145. Memorandum of Conference With President Eisenhower 0


  • Secretary Dulles
  • Mr. Allen Dulles
  • Secretary McElroy
  • Secretary Quarles
  • Admiral Strauss
  • General Twining (joined 15 minutes after conference began)
  • General Cutler (joined 15 minutes after conference began)
  • General Goodpaster

Secretary Dulles referred to intelligence reports indicating the possibility that the Soviets might announce unilaterally a suspension of testing at the meeting of the Supreme Soviet, called for Thursday of this week.1 He referred to the extreme speed at which they have been conducting their tests in the last two or three weeks (some eleven tests in a very short time). If the Soviets do this, we will be placed in an extremely difficult position throughout the world. We start our tests about the seventh of April and they run until September—during all of that time we will be under heavy attack worldwide. The Soviets will cite their test suspension and their call for a Summit meeting while we continue to test. The effect can only be highly adverse on us with regard to enjoying the confidence of the Free World as the champion of peace. We held this confidence through the previous Summit meeting. For the last two and one-half years we have been losing it. There will be very serious losses to us in respect to our allies and the neutrals if this pattern of events occurs.2

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The Secretary then said that there is still a chance in the next day or two for us to make an announcement which could head off these consequences.3 He suggested an immediate announcement by the President to the effect that following the series of tests now about to begin, the President would not thereafter order new tests during his term in office. The President might go on to say that he hoped this action would afford a basis to push ahead on the whole disarmament effort.

Secretary Dulles said it will undoubtedly be asserted that we are giving up our position on testing without requiring inspection and the stoppage of weapons production. It will be said the Administration is adopting the Stevenson/Stassen position. Mr. Dulles said that we are not doing so, but the reason would be technical and hard to put across—that the United States is taking this action unilaterally, and is announcing an intention, rather than making an agreement. He recognized that there were both advantages and disadvantages to the proposal. The claim will be made that we are giving in to the Soviet line. There will undoubtedly be public and Congressional criticism of the action. However, he said he feels desperately the need for some important gesture in order to gain effect on world opinion.

The Secretary next referred to Admiral Strauss’ suggestions to get agreement to stop all production of fissionable materials (rather than weapons production, as our position has previously required). To all but the most sophisticated, the change in our position would not be apparent. Furthermore, we would have to clear this with our allies, and could not hope to accomplish this in the next few days. He concluded by saying that we gravely need something with which to beat the Soviets to the punch.

At Mr. McElroy’s request, Mr. Quarles then discussed the Defense aspects. Defense has studied the comparative impact on us and the Soviets of such action. Although we are ahead in our weapons design, considering that the Soviets will always have the initiative as to starting a war, this action will leave us at a substantial net disadvantage. The development of an anti-ICBM depends on tests yet to be conducted (even after the Hardtack series). Polaris and other advanced systems also depend upon development and tests. Small, very light tactical weapons are [Page 569] becoming a possibility which we are just beginning to see in the range of fractional kiloton yield.

Admiral Strauss next spoke on the matter. He recognized that we are at the point where we need a new and more flexible position. He thought the Soviets have succeeded in putting us into a false position regarding testing. Such testing does not result in any significant health hazard—real hazard today is nuclear war, which our weapons development helps to prevent. He said it would be difficult to ascribe any reason for abandoning our tests. In addition, the effect on our laboratories would be severe—they would lose tone, impetus, and personnel. The action would end the development of weapons, including clean weapons, peaceful uses, tactical weapons, and the “Christopholous effect.” He said he thought his proposal was a more dramatic one, and read a possible draft statement in which there would be agreement to stop all production of fissionable materials, together with an agreement to stop testing.4 Mr. Dulles repeated that we could not do this without agreement of our allies in advance, whereas we could state unilaterally that we are not intending to test in the next couple of years. If we consulted our allies we could not get agreement in [the next few days with?] them.

General Cutler asked if Admiral Strauss’ proposal could be limited to the United States and the USSR without consulting our allies, and Mr. McElroy asked if we could simply discontinue for one year. Secretary Dulles thought this could not be done. He went on to say that Defense was approaching the problem in terms of winning a war. State must, however, think in terms of all means of conducting the international struggle. He said that we are increasingly being given a militaristic and bellicose aspect toward world opinion, and are losing the struggle for world opinion.

