Four Decades since Détente and SALT

May 18, 2012

Forty years ago next week marked a historic point in Soviet-American relations. On May 22, 1972, President Richard Nixon landed in Moscow for an unprecedented week-long summit with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Premier Alexei Kosygin and other Soviet officials that culminated in the SALT I Treaty and marked the height of the détente era.

In honor of this four decade anniversary, I thought I’d write about an insightful publication by the State Department entitled “Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972 that covers this important period that marked a détente or a “thawing” of Cold War relations between the two superpowers.

Extremely interesting are the forewords by both Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. In them, they talk about their personal relationship that forged “The Channel” of communications between the two governments that finally led to the breakthrough in negotiations.

Kissinger reminisces:

On March 25, 1971, according to the transcript of a telephone conversation with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, I remarked: “When we are both out of government service, which will be a lot later for you than for me, I hope you will let me read the reports you send in on me.” … My remark to Dobrynin was an interlude in what evolved into almost daily exchanges. What was later named “The Channel” began as a general exchange of views. Starting in 1971, the Channel became the principal venue for U.S.-Soviet relations.

Don’t change “The Channel”  

According to Kissinger in “The Détente Years”, “The Channel” became one of the pathways of change, and “produced a number of significant agreements”, including:

  • an agreed approach on Strategic Arms Limitation (May 1971);
  • the conclusion of an agreement regarding access to Berlin (September 1971);
  • the announcement of a Soviet-American summit agreement (October 1971); and
  • President Nixon’s visit to Moscow (May 1972), at which agreements, the most important of which were a treaty regulating Ballistic Missile Defense and a five-year freeze on deploying additional offensive strategic weapons, were concluded. The two sides also published an agreed statement on principles of international conduct.

Image: Nixon and Brezhnev shake after signing the SALT treaty on May 26, 1972 (Source: Corbis Images).

Pass the SALT, please

The highlight of the publication is the discussion about the lead-up and issues during the Moscow Summit and the final negotiations of the SALT I Treaty.

SALT I, the first series of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, had begun in November 1969 to explore ways to halt or reduce the arms race, particularly nuclear weapon proliferation. This week of meetings from May 22 to 26, was set up after those years of negotiations to finalize and sign a number of agreements that increased cooperation and reduced the mutual nuclear threat between the two nations.

Image: Nuclear Limits. (Source: Time Magazine, 1972)

On May 26, Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), the most significant of the multiple agreements reached during the Moscow summit. The terms of the SALT treaty limited the USSR and the United States to only 200 anti-ballistic missiles each, which had to be split between two defensive systems.

One good (hand)shake leads to another

Among all the handshakes at this Moscow summit was another for the “Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Cooperation in the Fields of Science and Technology” which laid the groundwork for the first joint Soviet-US space flight. Called the Apollo Soyuz Test Project or ASTP, the ASTP flight lasted only nine days from July 15-24, 1975, but led to another famous handshake… this time in space.

Image: Photo of the famous handshake between Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford (f.g.) and cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov after a successful linkup in space of the Americans’ Apollo and the Soviets’ Soyuz spacecrafts on July 17, 1975  (Source: NASA ASTP gallery).

Innovation = Bureaucratic dismay

All in all, this publication provides unique insights from the players involved about the diplomatic communications and procedural changes and innovations that were put in place on both sides to eliminate the logjam in relations between Soviets and American administrations since the end of World War II. And sometimes these changes were done “outside” the normal processes.

As Kissinger explains in the book:

Paradoxically, the Channel worked best so long as the bureaucracy did not know of its existence. While that was the case, the participants in the interdepartmental machinery had an incentive to adjust their positions toward what they thought was feasible; in general, no one wanted to assume responsibility for failure by inflexibility…

For all the bureaucratic dismay it caused, the Channel was an innovative attempt to transcend the formalities of an increasingly bureaucratized diplomacy. It helped contain crises, saw America through a period of domestic divisions and sketched prospects for a more peaceful world.

HOW DO I OBTAIN “Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972”?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


In FRUS We Trust: 150 Years of US Foreign Relations History

December 2, 2011

December 3, 2011, marks the 150th anniversary of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. The FRUS series, which is produced by the State Department’s Office of the Historian, was first published in 1861 in the same year that the Government Printing Office was founded and is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy decision-making and major diplomatic activity. Researchers and students of foreign policy have relied on the series to provide a “road map” of various major U.S. Government archival sources for many years.

Image: FRUS Series 150th Anniversary. Source: State Dept. Office of the Historian.

The FRUS series now comprises more than 450 individual volumes. A staff of approximately 20 historians and editors at the Office of the Historian in the Department of State compile and prepare the volumes for publication.  More recent volumes published over the last two decades increasingly containing declassified records from all the foreign affairs agencies who participate in a declassification review if their documents are selected for inclusion in a FRUS volume.

