On May 26, 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. Also known as SALT-I, it was the first of its kind and included a temporary agreement on certain measures with respect to the limitation of strategic offensive arms.
In the beginning of the 1970s, the development of nuclear armaments had reached the stage where any conflict between the two nuclear-armed nations could have led to the destruction of not only the two opponents, but to every living thing on the planet. The nuclear arms race between the US and USSR had become the main attribute of the Cold War. It also brought considerable costs to both superpowers that were damaging to their economies and a threat to the entire world.
Negotiations aimed at reducing stockpiles of both countries’ arsenals began in November 1969, and resulted in the treaty signed on this day in Moscow by US President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The treaty limited each superpower on the number of defensive nuclear missiles each could have and froze the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles for the next five years.
During the 1973 World Congress of Peace Forces, where Brezhnev was the main speaker, he emphasized the importance of this treaty: “Agreements reached during our meetings with the President of the United States in Moscow in May 1972 have opened a gate for the conversion of Soviet and US relations from being confrontational to detente, to normalization and mutual beneficial co-operation. We strongly believe this meets the interests of USSR and US, as well as all other nations, because it serves in strengthening international security.”
SALT-I was followed by another treaty, which focused on reductions in strategic forces of all categories of delivery vehicles on both sides. Named SALT-II, it was signed on June 18, 1979, but was never formally ratified by the US Senate. Both agreements have led to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (also known as START), which resulted in the removal of about 80% of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence. This significant progress reduced the risk of a nuclear war, considerably easing US and USSR relations.