Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jenny Quinn and Jim Griffin

U.S. Rulers Divided: The Salt II Debate

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 5, No. 7, July 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) is in trouble. A powerful rightwing lobby is going all out to scuttle the agreement on the grounds that it represents appeasement of the Soviet Union. At the same time many liberals and peace forces oppose the agreement because they believe it fails to check the arms race. Given this, SALT II faces a rough road in Congress and the Carter administration presently lacks the votes to assure passage.


The argument that SALT “appeases” the USSR is a cover for those elements in the ruling class which believe that the interests of US imperialism are best served by getting tough with the Soviets. Represented in Congress by right wingers like North Carolina’s Jesses Helms and Pentagon liberals like “Scoop” Jackson, these forces oppose arms control and favor escalating the military budget in a quest for a bigger edge in nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union.

Their argument that SALT II hands over to the Soviets an edge in strategic nuclear weaponry doesn’t hold water. Presently the US and the USSR both possess nuclear arsenals capable of achieving what the atomic think tanks call MAD (mutually assured destruction).

Fundamentally, a rough parity of destructive power exists with each side able to obliterate the other in the event of nuclear war. If we can speak of an edge in such a situation, it is the US and not the Soviets who hold it. Those who argue that the Soviets have gained superiority point to the greater “megatonnage” and “throw weight” possessed by Moscow. But this quantitative edge is more than offset by the greater number of warheads held by the US and the more developed and thus more accurate delivery systems utilized by the Pentagon.

The SALT II agreement basically ratifies rather than alters the existing balance of power. SALT’S right wing critics argue that the treaty imposes no checks on the newest Soviet weapon developments, notably the Backfire Bomber, and thus the Soviets will develop these to the detriment of the US. What this argument ignores is that the US retains its capacity to develop equally potent new weapons systems such as the Trident II submarine.

Significantly, the Soviets were willing to negotiate limitations on the Backfire Bomber but only if the US were willing to include systems like Trident II. The US refused to do so and this refusal has been the biggest fly in the ointment, dragging negotiations on over the last two years. Given this, the present treaty represents a concession and an accommodation on the part of the USSR and hardly can be construed the other way around.

The right wing opposition to SALT should be seen for what it is – a call for radical escalation of the arms race in an attempt to use nuclear blackmail to keep the Soviets “in their place”–in particular, to discourage them from supporting national liberation and revolutionary movements which threaten US imperialism’s global interests. This opposition aims at preserving imperialist domination over much of the world and is willing to intensify the risk of thermonuclear war to do so.


The argument that SALT should be opposed because it does not really reduce the arms race has considerably more strength. SALT does not cut back the stockpiles of nuclear weaponry, excepting some obsolete items of no value to either party. It imposes ceilings on the production and deployment of some weapons, but these ceilings largely correspond to already planned levels of production and deployment.

For example, the Carter Administration points to the section of the new treaty which bans the deployment of sea-based Cruise Missiles for the next three years as a major concession on its part and a demonstration of its “restraint”. The fact is that the US will not have the capability to deploy this weapon during this period so this “concession” is meaningless.

Some of the most important new strategic weapon systems are ignored entirely by SALT. The Carter administration is trying to sweeten the pot for the Pentagon lobby by backing the development of the MX missile, a $30 billion white elephant which will be dragged about in trucks and hidden in trenches in order to avoid detection.

Peace critics plausibly ask, “If planned weapons systems are going ahead as scheduled, and expensive new weaponry is going to be developed, where exactly does the “limitation” come in?”

These arguments correctly pinpoint the continuing interest of the Carter administration in the arms race and the hypocrisy of its attempt to pose as an advocate of peace and disarmament. Both the liberal and right wing representatives of imperialism are committed to feeding the maw of the military machine.

But the peace critics of SALT miss the one sense in which SALT does serve to limit the arms race. If SALT II is rejected the likelihood is for an escalation of the arms race well beyond the level spelled out in the agreement. Even more important, the rejection of SALT II will increase tensions and the probability of nuclear confrontation between the US and the USSR.

The defeat of SALT II will be a victory for those who favor a more aggressive US foreign policy and thus propel the US farther in the direction of military intervention and war. The defeat of SALT II will signal to the Soviets that they must increase their own arms production and prepare to counter a more aggressive US military and political thrust in the world. SALT IPs glaring weaknesses certainly should be pointed out, and no one should be encouraged in the illusion that the treaty heralds a new direction toward world peace or a step toward disarmament. At the same time, SALT II should be critically supported as part and parcel of the struggle to combat the war danger and prevent the US from embarking on new and more dangerous foreign adventures.


The USSR’s interest in achieving SALT is clear enough. The arms race imposes a far greater burden on the Soviet economy than it does on the more developed US. Costly weapons production holds back the Soviet effort to raise the standard of living of its people. Unlike the US, where military spending serves to artificially prop up the economic, the Soviet Union, with a planned economy and a labor shortage has no need of such inducements. Similarly, while the US must maintain its military forces to preserve an empire based on the exploitation of the peoples and wealth of other nations, the USSR has no investments around the world which it must preserve and expand.

It is the contention with imperialism which is the fundamental reason for the Soviet military build up. It is from the imperialist camp that the impetus for war and aggression comes, and as such the USSR’s military serves defensive ends. In the context of defending its interests the USSR has on occasion committed aggression itself, as in the case of Czechoslovakia, but that does not alter the fundamental point.

The growth of anti-imperialist forces on a world scale is not the product of Soviet aggression or conspiracy as the US imperialists would have it. Rather, this growth is an inevitable expression of the people’s struggle for independence, national liberation, and socialism. That this benefits the world position of the USSR in relation to the US is indisputable, but can hardly be laid at the door of alleged Soviet schemes for world domination.

US imperialism, on the other hand, is incapable of committing itself to genuine peace. The whole logic of the imperialist system leads to militarism and the drive toward war. Why then would the imperialists agree to negotiate any sort of arms control agreement?

Presently US imperialism is declining and on the defensive, having suffered setback after setback in Vietnam, South Africa, Iran and elsewhere. The military strength of the USSR means that the US cannot freely intervene around the world without running the risk of war with the danger of nuclear destruction. In this situation the imperialists are compelled to exercise certain restraints and seek to keep their contention with the Soviets within definite bounds. This is the premise of detente. Within the framework of detente, the imperialists seek the greatest possible advantage for themselves.

This is the context for the present division within US ruling circles over SALT. The right wing, knowing how much the Soviets want arms limitation, argue that the US should only conclude a SALT agreement if the Soviets make major political concessions elsewhere – for example, abandoning their support for liberation movements in South Africa or giving greater freedom to internal anti-Soviet dissidents.

The pro-SALT forces, while also favoring some sort of linkage, fear that by trying to blackmail the Soviets around SALT the whole framework of detente will be threatened. Given the present delicate world balance of power and the US’s position in it, this section of the ruling class views such a possibility with some alarm.

From the standpoint of the peoples of both the US and the USSR there can be no greater danger than the possibility of nuclear holocaust. The Soviet people, haying lost 20 million of their number during World War II, have a very real fear of such a conflict. Public opinion polls and the strength of the peace movement during the ’60’s and early ’70’s are both indications of the deep yearning for peace on the part of our own people.

SALT II should be supported as part of the struggle for peace. At the same time we need to be clear that we can’t rely on the Carters and Kennedys to check the war danger. Only an aroused and organized popular movement can do that. And finally, we must educate our people to the revolutionary understanding that only the abolition of imperialism can bring about lasting peace and bury the nightmare of thermonuclear destruction.