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148. Memorandum of Discussion at the 361st Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

1. Monitoring a Long-Range Rocket Test Agreement (NSC) Action No. 1840;1 Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated March 28, 19582)

General Cutler explained the nature of this agenda item and noted that this report and the following reports were being presented to the Council for information only. He then called on Dr. Killian, who explained that this report was limited in its coverage to technical factors. All matters of policy, such as whether or not the United States should engage to cease nuclear testing, were excluded. Nor did the report reflect the judgments of the responsible departments of the Government.

Dr. Killian then called on Dr. Kistiakowsky, of Harvard University, who had been Chairman of the Ad Hoc Working Group of representatives of the President’s Science Advisory Committee and of the Central Intelligence Agency, who summarized the conclusion of the Working Group’s report on the monitoring of a long-range rocket test agreement.

The National Security Council:3

Noted a report on the subject prepared, pursuant to NSC Action No. 1840–c–(2), by an Ad Hoc Working Group of representatives of the President’s Science Advisory Committee and the Central Intelligence Agency, and transmitted by the reference memorandum of March 28, 1958.

2. Technical Feasibility of Cessation of Nuclear Tests (NSC Action No. 1840; Memos for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated March 28 and April 2, 19584)

At the outset of Council consideration of this item, General Cutler called on General Cabell, the Acting Director of Central Intelligence, who [Page 586]spoke briefly on the recent pattern of Soviet nuclear testing (December 1957 and April 1958). General Cabell emphasized the great acceleration of this Soviet program in this period. There had been 13 distinct tests in a period of slightly more than three months. General Cabell felt that this acceleration indicated that the recent Soviet decision to renounce unilaterally thermonuclear testing had been made as early as mid-1957. This theory explained the large number of tests held in the last few months. General Cabell also expressed his belief that if other nations did not join the Soviet Union in renouncing further thermonuclear tests, there would be strong pressures in the USSR to resume such tests.

General Cabell was followed by Dr. Killian, who explained the background of this agenda item and pointed out that, as in the case of the first item, this report consisted of a technical study rather than a study of policy. It accordingly did not indicate clear conclusions as to the military implications for the United States of a cessation of nuclear testing.

Dr. Killian then called on Dr. Hans Bethe, of Cornell University, who summarized the findings of the Ad Hoc Working Group of which he was the Chairman.

At the end of Dr. Bethe’s report, the President referred to his comments on the difficulty of distinguishing between deep underground nuclear explosions and earthquakes. The President wondered if it would be feasible for the Soviets to test a weapon of 10 megatons and make the test appear to have been an earthquake, thus evading detection. Dr. Bethe replied that we really knew too little about this problem to provide the President with a clear and categorical answer.

The President inquired about the duration of the shock produced by such a 10-megaton weapon or by an earthquake. Would the earthquake shock last longer? Dr. Bethe replied in the affirmative in all probability, but he did not feel that duration could be considered a good criterion to determine whether there had been an earthquake or a deep underground nuclear explosion.

Continuing on the same subject, the President noted that in certain areas of the Soviet Union, as many as 140 earthquakes occurred over a period of a year, which amounted to one every few days. Could not the Soviets conduct a secret underground nuclear test in such an area and induce observers to believe that this was simply an earthquake? Dr. Bethe believed that you could probably distinguish the one signal which came from the weapons test from all the other signals which were produced by earthquakes. He felt this could be guaranteed in 90% of the cases.

Secretary Dulles expressed himself as much struck by the fact that Dr. Bethe’s discussion of the requirements for detecting evasions of an agreement to cease nuclear testing by the Soviet Union required such a very large number of check-points (over 30) in the Soviet Union and [Page 587]Communist China. This was a much larger number of stations than had been indicated to the Council as necessary 18 months ago. Secretary Dulles asked if this meant that the longer the United States waited to negotiate an agreement with the USSR for the cessation of nuclear tests, the greater the number of check-points on Sino-Soviet territory we would require to be sure that the Soviets did not undertake to evade the agreement.

Secretary Dulles, in the same vein, inquired if Dr. Bethe and his panel had made any estimate of the number of check-points in the United States and in the Free World that the Soviet Union would insist on manning in order to assure itself that the United States and other Free World countries did not undertake surreptitious nuclear tests. Dr. Bethe replied that the number of check-points depended in general on the geographical size of the area in question. Accordingly, the Soviet Union could reasonably demand only half as many such check-points in the United States as the United States would demand in the Soviet Union. Secretary Dulles, however, pointed out that if the Soviets wanted to be sure to cover not only the United States but the entire Western Hemisphere, they would insist on a very large number of stations on Free World territory. In our concern over what we feel we must require from the Soviet Union in the way of check-points on its territory, we must not overlook the demands that would be made by the USSR for stations in the Free World.

