A Glimpse of Nixon’s Strategic Arms Concerns
One of the greatest accomplishments of Richard Nixon’s presidency occurred with the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks Agreement (SALT I) in 1972. President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev agreed to limit growth in the number of ballistic missile launchers, replace older submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM’s), and restrict the number and locations of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) capable of reaching the United States and Soviet Union. A recently declassified memorandum to Dr. Henry Kissinger from K. Wayne Smith, the National Security Council (NSC) Staff Deputy for Analysis, highlighted the future capabilities and inventories of the Soviet nuclear missile forces in 1968, four years prior to SALT I.
According to the Department of State (2010), in 1969 the United States maintained 1054 ICBM’s, 656 SLBM’s, and 576 bombers.
Smith’s report evaluated the Soviet Union’s ICBM launcher inventory at 900 in 1968. Furthermore, the report assessed the level of growth of ICBM launchers would surpass the United States by 1970 with a total ranging from 1,100 to 1,500 launchers.
In addition to land based ICBMs, Smith observed increases in the advancement of SLBM technologies and inventories. By the mid-1970s, Smith assessed the Soviet Union’s ballistic missile submarines would gain equivalent capabilities to the United States.
Another important measure included in SALT I limited the development of anti-ballistic missile systems (ABMs). Smith raised the concerns regarding the capability of ABMs in the United States to combat new multiple reentry vehicles (MRVs) or multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicles (MIRV’s). SALT I limited both the United States and Soviet Union to only two anti-ballistic missile systems and set the stage for future negotiations regarding limitations of MRVs and MIRVs in 1974.
By the end of the negotiations in May 1972, the Soviet Union and United States agreed to limits on the number of strategic arms and set the stage for future arms talks, and represented an important step towards détente between the major superpowers.
Department of State. (2010). SALT I, 1969-1972 (Foreign Relations of the United States Vol. 32). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.