Since the presidency of Harry S. Truman, the United States and Soviet Union had been in constant competition to create the most ‘efficient’ nuclear artillery. But it was on this day, May 27, 1972, that United States President Richard Nixon and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, met in Moscow and signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements. These agreements were monumental, for they were the most far-reaching attempt to control nuclear weapons since the incipience of the conflict. A deadly competition that could have spelt the end of the world as we know it.
Brezhnev and Nixon both had reputations of being hardline Cold War Veterans, and so they seemed the most unlikely candidates to sign such a groundbreaking arms limitation treaty. However, by 1972, both presidents were more than eager for closer diplomatic relations between the nations. The United States was looking for aid in expunging itself from the extremely unpopular and heavily costly war in Vietnam. Nixon wished to take the U.S. public’s mind off of the fact that he completely failed to bring an end to the conflict during his four years as president. The Soviet Union was engaged in an increasingly noxious war of words with China, due to border disputes between the Soviet Union and China.
The most crucial point of this meeting between the world’s leaders were the SALT agreements. The agreements set precedence on two major issues. Firstly, they limited the number of antiballistic missile (ABM) sites that each country could have on two. ABMs were designed to destroy incoming missiles. Secondly, the number of existing intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles were frozen. Although, the agreements did not touch upon the development of new weapons, or multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle missiles, which are single missiles carrying multiple nuclear warheads.
Regardless of what was left out, the SALT agreements were hailed as an astronomical achievement for both the United States and Soviet nations. The U.S. Senate approved the agreements in August of 1972. Moreover, SALT-I, as it is now known, was the true foundation for any arms limitations discussions that followed. And when it comes to the threat of nuclear weaponry, the more limitations and constraints, the better.