Crucial to understanding the nature of the Moscow summit is the international situation in which it occurred. In the early 1970s, relations between America and the Soviet Union improved dramatically because of the relaxation of tensions in Europe in the aftermath of the Soviet suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. In the spirit of détente, the Nixon administration embarked on a policy of multilateral disarmament agreements, such as the 1971 signing of the Seabed Treaty. Détente ultimately served not only U.S. interests but also Soviet security interests. Despite relaxed tensions in Europe, Asian events might have had a damaging effect on American-Soviet relations. The 1971 India-Pakistan War and the Vietnam War were additional irritants. To the Soviets, détente outweighed these concerns, and a secret trip to Moscow by Nixon's national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, in April 1972 finalized the summit plans.
In addition to the fruitful Moscow discussions and daily signatures of agreements between the conferees, Nixon made trips to Leningrad and Kiev and gave a live radio-television address to the Soviet people. His address highlighted the shared historical struggles of the two nations and reiterated their mutual responsibilities as global superpowers. During the summit, Nixon and Brezhnev discussed the status of the international community and a plethora of bilateral issues in hopes of continuing and furthering détente despite the differing ideologies of the two superpowers. The two leaders agreed that smaller third-party states should not interfere with maintaining détente. Bilateral negotiations included the limitation of strategic armaments; commercial and economic agreements; cooperation in health issues; environmental cooperation; scientific, educational, and cultural cooperation and exchanges; and cooperation in space exploration. The results of these negotiations provided the necessary framework for a joint space venture in 1975, large U.S. grain sales to the Soviets, and, most importantly, the SALT agreements.
The majority of the summit concentrated on the SALT agreements. The Nixon administration had inherited a legacy of outdated doctrines pertaining to U.S. nuclear strategy. The antiquated policy of maintaining nuclear superiority over the USSR was no longer practical. Thus, through détente it was now possible to conduct negotiations limiting the growth of the superpower nuclear arsenals. In a first step toward the realization of SALT, on 26 May Nixon and Brezhnev signed the ABM Treaty and Interim Agreement. The ABM Treaty limited the deployment of antiballistic missiles for each nation to two sites. The SALT Interim Agreement froze the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) possessed by each country.
In a move to reaffirm both American and Soviet commitments to détente, the two powers signed the Basic Principles of Mutual Relations between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This document contained twelve principles and served to encapsulate the spirit of the Moscow summit and the evolving superpower détente. Some of the more important principles included the notion of peaceful coexistence and the promise of future summit meetings.
Jonathan H. L’Hommedieu
Stebbins, Richard B., and Elaine P. Adams, eds. American Foreign Relations 1972: A Documentary Record. New York: New York University Press, 1976.; Stevenson, Richard William. The Rise and Fall of Détente: Relaxations of Tensions in US-Soviet Relations, 1953–1984. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.