Chapter 13 - Strategic Defense: SDI, MAD, ASATs, Civil Defense

2. Nixon, Détente, MAD, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)Treaty of 1972, and its Link to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) Agreement

On January 20, 1969, the day of Richard Nixon’s presidential inauguration as President Johnson’s successor, the Soviet Union signaled its desire to discuss strategic arms limitations with the United States, a process that had been put on hold by the Johnson Administration after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 (see Chapter 4). Nixon agreed with the Soviets on the proposed talks and shortly thereafter, the Safeguard anti-missile program gained U.S. Senate support by a one vote margin while the Soviets and many Democrats continued their opposition to the program.

MAD Arms Control and Détente. It soon became clear that Nixon’s emerging Cold War strategy to achieve “détente” in U.S.-Soviet relations moved in the direction of meeting Soviet criteria and strategic conditions for arms control, notably including the deceptive Soviet insistence on bans on national ABM systems as part of any strategic arms negotiations (see Chapter 5 on Nixon and Ford). That the Soviets did so cynically was clear as they continued to upgrade their own ABM deployments and research and also constructed a network of hundreds of protective deep-underground bunkers to shield key military, political, and industrial centers. The Soviet programs demonstrated that while Soviet leaders expected the U.S. to continue its blind faith in MAD and MAD-based SALT arms control, the Soviets did not share this faith.

The U.S.-Soviet Détente Summit Agreements of 1972. The Soviet Union and U.S. domestic opponents of U.S. national anti-missile defenses got what they wished for when MAD bans on missile defense were formally incorporated into the interrelated SALT and ABM arms control agreements signed by Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev at the U.S.-USSR summit in Moscow in 1972. The Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement and Protocol (SALT), signed on May 26, 1972, included “caps” on offensive arms, but in fact permitted substantial Soviet strategic force buildups in land- and sea-based strategic forces and verification only by National Technical Means (NTM) lacking effective high-confidence verification. The SALT-ABM ban linkage was sealed in the preamble of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty also signed on May 26, 1972 and were ratified at the same time. The SALT and ABM agreements were also both based on optimistic détente assumptions incorporated in an agreement on Principles Detente Agreement, signed on May 29, 1972. The SALT and Principles agreements are reviewed in Chapter 5 on Nixon and Ford; Chapter 12 reviews strategic offensive forces and START; Soviet violations of SALT and the ABM agreements are reviewed in Chapter 15.

The ABM Treaty. The ABM Treaty was negotiated as an integrated component of the SALT negotiations in Vienna. It banned a national anti-missile defense, limited ABM deployments to two ground-based sites, and banned a range of ABM research areas. Its preamble also took controversial language from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed by President Johnson on July 1, 1968 and ratified under Nixon, similar to the propagandistic Soviet call for “general and complete disarmament” that began in the 1950s under Premier Khrushchev. The 1972 ABM Treaty text included the following key elements:

[Preamble] The Parties, . . . proceeding from the premise that the limitation of anti-ballistic missile systems, . . . would contribute to the creation of more favorable conditions for further negotiations on limiting strategic arms . . . [and] their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to take effective measures toward reductions in strategic arms, nuclear disarmament, and general and complete disarmament, . . . [and] desiring to contribute to the relaxation of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States.

Article I . . . Each Party undertakes not to deploy anti-ballistic missile ABM systems for a defense of the territory of its country and not to provide a base for such a defense, and not to deploy ABM systems for defense of an individual region except as provided for in Article III. . .

Article III . . . Each Party undertakes not to deploy ABM systems or their components except . . . [in two areas, the National Capital Area or an ICBM base]. [Note: A 1974 Protocol implemented by the U.S. in 1976 reduced the two permitted sites to one site.]

Article V . . . Each Party undertakes not to develop, test or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land based. . . .

Article VI . . . Each Party undertakes . . .b) not to deploy in the future radars for early warning of strategic ballistic missile attack except at locations along the periphery of its national territory and oriented outward.

[Book pg. 299]