The Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty – or SALT I – was the first anti-ballistic missile treaty signed between the United States and the Soviet Union, and resulted in groundbreaking, unprecedented levels of agreement between the two ideological foes. For the first time in history, the superpowers agreed to place limits on many of their most vital armaments.
The two nations hotly debated this for over two years, beginning in November 1969 and capping with the signing of an Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms in May 1972, during the Nixons historic trip to the Soviet Union – the first for an American President. The interim agreement, which is commonly referred to as the SALT I Treaty, froze the total number of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles in each country’s respective arsenal. In order to prevent advances in destructive technology, and achieve an actual reduction in nuclear arms, the two nations began SALT II talks in November 1972 in Geneva.

Without the unique relationship between President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, detailed more in a previous article, the swift results may not have been attained so easily. This, coupled with several dozen other game-changing factors which differentiated Nixon Administration negotiations from those of previous administrations, allowed for a different approach in regard to the Soviet Union, culminating in this agreement.

As any student of U.S. government knows, a treaty isn’t official until approved by the U.S. Congress. So although the signing took place in May, with all its fanfare and clinking of glasses, it was not until September 30, 1972 that the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty took effect – thirty-eight years ago, today.

“I think what is particularly pleasing – pleasing in the sense of how our system works – is that this agreement has had bipartisan support in the fullest sense,” noted the President. He swiftly signed the executive agreement approving the treaty in the Treaty Room (named appropriately for this matter).

According to the POTUS, the SALT I Treaty was “the beginning of a process that is enormously important that will limit now, and, we hope, later reduce the burden of arms, and thereby reduce the danger of war.” The discussions leading up to the signing also resulted in the important Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed along with the Interim Agreement.

Cold War history buffs will tell you that the SALT I Treaty began the process of negotiation between the superpower rivals, as this legislative giant was coupled with the ABM Treaty, soon followed by SALT II, and eventually enhanced and reformed into the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of the Reagan years.

Original Photo Caption: May 1972, Moscow, USSR — President Richard Nixon shakes hands with Leonid Brezhnev after the signing of the SALT treaty. Among those in the audience, in the front row between Nixon and Brezhnev, are Podgorny, Kosygin, and Andrei Gromyko.