Admiral Strauss reiterated that the tests are a trivial threat to the world. Weapons are the real threat. Mr. Dulles recalled that we are open to the charge of not being completely sincere, since we have in fact put impossible conditions on disarmament. We would not, in fact, agree to give up weapons.

The President differed with this judgment, saying that he thought we would do so if we could be sure that all had done so. He said this is the only time in its national history that the United States has been “scared” and this is due simply to these tremendous weapons. Mr. Dulles said that [Page 570] we couldn’t be sure that all weapons had been destroyed—there is no way of turning back history.

General Twining said he didn’t see how cutting out tests would really reduce world tension, because everyone knows we already have a stockpile large enough to completely obliterate the Soviet Union. The President said that, as in the case of Sputnik, world opinion, even if not well founded, is a fact; world anxiety exists over tests, and causes tension. The President accepted that the abolition of tests would probably hurt us comparatively in a military sense; on the other hand, we need some basis of hope for our own people and for world opinion. As matters now stand we are bearing the onus of having turned down an agreement calling for inspection. The President also recognized that if we announce we are stopping tests, we put great pressure on our allies to stop theirs. It might be better, as a result, simply to make a factual statement that we are going to complete the present series of tests, and have no more scheduled for the next couple of years.

General Cutler asked if we could announce limiting our tests to underground shots only. Admiral Strauss said it is difficult to learn what we need to know from underground shots.

The President recalled that when the tests were first discussed with him, the schedule was to run from April through July, and now it apparently runs until September. He asked why this was. Admiral Strauss said the reason is safety—delaying until weather conditions are just right. He said it is easily possible that we would complete the tests in July. He went on to say that if there were a stoppage of tests without inspection and someone surreptitiously conducted the test, there would be great recrimination as to which was the guilty party. The President said he did not think the United States would have great difficulty in getting the truth accepted on such a matter as this.

On the broader question, the President said it is simply intolerable to remain in a position wherein the United States, seeking peace, and giving loyal partnership to our allies, is unable to achieve an advantageous impact on world opinion. Meanwhile, the Soviets are putting out just what they want the world to hear and believe. Mr. Dulles added that the image of the United States that is being created in contrast to that of the Soviets, largely through the Soviets controlling what comes out of their country, is very harmful to us.

Admiral Strauss asked why the announcement that we are working on clean weapons could not have a beneficial effect. The President said he recognizes that testing is not evil, but the fact is that people have been brought to believe that it is.

General Twining said that the press will turn this action around on to us to our disadvantage. The President recognized that the irresponsible might charge that this is our Munich. General Cutler asked whether it [Page 571] would help to couple such an announcement with a statement concerning an open test of a clean weapon. Secretary Dulles suggested that the statement could be couched in the terms that we do not expect to have another series within the next twenty-four months, and that this will give us time to negotiate. In response to a question, Mr. Allen Dulles indicated that there is a better than fair chance that cessation of testing will be announced by the Soviets this week.

The President recalled that it is one problem to work something out between the United States and the USSR, and entirely another one when allies have to be consulted. He thought that, if the decision were made, we could announce as an administrative action that no further tests are planned, and that we will see what we can accomplish during the next year or two. He recalled that we would probably have made an agreement with the Soviets on this matter except that we did not have a law which would permit giving material to the UK so as to avoid the necessity for their testing. Admiral Strauss thought that our unilateral statement would put a great deal of pressure on our allies, and Secretary Quarles said that an administrative statement gives him a great deal of trouble, since it is inconsistent with everything we have said before. He asked if we could not pick up the Khrushchev statement that the Soviets now have enough large weapons and say we are willing to cut off production. The President asked if we could usefully offer to limit our tests to underground bursts. Admiral Strauss suggested that we might say we would stop testing except when they have been approved by the United Nations. The President was not concerned over possible statements that we are doing something new—the fact is that we have been weighing and studying this whole matter for the last five years.

