Updated: 26-Oct-2001 1979

[ '45-'49 | '50-'59 | '60-'69 | '70-'79 | '80-'89 | '90-'99 | '00- ]
[ 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 ]



In June 1979, the SALT II agreement is signed in Vienna by President Jimmy Carter and General Secretary Brezhnev. In spite of some progress in the field of arms control, Soviet forces had continued to be strengthened while Alliance defence spending and force levels had remained static for some years. In 1977, President Carter had proposed that the NATO allies should each increase defence spending by three per cent a year. Attempts were also made to get better value for money by ensuring the interoperability of defence equipment, whereby the allies' communications systems, fuel, ammunition, spare parts and so on would be compatible. In spite of these moves, many in the West argue that the continuing imbalance in the forces of the two sides could undermine both the stability which had been achieved in inter-continental systems through the SALT process, as well as NATO's deterrent strategy. These anxieties become more acute when the Soviet Union begins the rapid deployment of the SS-20, multiple warhead, intermediate-range nuclear missiles, most of which are targeted on Western Europe. By the time of a special meeting of NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers on 12 December 1979, some 130 SS-20 missiles with 390 warheads have been deployed. The Ministers adopt a 'double-track' decision. NATO would deploy in Europe 572 US Pershing II missiles and ground-launched Cruise missiles, all with single warheads. But as modernisation proceeds, 1,000 nuclear warheads would be withdrawn from Europe. In addition, and this was the second track, a broad set of initiatives would be launched to further the course of arms control and confidence-building so as to improve mutual security and cooperation in Europe as a whole.

On 27 December 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan in order to preserve the Marxist regime that had taken power in the country the year before. President Amin is executed and Babrak Karmal installed in his place. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shatters the West's hope for lasting improvements in East-West relations. Shortly after the invasion, the Allies convene an extraordinary meeting at which they emphasise their disapproval. President Carter refuses to submit the SALT II Treaty to the US Senate for ratification. The Afghan war will last for ten years and claim fifteen thousand Soviet lives. Afghan deaths are estimated to rise to one million, while up to five million Afghans flee as refugees to Pakistan and Iran.


13 Feb-
26 Mar

CSCE Experts Meeting on Mediterrean Cooperation, Valleta.

11 Apr

Establishment of Special Group to study arms control aspects of theatre nuclear systems. (The Special Group concluded its work on 11 December 1979).

18 June

SALT II agreement signed in Vienna by President Carter and General Secretary Brezhnev. (The agreement was not ratified by the United States).

4 Nov

Seizure of the United States Embassy in Teheran and 53 hostages by Islamic revolutionaries.

12 Dec

Special Meeting of Foreign and Defence Ministers in Brussels. Double-track decision on theatre nuclear force modernisation including the deployment in Europe of US ground-launched Cruise and Pershing II systems and a parallel and complementary arms control effort to obviate the need for such deployments.

Additional information:

25-26 Dec

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

29 Dec

Special meeting of North Atlantic Council following Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on 25-26 December.