Jimmy Carter, Leonid Brezhnev and the SALT Two Agreement….
As Donald Trump dissects Barack Obama’s legacy of foreign and domestic policies I thought I would take a look back at a similar succession of power from Democrats to Republicans and that of Carter and Reagan in the early eighties.
July 18th 1979, US President Jimmy Carter and Soviet President Leonid Bezhnev sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement, a deal born out of unfounded fear in the nuclear arms race which would prove to be one of the most controversial of the Cold War period. Seven years of talks came on the back of a successful SALT One agreement in which a number of nagging issues required redress, Jimmy Carter was keen to push forward a policy of arms control and reduction despite strong opposition at home and in particular from his successor, Ronald Reagan. Trump’s dismissal of Obama’s foreign policy agreements is indeed nothing new.
This new treaty proposed the banning of new missile development programs as well as limiting the number of ballistic and long-range missiles to a total of 1,320. America insisted on its retention of its Trident programme whilst agreeing to the Soviets keeping more than three hundred of its SS-18-type ICBM launchers. Both sides were ready to rekindle the talks, the Soviets were increasingly concerned about America’s thawing of relations with China whilst the US were convinced the Soviets were pulling away from them in the arms race and in particular their first-strike capability.
It is worth reading Carter’s own account in his 2011 memoir White House Diary in which he describes his initial meeting with the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei ‘Mr No’ Gromyko, Carter is surprisingly frank about his desire for peace and eventual nuclear disarmament and equally reassuring about US-China relations. Gromyko made it known that Brezhnev was willing to meet Carter in what would prove to be friendly and constructive dialogues which ended in a number of shots being downed and a remarkable embrace initiated by the ageing Soviet. Carter describes the resulting agreement as ‘darn good’ and praised Gromyko for his gentle manner outside of the political arena.
But six months after the signing the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and a month later Carter withdrew the treaty from the Senate. Having already discovered the presence of a Soviet combat unit in Cuba since 1962 which Carter claimed was only a recent deployment it made the agreement untenable and impossible to ratify. Carter personally expressed a desire to see the agreement treated as a stand-alone issue, completely separate from the invasion of Afghanistan but he was outnumbered and beset with the issue of the Iranian hostage crisis. Eventually, as Carter’s term in office came to a close he told a press conference of his hope that Reagan would not interfere with the work already done in regard to SALT Two, a wish seemingly respected until as late as 1986. One wonders if Trump could have waited so long?
For a visual overview of the talks one can always rely on the remarkable series Cold War, the most comprehensive account of the period I have seen…