Mr. Dulles thought that in light of the discussion, perhaps the best course of action would simply be to pass up the proposal. He said he wished to tell the group, however, that if we cannot act along lines such as this, “we are going to get licked.”

The President recalled that Mr. Stassen had proposed to wait until the law was passed which would permit transferring material to Great Britain, and then enter into an agreement on testing with the Soviets. Admiral Strauss said that according to the work of the Bethe group, inspection will require 20 seismic, 20 acoustic, and 20 electro-magnetic stations—rather than a dozen or so, as he understood Mr. Stassen had reported.

Mr. Allen Dulles again raised the question whether the proposal to suspend testing could be for a shorter period. The President said he was thinking of a simple announcement that we are having a series of tests this year, several of which will be watched by UN observers. We then plan not to have any tests for the next two years, and to see what we can [Page 572] accomplish in the field of disarmament in the meantime—specifically to see if production can be stopped.

Mr. McElroy said he thought it would not be possible to hold scientists for two years if no tests were conducted. It might be possible to hold them for one. The President said that he thought scientists, like other people, have a strong interest in avoiding nuclear war. Admiral Strauss, at this point, read a letter from Dr. Teller speaking strongly in behalf of conducting tests, and Mr. Quarles said he supported the same view. He said public opinion would be very adverse in the United States and Congressional problems would be very severe.

Secretary Dulles, at this point, said that if this is the view that is held, we had better forget his proposal.

The President said that if we get the new law, and the Soviets will accept the details of an inspection system, he was inclined to think that we must accept a suspension of testing. Mr. Dulles pointed out that it will be necessary to revise our disarmament position. This must be done in any case to prepare for the Summit meeting, particularly in regard to testing suspension and cut-off of production. The President asked the group, as the meeting came to an end, to think about what could be done to get rid of the terrible impasse in which we now find ourselves with regard to disarmament.5

Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Top Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster on March 28.
  2. March 27. On March 31, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union issued a decree stating that it would discontinue testing of all types of atomic and hydrogen weapons in the Soviet Union and calling upon the Parliaments of the other nuclear powers to follow the Soviet lead. The Supreme Soviet declared that if the other states possessing nuclear weapons continued to test atomic and hydrogen weapons, the Soviet Union would be free to resume testing in accordance with its security For text of the declaration, see Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1959, pp. 978–980.
  3. On the previous day, March 23, Dulles telephoned Eisenhower in Augusta, Georgia, to inform him that disarmament was “coming to a crisis.” After making these arguments, Dulles suggested that a U.S. cessation would be “dramatic” and “not cost much.” (Memorandum of telephone conversation, March 23, 1:40 p.m.; Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, White House Telephone Conversations) See the Supplement.
  4. Dulles attached to his shorter account of this meeting a proposed announcement of a suspension that stressed that the current series of tests were aimed at development of nuclear weapons with greatly reduced radioactive fall-out. The statement also promised that much of any future testing would be conducted underground so that no radiation would enter the atmosphere. The statement also stressed that nuclear weapons stockpiles, not tests, were the greatest peril and controlling them was the objective of U.S. disarmament policy, but expressed U.S. willingness to enter into inspected international agreements on suspension of nuclear testing. (Memorandum of conversation with the President, March 24; Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President) See the Supplement.
  5. Strauss’ draft announcement, also attached to Dulles’ account of this meeting, emphasized the danger of atomic arsenals and their inevitable acquisition by other nations. The draft called for a 2-year cessation on production of U–235 plutonium under U.N. supervision and a gradual transfer of existing nuclear weapons material to peaceful uses. Coincident with these moves, an agreement could be reached on subordinate questions such as concurrent suspension of testing, testing with limited fall-out, or testing for peaceful uses only. See the Supplement.
  6. According to a March 28 memorandum by Goodpaster, Strauss called him on March 25 to say that Secretary Dulles “had swung around to Admiral Strauss’ line of thinking concerning the discontinuance of atomic tests.” Strauss said this change left a vacuum since neither announcement was adopted at the meeting on March 24. Strauss proposed to talk further with Dulles as to how to proceed. If the administration decided to proceed along Strauss’ line, a bipartisan meeting should be held with the Congressional leaders. (Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Staff Secretary Records, AEC, Vol. II)