The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library

The Vladivostok Summit Meeting on Arms Control

Section 2: Previous U.S.-Soviet Discussions on Strategic Arms Limitation



From President Gerald R. Ford's memoir A Time to Heal (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), pages 214-215:

Soon the joking stopped. We had come to this remote Siberian site hoping to reach an agreement that would put a cap on the arms race and further the chances for a lasting peace.  Our two countries had first reached an agreement on strategic arms limitations in May 1972.  That accord put a freeze on the numbers of land- and sea-based ballistic missiles on each side, both those in existence and those under construction.  The Soviets could deploy 2,360 and the United States 1,710.  There was no limitation on the number of heavy bombers each side could keep ready for combat.  Nor was there a limitation on the number of missiles each side could equip with multiple warheads (MIRVs).  And this is where the pact worked to our advantage. Even though the Soviets had built and were thereby permitted more missiles, we already had a far larger number of long-range bombers which compensated for the disparity.  Additionally, we had MIRVed almost half our missiles.  The Soviets were far behind us technologically and hadn't deployed any MIRVs of their own.  On the other hand, the Soviet missiles had bigger warheads and greater megatonnage. (In the 1960s, U.S. military strategists had opted for smaller warheads, less megatonnage, for greater accuracy.)

President Ford and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko hold discussions in the Oval Office on September 20, 1974
Ford and Gromyko Oval Office meeting, 9/20/74


That first SALT agreement would expire in October 1977.  Long before that date, both sides endeavored to reach a permanent - and more encompassing - accord.  Hoping to achieve such an agreement, Nixon had flown to Moscow in June.  But his efforts to bring MIRVs into the new agreement had failed.  The United States then decided to work for a more comprehensive approach and a longer time period - ten years rather than five.  When he met with me in Washington, Gromyko suggested that a summit meeting could resolve our differences.  Initially, my reaction was cool.  I saw no reason to travel halfway around the world just to hear a restatement of known Soviet views.  The Soviets responded by pushing harder and hinting that they would make new concessions. Kissinger returned from Moscow in October convinced that the Soviets were sincere in their desire to reach a new accord.  Even before I arrived at Okeanskaya, we had agreed on the general framework of a SALT II pact.  We still had to button down two things: the numbers of launchers and MIRVs permitted each side, and whether to specify equal numbers of these for each country or allow a differential - with the Soviets to have more launchers and the United States more MIRVS.  Defense Secretary Schlesinger and the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged me to hold out for numerical equivalency of ballistic missiles.  They didn't think the Soviets would ever agree and said that I'd probably have to accept a compromise.  Kissinger didn't want that.  "Hang tough," he said in effect, and they'll come around."

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