Courtesy Reuters

The Scope and Limits of SALT

After almost five years of breakthroughs, setbacks and mostly stalemate, the Soviet Union and the United States succeeded last September in agreeing on the outlines and some of the details of a new strategic arms limitation accord. Since then, several other details of the proposed SALT agreement have been ironed out. Although it is unclear whether the two sides will be able to complete a new agreement this year, the terms of the proposed accord have already triggered a wide-ranging debate in the United States and among allied states in Western Europe over whether its contents serve American security interests and those of the West as a whole.

It is a complex debate, because the understanding itself is complicated and because it deals with the arcane problem of measuring the superpower strategic balance. It is an enormously important debate, because its outcome will have major consequences for the future evolution of that balance, the character of Soviet-American relations in general, the tenor of Alliance politics, and the ability of the Carter Administration (and perhaps succeeding ones) to conduct foreign affairs. Finally, it is an intense debate, because positions adopted by supporters and opponents of the proposed agreement reflect deeply felt beliefs concerning the character of the strategic balance and the political and military utility of nuclear weapons.

The centrality of the SALT process to American national security policy makes it impossible here to address all the implications of the proposed agreement. But because a central theme in this essay is that both advocates and critics of the Carter Administration's approach to SALT have tended to exaggerate what the talks can and should accomplish, the attempt will be made to judge the emerging terms of the superpower understanding in terms of the dynamics of continuing Soviet-American strategic competition. For if one lesson has already emerged from the mounting debate over SALT, it is that regardless of whether a new agreement is both signed and approved by the U.S. Senate, the United

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