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Soviet Union

Strategic Arms Control

Strategic arms control imposes limitations or stipulates reductions in the numbers of Soviet and United States intercontinental nuclear weapons that are capable of reaching each other's homelands. Weapons limited have included ICBMs, SLBMs, bombers armed with nuclear bombs and cruise missiles, and antiballistic missile systems. Motivated by its desire to avert a nuclear war and to be prepared to fight one, the Soviet Union has sought strategic arms control agreements that would limit United States nuclear capabilities for intercontinental attack but would permit the Soviet Union to amass a strategic arsenal for fighting and winning a nuclear war.

Averting a World War

According to the worst-case scenario, still accepted by Soviet planners in l989, a world nuclear war could start with a disarming first strike on the Soviet Union's strategic nuclear weapons and on its strategic command and control centers (see Military Art , this ch.). An arms control agreement that is advantageous to the Soviet Union would help deter such a calamity by constraining the strategic forces of the United States and denying it the weapons needed to execute a strategic attack with impunity.

Before agreeing to limit its strategic forces, the Soviet Union wanted at least numerical equality with the United States. When arms control was first discussed in the early l960s, under no circumstances were Soviet leaders willing to settle for a "minimum deterrent." For example, when President Lyndon B. Johnson proposed in January 1964 to freeze both Soviet and United States strategic missiles at existing levels, the Soviet Union refused because the "freeze" would have codified their strategic inferiority. Yet in l969, after the Soviet Union began to deploy the third generation of ICBMs (the SS-9, SS-ll, and SS-l3) and was developing the fourth generation (the SS-l7, SS-l8, and SS-l9), it agreed to hold the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks ( SALT--see Glossary) with the United States. In l972 the negotiations resulted in the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) and of the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. Essentially, both agreements froze the deployment of strategic defensive and offensive armaments.

Because the Soviet Union wanted to continue the buildup of its strategic offensive forces, it accepted the offensive arms limitation grudgingly. Its main motive in signing the agreements resulting from the first series of SALT negotiations, known as SALT I, was preventing the United States from deploying an effective defense against ballistic missiles. The Soviet Union clearly preferred a vulnerable adversary that would be deterred from striking by the prospect of massive Soviet retaliation on the adversary's unprotected weapons, economy, and population.

Data as of May 1989