Subsequently, Secretary Dulles likewise commented on Dr. Bethe’s finding that a reliable system for detecting evasions of an agreement to cease nuclear testing would under certain circumstances require U.S. overflights of the Soviet Union and Communist China. He felt that this requirement would complicate enormously the effort to obtain an agreement with the Soviet Union to cease nuclear testing under a safeguarded inspection system. It would be much harder to induce the Soviet Union to agree to overflights than it would to induce the Soviets to permit the stationing of trained personnel on the ground at fixed points in the Soviet Union.

Lastly, Secretary Dulles noted a comment by Dr. Bethe to the effect that if the inspection system he had described were actually to be installed in the Soviet Union, the Soviets could not attempt an evasion of the agreement without involving very great risks of detection. It was Secretary Dulles’ view that the consequences of the detection of a clandestine nuclear explosion in the Soviet Union were so serious that they themselves constituted a very considerable deterrent. Indeed, he felt that any inspection system which guaranteed as much as a 50–50 chance of the detection of a clandestine test would be sufficient to deter the Soviets from attempting to evade an agreement to cease nuclear testing. Secretary Dulles felt that this judgment was of very great importance because [Page 588]he felt that the complete detection system, outlined by Dr. Bethe, would never be acceptable to the USSR. The President expressed his agreement with this latter judgment of the Secretary of State.

Dr. Bethe replied that in his opinion the precise number of checkpoints on Soviet soil was not the decisive factor. The decisive factor was local access by the mobile inspection teams to any suspicious point in the Soviet Union. Any workable agreement with the USSR would have to stipulate this requirement.

General Cutler noted that the report by Dr. Bethe had not dealt with the military effects on the United States of a decision to enter an agreement to cease testing nuclear weapons. He accordingly asked Secretary Quarles to summarize for the Council the views of the Department of Defense and of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to the effects of a total suspension or cessation of nuclear testing. Secretary Quarles briefly summarized these views, and noted his own agreement with the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it would be disadvantageous for the United States to enter into an agreement with the Soviet Union to cease nuclear testing even after the completion of the Hardtack series, which was to begin this month and end in August.

The President said he had one point of significance which he would like to contribute to the discussion. He observed that all of us in the Free World are very much concerned about the psychological effects of continued nuclear tests. We must remember, however, that the Soviet Union rarely if ever informs its own people of the nuclear tests which it conducts. Accordingly, the peoples of the Soviet Union are not as tense as the population of the Free World as a result of these nuclear tests. However, if one lives long enough under the kind of tension which is gripping the Free World, something is bound to happen. The President felt that we were facing a psychological erosion of our position with respect to nuclear testing, and that we must take this fact into account along with the other pro’s and con’s respecting the cessation of nuclear testing.

Secretary Dulles endorsed the President’s statement, and observed that when Secretary Quarles had expressed his judgment against the United States agreeing to cease nuclear testing, his judgment was based on military considerations only. There were other considerations which ought to be taken into account.

The National Security Council:5

a.
Noted an oral briefing by the Acting Director of Central Intelligence on the pattern of recent Soviet nuclear tests.
b.
Noted and discussed a report on the subject prepared, pursuant to NSC Action No. 1840–c–(l), by an Ad Hoc Working Group of representatives of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, the Department of Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Central Intelligence Agency, and transmitted by the reference memorandum of March 28, 1958; and the views of the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, transmitted by the reference memorandum of April 2, 1958.

[Here follow Agenda Items 3. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security,” 4. “Launching of SAC Alert Forces (‘Fail Safe’)” (see Document 16), 5. “U.S. Policy Toward Libya,” and 6. “Preparations for a Possible Summit Meeting.”]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Gleason on April 4.
  2. See footnote 15, Document 136.
  3. This memorandum transmitted to the NSC the “Report of the NSC Ad Hoc Working Group on the Monitoring of Long-Range Rocket Test Agreement,” March 26, also known as the Kistiakowsky Report after the group’s chairman. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Meeting Minutes Files) See the Supplement.
  4. The following paragraph constitutes NSC Action No. 1888, approved by the President on April 7. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)
  5. The March 28 memorandum transmitted Document 147 to the NSC. The April 2 memorandum transmitted Documents 141 and 144 to the NSC.
  6. The following paragraphs constitute NSC Action No. 1889, approved by the President on April 7. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)