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The History of U.S.-Russia Summits: from 1970 to 1990 (Part 2)

Here is the first article of this series.

Brezhnev and Nixon Summits

During a week-long summit with Soviet leader Brezhnev and other Soviet officials in May 1972, the U.S. and the Soviet Union reached several agreements, laying the foundation for a joint space flight in 1975. On May 26, Nixon and Brezhnev signed the “Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty” (SALT), which restricted the arsenal of the two countries to 200 anti-ballistic missiles each. This summit produced a working relationship between the two countries and a historic arms treaty that set limits to the rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals of the two countries. The meeting ushered in a period known as détente, in which the two sides agreed to disagree on many issues while seeking progress on arms control and other areas of mutual interest. After the Summit, Nixon invited Brezhnev over to Washington to continue their discussions.

Brezhnev and Nixon met in Washington in June 1973 to discuss nuclear disarmament and other issues such as oceanography, transportation, agricultural research, cultural exchange. The two leaders signed the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War during the summit. Many experts call this summit a high-water mark in détente between the USSR and the U.S.

Ford and Brezhnev

Leonid Brezhnev and Gerald Ford met in Vladivostok for a two-day summit held in November 1974 to extend nuclear arms control provisions between the Soviet Union and the United States. The two leaders agreed to terms that would limit both nations an “equal aggregate number” of various weapons, including strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles fitted with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles.

According to both the Russian and American sides, the summit had been a success. Ford described it as “an appropriate ending to a journey designed to strengthen ties with old friends and expand areas of agreement with potential adversaries.” Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to the U.S., said that “both sides were satisfied with the results of the meeting” and labeled the Vladivostok Summit as the high point of détente between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The two leaders met again in Helsinki for the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Leaders from thirty-five nations signed the Helsinki Accords, a declaration that called for respect for human rights and the sovereignty of European borders, and it was among the most significant moments of the Cold War.

Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev

Although the 1972 SALT treaty limited a wide variety of nuclear weapons, many issues remained unresolved. By 1979, both the U.S. and Soviet Union were eager to revitalize the process. For the U.S.fear of the Soviets, taking the lead in the arms race was the primary motivator. For the Soviet Union, the increasingly tight relationship between America and China was a cause for concern.

In Vienna in June 1979, Carter and Brezhnev met and signed the SALT II agreement, which established numerical equality between the two countries in terms of nuclear weapons delivery systems and limited the number of MIRV missiles.

Gorbachev and Reagan 1985-1988

After not having a summit for eight years, the Soviet Union and the U.S. held a summit. Meeting in Geneva in 1985, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev produced no large-scale agreements—yet the meeting set the stage for a more peaceful future, as the two men engaged in lengthy, personal talks and seemed to develop a sincere and tight-knit relationship.

The meeting came as a surprise to some in the U.S., considering Reagan’s often used fiery rhetoric to describe communism and the Soviet Union, but consistent with the president’s desire to bring the nuclear arms race under control. For Gorbachev, the meeting was another clear indication of his willingness to improve relations with the United States so that he would be able to pursue his domestic reforms better. They reached six agreements on topics ranging from cultural and scientific exchanges to environmental issues during the summit.

Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to a 50 percent reduction in strategic nuclear offensive forces; a reduction to a 100-warhead global ceiling for Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) missiles; and removal of INF missiles from Europe. However, disagreements over Reagan’s plan to continue the Strategic Defense Initiative prevented further progress.

In increasingly friendly exchanges, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Moscow in 1988 to discuss the START comprehensive nuclear arms reduction treaty and other geopolitical issues. In a sign of the blossoming relationship, Reagan’s address to students at Moscow State University was televised across the USSR. When asked whether he still believes the Soviet Union is an evil empire, he responded with, “I was talking about another time, another era.”

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