMs). Developments in ABM technology in the 1960s prompted fears of a new arms race in defensive weapons that might undermine nuclear deterrence. Such concerns led to negotiations on their limitation. The ABM Treaty emerged from the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and was signed by President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin on 26 May 1972 during the Moscow Summit.

The agreement banned the nationwide deployment of ABM systems by either party but permitted each side a limited deployment of one hundred fixed ABM launchers at each of two sites: the national capital and one intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) base. These deployments were considered small enough to be insufficient to defend against a massive offensive strike, thus preserving deterrence. The treaty also banned ABM systems based on technologies other than interceptor missiles as well as ABM systems that were "sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based." It further forbade rapidly reloadable and multiple-missile ABM launchers and prohibited the upgrading of other air defense systems to ABM capability. The agreement also placed restrictions on non-site radar systems to limit their utility in an ABM capacity.

Verification of the agreement was to be through national-technical means. Thus, compliance of one side would be determined through a variety of sensor systems, to include satellites, radars, and seismographs operated by the other party. This was necessary because of Soviet rejection of provisions for on-site inspection. Finally, the ABM Treaty established the Standing Consultative Commission in Geneva to oversee implementation of the agreement and resolve any disputes that may arise. The treaty was to be of unlimited duration, although either party could withdraw after six months' notice should it deem the treaty a threat to its "supreme interests."

The ABM Treaty was ratified by both signatories, and entered into force on 3 October 1972. A protocol to the ABM Treaty, signed in Moscow on 3 July 1974, reduced the number of ABM sites allowed each side from two to one, with a total of one hundred launchers. The site could protect either the national capital or an ICBM base, but not both. The USSR opted to keep its site outside Moscow. The United States maintained its site at Grand Forks, North Dakota, but later deactivated the site in 1976.

Compliance with the agreement was excellent, with the notable exception of the Soviet construction of a phased-array radar at Krasnoyarsk in 1983, which was ultimately dismantled after U.S. protests. President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) presented a serious challenge to the treaty's ban on the development of ABM systems based on technologies other than missiles. As a result, the Americans reinterpreted the agreement to permit the development and testing, but not the deployment, of ABMs based on lasers, particle beams, and other "exotic" technologies. This approach was rejected by Congress, although Reagan and President George H. W. Bush continued to press for revision of the treaty to permit SDI technologies. Problems with many of these technologies combined with President Bill Clinton's commitment to the ABM Treaty provided a reprieve throughout the 1990s, but President George W. Bush's push for a National Missile Defense Program, an updated SDI, prompted U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty effective 13 June 2002.

Steven W. Guerrier

Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Newhouse, John. Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973.; Smith, Gerard. Doubletalk: The Story of SALT I by the Chief American Negotiator. New York: Doubleday, 1980.; Willrich, Mason, and John Rhinelander, eds. SALT I: The Moscow Agreements and Beyond. New York: Free Press, 1974.

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