This interpretive essay explores the multiple, changing faces of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. When SALT I was being negotiated in the early 1970s, it was generally viewed as the product of contemporary arms control theory that stressed the value of crisis stability. The U.S. national security adviser at the time, Henry Kissinger, justified the talks in those terms while also positioning them as part of a broader attempt to forge a détente with the Soviet Union. But after the Cold War ended, Kissinger claimed that he had really been engaging in a holding operation to buy time for the U.S. government to rebuild support for a more assertive policy. Declassified documents reveal that he and President Richard Nixon hoped that technological innovations would yield military and political advantages. The two of them believed that previous administrations had failed to overcome dangerous military vulnerabilities and that the United States could get a better deal because the USSR was more anxious for an agreement than Nixon and Kissinger were. In the end, however, this did not prove to be the case, and SALT was little different from the sorts of policies Nixon and Kissinger had scorned. But SALT I was a centerpiece of détente and a symbol of U.S. and Soviet leaders’ recognition that each side had a legitimate interest in the other's military posture.

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