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Soviet-American Talks 1978–1979 on Prohibition of Antisatellite Weapons

Abstract

The negotiation process on the issue of anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) was an important part of the American-Soviet dialogue at the final stage of the Detente. The Soviet-American conversations on this topic in 1978-1979 became possible due to the fact that in the governments of both countries in those years security was considered comprehensively. In this regard, the ASAT problem was included in the agenda of bilateral negotiations in order to limit the militarization of space and eliminate unilateral violation of power balance. Initially these negotiations were not subject to wide publicity. The article describes the process of preparing the American government for negotiations with Soviet colleagues, establishes the level of awareness of American negotiators about the real state of affairs in the field of ASAT in the USSR. Article analyzes the challenges faced by the US administration in the military space, the motives of its leaders, the positions of key departments (the State Department, the military, the White House). The reasons for the failure of the negotiations and its consequences are considered. 1970s was the period of the greatest achievements in the field of arms limitation and cooperation in creating mechanisms to maintain stability in the world, appeared primarily in the signing of a number of Soviet-American agreements on the limitation of various types of weapons. During these years ASAT was a relatively new problem required a comprehensive study and a well-considered bilateral (and in the long term and multilateral) solution. The US military was aware of the growing significance of American satellites in providing communications, intelligence, and geolocation functions. Serious concerns in Washington were caused by tests of co-orbital satellite interceptors in the USSR. The development of American anti-satellite systems in the United States was delayed, which led to an imbalance between the two superpowers in the military-space sphere. Guided by the desire to correct this problem, President J. Carter, who took office in January 1977, began to provide a “two-track approach”. On the one hand, he intensified research and development activities on the creation of a satellite interceptor. On the other hand, negotiations with the USSR have been initiated with a view to signing an agreement restricting or prohibiting ASAT systems. However, the development of an action strategy and the formulation of tasks for the American delegation to the upcoming negotiations was complicated by the specific nature of the ASAT issues and interdepartmental disagreements. In fact, American diplomacy got the task to induce the USSR to make concessions without offering anything equivalent in return. The first appeal to the USSR with the proposal to begin negotiations was made by the USA in March 1977, but for the first conversations began only in June 1978 in Helsinki. The other two rounds took place in January-February and April-June 1979. During the debates, several fundamental differences emerged, in particular, about interpretations of ASAT and protected satellites. The ASAT negotiations were suspended without a definite result initially due to the expectation of ratification of the SALT-II, and finally due to the Afghan events of the end of 1979. The article contains new information about the content and features of the negotiation process in the years of the Detente of international tensions and makes it possible to identify some characteristic features of the activities of American diplomacy in unfavorable conditions for it.

Keywords:

Cold war; Détente; US foreign policy; J. Carter; anti-satellite weapons; militarization of space.


Authors: Valery Yungblud, Artyom Zboyev

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