What will you find in a typical FRUS volume?

The State Department’s Office of the Historian describes the contents of FRUS volumes:

Foreign Relations volumes contain documents from Presidential libraries, Departments of State and Defense, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Agency for International Development, and other foreign affairs agencies as well as the private papers of individuals involved in formulating U.S. foreign policy.

In general, the editors choose documentation that illuminates policy formulation and major aspects and repercussions of its execution. Volumes published over the past few years have expanded the scope of the series in two important ways: first by including documents from a wider range of government agencies, particularly those involved with intelligence activity and covert actions, and second by including transcripts prepared from Presidential tape recordings.

They go on to add that currently “volumes on the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations are now being researched, annotated, and prepared for publication.”

Contributing to an “Intelligent Public Opinion”

Although the FRUS was originally proposed as an unofficial Annual Report for the Secretary of State, its originators displayed very lofty goals for their now long-lived series.

In describing the history of how the FRUS series came about, Joshua Botts of the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State explains:

The covering memorandum to the Secretary transmitting the Order for Secretary of State Frank Kellogg’s approval explained that FRUS “ought to contribute to the promotion of interest in questions of foreign policy and in turn assist in the maintenance of an intelligent public opinion.

In short, the Department intended for FRUS to serve an important public affairs function in addition to satisfying demands from the academic community.

Image: Frank Billings Kellogg, 45th Secretary of State under President Calvin Coolidge, 1925-29. Source: State Dept. Office of the Historian.

Thus, the editors of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series act as the curators of American diplomatic history, sifting through our foreign affairs information to ensure there is a means for future generations of Americans to witness, decipher and interpret U.S. foreign policy decisions and actions.

150TH Anniversary Events for the FRUS series

1)      FRUS Research: To mark the 150th anniversary of FRUS, the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State assembled extensive research on how the evolution of the series fits within many important themes in U.S. history, including the transformation of government institutions, changing conceptions of national security and transparency, and the increasingly important role that the United States has played in the world.

2)      Upcoming FRUS Events:  As part of the FRUS series sesquicentennial, the Office of the Historian has also embarked on an outreach initiative with public events. Even if you missed the commemorative events held to date, you can consult the list of events to see if a recording is available.

Video Recordings of Past FRUS 150th Events

a) Foreign Relations during the Civil War Era: A Video Interview with Dr. Aaron Marrs, Office of the Historian, U.S. State Department, December 1, 2011.

 President Lincoln’s Cottage and the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State hosted a public program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Foreign Relations of the United State, the flagship publication of the Department’s Office of the Historian. Burrus Carnahan, noted Civil War and Lincoln author and scholar, interviewed Dr. Aaron Marrs, Civil War-era specialist with the Office of the Historian, on Marrs’ new research that sheds light on foreign relations in the context of the Civil War.  Video part one is available here and part two is available here.

b) A Weapon of Mass Instruction?:  Discussion with Office of Historian Staff Members and University of Virginia Professors, November 7, 2011. 

The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia hosted a discussion between Office of the Historian staff members and University of Virginia professors on how the U.S. Government has historically struggled to balance security imperatives with its commitment to transparency and democratic accountability.  Video available on Miller Center website.

c) Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: A Conversation on the 1955 Yalta Foreign Relations Volume October 12, 2011.

The story of the Yalta Foreign Relations of the United States volume is a Cold War tale of partisanship, of sensational global headlines and leaks, and of contentious debates about balancing security and openness … learn more about the Yalta papers by listening here to the discussion, “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire,” at the New York Public Library.

d)      Open Secrets: The Foreign Relations of the United States Series, Democracy’s ‘Need to Know,’ and National Security: American Historical Association Panel,  January, 9,  2011.

To hear how the FRUS editors sort through questions such as how much the public needs to know, what should be kept secret, are secrets political, and how long secrecy lasts, watch this fascinating panel discussion on how a democracy balances the public’s right to know against the need for preserving national security. This panel was held on January 9, 2011 at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting and included a roundtable of historians from the State Department and National Security Archive. The panel discussion can be viewed on CSPAN video or Youtube video.

Figure: FRUS panel entitled “Open Secrets: The Foreign Relations of the United States Series, Democracy’s ‘Need to Know,’ and National Security” at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting on January 9, 2011.


So from one 150 year-old to another, GPO wishes the Foreign Relations of the United States series a very well-deserved happy birthday!

How can you get copies of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series?

Alerts about new releases of the Foreign Relations of the United States series

1) GPO Email Alerts:  Sign up to receive email alerts from the U.S. Government Bookstore about new publications in the FRUS series.

2) State Department FRUS RSS feed:  You can also keep up-to-date about new releases in the FRUS series by subscribing to the State Department’s FRUS Series RSS feed.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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