Date of Award

Spring 5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


War and Society

First Advisor

Dr. Kyle Longley, PhD

Second Advisor

Dr. Mateo Jarquin, PhD

Third Advisor

Ms. Kyndra Rotunda, JD


Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, many in the United States and the Soviet Union believed their leaders had narrowly avoided nuclear annihilation. In response to this crisis, however, American and Soviet citizens asked more questions about nuclear weapons and their spread than ever before, well into the 1970s, and toward the decade of détente, or “de-escalation” between the superpowers. The term détente first appeared in writings from 1912, as France and Germany tried unsuccessfully to ease the tension before World War I.1 However, it is more famous in its use in Cold War foreign policy. The term détente was popularized by the Nixon administration, and specifically by National Security Advisor (and later Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger, in 1969.

During the 1970s, the two superpowers sought to limit their nuclear arsenals through the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks of 1972 and 1979 (SALT I and II). Following the success that SALT I had in de-escalating nuclear tensions, Soviet and American government officials continued to meet for the rest of the decade to work on a second round of talks. Ultimately, it took seven years, but U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty in the summer of 1979, intending to start a third round of negotiations within two to three years. This treaty proved to be a turning point in the relations between the two Cold War superpowers, and a thorn in the side for both the American and Soviet governments. Regardless of what the Soviets were doing as far as nuclear technology, SALT II had a fundamental weakness due to the internal debate in the United States government between the “hawks” and the “doves” on the issue.

Divisions existed within the U.S. government over whether the SALT II treaty would deter the Soviets. This divide even extended to within the Carter administration, as his national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and his Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, frequently clashed on how best to handle the issue. Carter’s inexperience in politics on the national stage arguably exacerbated tensions between himself, his cabinet members, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This thesis has several key parts. First, it provides a historical background by discussing a history of arms control, including the early Cold War and SALT I, which was widely considered a successful model of negotiation. Then, it reviews the material content of SALT II. Finally, this paper examines the conflict between the two sides of the issue in the United States.

On one side, the usually conservative “hawks” sought a counterforce agenda, which advocated for stronger restrictions on the Soviets, out of fear of looking weak. On the other side, several prominent progressives, known as the “doves”, sought complete disarmament by both sides, more of a bilateral agreement, and open communication between the two rival superpowers.

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Available for download on Tuesday, December 31, 2024