141. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McElroy0


  • Nuclear Testing (U)
Reference is made to a memorandum by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, dated 27 February 1958, subject as above.1
Under the conditions specified in the referenced memorandum the United States is ahead of the USSR numerically, both in numbers of weapons and amounts of weapons materials. If the moratorium applies only against testing, the United States can hold this position until about 1964. In any analysis of the nuclear capabilities of the two countries, the United States can only evaluate Soviet weapons against our own, since we have no specific intelligence on theirs. With this handicap, we must interject a note of caution into any evaluation, because of the possibility that the USSR may have made alternative effective designs which are unknown to us.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed referenced memorandum in light of the possible position of the USSR with respect to that of the United States, and consider that a complete cessation of nuclear testing after Operation Hardtack would result, at the very least, in a technological parity in nuclear weapons development between the two countries. This apparent parity is reflected in the Appendix hereto. Furthermore, the quantitative advantage which the United States presently enjoys as a result of its greater stockpile may well be equalized by about 1964 by the USSR with its rapidly increasing capacity for producing nuclear materials. These factors, coupled with the ability of the USSR to assume the military initiative, could result in relative supremacy of the USSR over the United States.
The tests scheduled for Hardtack will contribute appreciably to an improved United States position, providing the key shots are successful. However, should these key shots prove unsuccessful, there is a possibility that the attainment of a Ballistic Missile warhead greater than [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]Fleet Ballistic Missile warhead and an anti-missile missile warhead will be seriously endangered if there is a moratorium on testing. In addition several important developments scheduled for testing subsequent to Operation Hardtack would probably be stopped. These include a family of highly mobile, inexpensive, small-yield weapons for support of battle groups and for air defense, a family of clean tactical weapons, artillery shells, and others. For these reasons, as well as for the technological parity which is now evidenced, and the ability of the USSR to equalize our present quantitative advantage by about 1964, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe strongly that under no circumstances should the United States discuss with the USSR a test moratorium prior to the successful Completion of the key shots in Hardtack.
Only through continued testing and development can improvements be realized in yield-to-weight ratios for atomic warheads. Further, radical advances in weapon systems are only possible through these improvements. [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]2 Significant [Page 557] advancements in such weapon systems as the second generation of IRBM’s, ICBM’s, and FBM’s and the anti-missile missile are only possible through continued warhead development and testing. In addition, vital weapon effects information can only be obtained through continued testing.
For the reasons above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reaffirm their opinion of 31 December 19573 that cessation of tests should be considered only as a part of a larger disarmament proposal which will provide also for complete suspension of the production of weapons and weapons materials keyed to an effective system of inspection verification.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Maxwell D. Taylor4
General, United States Army, Chief of Staff
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Records of the Special Assistant for Science and Technology. Top Secret; Restricted Data. An Appendix on estimated spectrum of weapons yields after September 1, 1958, is in the Supplement.
  2. Not found.
  3. [Text not declassified] Both tests took place at Eniwetok and Bikini Atolls in the Pacific.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 136.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Taylor signed the original.