The Carter Years: Toward a New Global Order

By Richard C. Thornton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Carter Administration Probes Soviet Intentions

D espite the change of administration from Republican to Democrat, continuity rather than discontinuity marked the transition from President Ford to President Carter. The Carter administration, under Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's direction, sought to carry forward the essential strategic conception of an adjusted global order devised by Henry Kissinger and set in motion in early 1973, despite the fact that the momentum of the new strategy had flagged by 1976. Detente with the Soviet Union was the essential precondition for the successful execution of American strategy, and Secretary Vance assiduously sought to revive it. Only under circumstances of friendly relations with Moscow, particularly as expressed through a satisfactory SALT II agreement, could the United States move confidently to restructure regional balances around the Soviet periphery, in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, establish stable security structures, redefine security commitments, and reposition American military power.

Almost immediately upon the president's assumption of office, however, a major difficulty arose precipitated by a dramatic and unanticipated adverse shift in the strategic weapons equation in the form of a surprise Soviet breakthrough in ICBM guidance technology. The Soviet breakthrough threatened to deprive the Carter leadership of the time it had assumed would be available, and forced reconsideration of American strategy, which underwent several subsequent revisions. As a result, the four years of the Carter administration were marked by tense and intensive American and Soviet

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