Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II Treaty (1979)


Bilateral, unratified agreement between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. setting equal aggregate ceilings and subceilings on strategic offensive weapon systems and imposing qualitative restraints on existing and future strategic systems. Specifically, the SALT II equal ceilings include:

  • 2,400 aggregate limit on strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers)
  • 1,320 subceiling on MIRVed ballistic missiles

The United States did not ratify the treaty after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. But President Carter, and later President Ronald Reagan, agreed to comply with the provisions of the treaty as long as the Soviet Union reciprocated. Soviet Premier Brezhnev made a similar statement regarding Soviet intentions.

In 1986 the U.S. repudiated its political commitment to remain within the SALT II limits.


The primary goal of SALT II was to replace the Interim Agreement with a long-term comprehensive Treaty providing broad limits on strategic offensive weapons systems. The principal U.S. objectives as the SALT II negotiations began were to provide for equal numbers of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles for the sides, to begin the process of reduction of these delivery vehicles, and to impose restraints on qualitative developments which could threaten future stability.

Early discussion between the sides focused on the weapon systems to be included, factors involved in providing for equality in numbers of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, taking into account the important differences between the forces of the two sides, bans on new systems, qualitative limits, and a Soviet proposal to include U.S. forward-based systems. The positions of the sides differed widely on many of these issues.

A major breakthrough occurred at the Vladivostok meeting in November 1974, between President Ford and General Secretary Brezhnev. At this meeting, the sides agreed to a basic framework for the SALT II agreement. Basic elements of the Aide-Memoire, which recorded this agreement, included:

  • 2,400 equal aggregate limit on strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers) of the sides;
  • 1,320 equal aggregate limit on MIRV systems;
  • ban on construction of new land-based ICBM launchers;
  • limits on deployment of new types of strategic offensive arms; and
  • important elements of

the Interim Agreement (e.g., relating to verification) would be incorporated in the new agreement.

In addition, the Aide-Memoire stated that the duration of the new agreement would be through 1985.

The completed SALT II agreement was signed by President Carter and General Secretary Brezhnev in Vienna on June 18, 1979. President Carter transmitted it to the Senate on June 22 for its advice and consent to ratification.

On January 3, 1980, however, President Carter requested the Senate majority leader to delay consideration of the Treaty on the Senate floor in view of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Although the Treaty remained unratified, each Party was individually bound under the terms of international law to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of the Treaty, until it had made its intentions clear not to become a party to the Treaty.

In 1980, President Carter announced the United States would comply with the provisions of the Treaty as long as the Soviet Union reciprocated. Brezhnev made a similar statement regarding Soviet intentions.

In May 1982, President Reagan stated he would do nothing to undercut the SALT agreements as long as the Soviet Union showed equal restraint. The Soviet Union again agreed to abide by the unratified Treaty.

Subsequently, in 1984 and 1985, President Reagan declared that the Soviet Union had violated its political commitment to observe the SALT II Treaty. President Reagan decided, however, that an interim framework of mutual restraint remained in the U.S. interest and, in June 1985, declared that the United States would continue to refrain from undercutting existing strategic arms agreements to the extent that the Soviet Union exercised comparable restraint and provided that the Soviet Union actively pursued arms reductions agreements in the Nuclear and Space Talks in Geneva.

On May 26, 1986, President Reagan stated that he had reviewed again the status of U.S. interim restraint policy and that, as he had documented in three detailed reports to the Congress, the Soviet Union had not complied with its political commitment to observe the SALT agreements, including the SALT II Treaty, nor had the Soviet Union indicated its readiness to join in a framework of truly mutual restraint. He declared that, "Given this situation, ... in the future, the United States must base decisions regarding its strategic force structure on the nature and magnitude of the threat posed by Soviet strategic forces and not on standards contained in the SALT structure...." In his statement, President Reagan said that he did not anticipate any appreciable numerical growth in U.S. strategic offensive forces and that, assuming no significant change in the threat, the United States would not deploy more strategic nuclear delivery vehicles or strategic ballistic missile warheads than the Soviets. The United States would, in sum, "...continue to exercise the utmost restraint, while protecting strategic deterrence, in order to help foster the necessary atmosphere for significant reductions in the strategic arsenals of both sides." He again called upon the Soviet Union to join the United States " establishing an interim framework of truly mutual restraint."