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Profile: Sentinel

Sentinel was a participant or observer in the following events:

Three stages of an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) flight.Three stages of an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) flight. [Source: Missile Defense Agency]Defense Secretary Robert McNamara announces the US decision to deploy what he calls a “thin” anti-ballistic missile system, named “Sentinel,” designed to protect American targets against an accidental Soviet missile launch or a limited Chinese long-range ballistic missile attack. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008] The system is launched in response to a similar system deployed by the Soviet Union to protect Moscow and Leningrad. [Time, 6/5/1968] The system is based on a series of long-range radar installations and anti-missile missiles deployed in key areas throughout the US. It is designed as much to protect the Johnson administration from criticism leveled by hardline Republicans that it is “soft” on the Soviet-Chinese nuclear threat as it is to provide real protection from Soviet or Chinese missiles. The system will never be completed (see 1969-1976), though by some accounts, its limited rollout does encourage the Soviet Union to renew arms negotiations with the US. In 1968, Time magazine will observe, “The fact is that Sentinel was intended less as a truly effective defense system than as an expensive propaganda gesture for Soviet consumption.” [Time, 6/5/1968; Schwartz, 1998, pp. 286-288]

Entity Tags: Robert McNamara, Sentinel

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

After Richard Nixon wins the presidency (see November 5, 1968), he orders a review of the Sentinel anti-ballistic missile program (see September 18, 1967). It is suspended and later reintroduced in a more modest form under the moniker “Safeguard.” Nixon says the program will protect “our land-based retaliatory forces against a direct attack by the Soviet Union.” Safeguard has serious conception and design flaws, and is never completely deployed; when the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is signed with the Soviet Union (see May 26, 1972), the program is scaled back and eventually terminated by Congress. Author Stephen Schwartz will later write that the Sentinel/Safeguard program is “the only time that Congress has successfully voted down a major strategic nuclear weapons program supported by the executive branch.” [Schwartz, 1998, pp. 286-288; Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Sentinel, Stephen Schwartz, Safeguard

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

November 17, 1969: SALT I Talks Begin

Impelled in part by anti-ballistic missiles deployed in both the US and the Soviet Union (see September 18, 1967 and 1969-1976), the two nuclear superpowers begin the first round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, later known as SALT I. The negotiations are designed to limit both anti-ballistic missile systems and offensive nuclear arsenals. An agreement will be signed three years later (see May 26, 1972 and May 26, 1972). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Sentinel, Safeguard

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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