When the United States and Soviet Union agreed to begin the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) – the first sustained bilateral negotiations on controlling nuclear armaments held between the two superpowers – the news was an international sensation. Journalists from around the world gathered in Helsinki in November 1969 hoping to file stories on groundbreaking, high-stakes negotiations. But as weeks passed with only anodyne press releases issued by the US side (and nothing from the Soviet camp), disappointed reporters left to cover other stories.
The early days of the talks foreshadowed negotiations that occurred in something of an information vacuum. Official government publications rarely revealed much of interest, and those controlled by the Soviet Union (such as “Pravda”) were considered mostly propaganda. The talks and the subjects they covered were opaque to the world and to most members of the US and Soviet publics. This extended to the Soviet delegation itself, whose diplomats typically received only cursory briefings about their country’s military capabilities. Indeed, Soviet military officials complained to their American counterparts that during negotiations the US side kept bringing forward details about the Soviet nuclear arsenal that even ambassadors appointed by Moscow were not supposed to know.
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