Courtesy Reuters

High Hopes and Hard Reality: Arms Control in 1978

As 1978 ended, the United States and the Soviet Union were still short of a final agreement on their new strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II). Yet the negotiation of this agreement, and Western discussion of its meaning, certainly dominated the year's events in the field of arms control. President Carter never wavered in his conviction that the achievement of a good agreement was an objective of top priority, and his optimism on the prospect of relatively early agreement seemed unshakable.

It did appear as the year ended that agreement, as a matter of substance, was very close indeed. Agreement as a matter of a shared will to agree now was something else - a matter not so much of arms control as of the tactical process of Soviet-American relations. When final progress was delayed by distinctly minor Soviet objections in December, one had to believe that the Russians were showing us and themselves that their cooperation could not be taken for granted as the United States and China joined once again in publicly opposing "hegemony" (a word that translates into Russian as "us").

While this tactical delay is not trivial, it still seems best for present purposes to assume that 1978 was indeed the year of decisive progress toward an agreement that will come before the Senate in 1979. Certainly the acts and statements of the Administration, including its bargaining tactics on matters that were substantively small compared to what had been settled in earlier years of this six-year story, were heavily affected by its concern for what could eventually pass the Senate. The SALT negotiations of the year, important as they were in their own right, are best understood in the context of a sharpening debate on the future adequacy of the American strategic deterrent.

Already in 1977 the broad outline of SALT II became clear. It would be an extended version of the Vladivostok Accords reached by President Ford and President Brezhnev in November 1974. The most important changes are those that lower

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