165. Letter From Acting Secretary of State Herter to the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology (Killian)0

Dear Jim: We are giving urgent consideration to the course of action the United States should take following the present Geneva talks.

I am sending you with this note a suggested revision of our policy on nuclear testing, which Mr. Dulles has generally approved. For your personal information, I am enclosing also a copy of the staff paper which summarizes briefly our reasons for favoring this course of action rather than a limited test moratorium which Phil Farley tells me John McCone has discussed with you.

I would welcome a chance to hear your views as to the proper course of action and your comments on our proposal.

Sincerely yours,


Enclosure 1



5a. All parties will agree, independently of agreement on other provisions of section I.

to refrain, as of the effective date of the agreement, from nuclear testing until 36 months thereafter. (The suspension would not continue beyond a 12-month period unless satisfactory progress was being made in the installation of the inspection system in (2) below.)
to cooperate in setting up during the first 24 months, or earlier if mutually agreeable, an effective international inspection arrangement to monitor tests.
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b. The U.S. will announce that it will resume nuclear tests at the end of 36 months if agreement to an adequately inspected cut-off of the production of fissionable materials for weapons purposes has not been achieved.

c. The U.S. will announce that it will refrain indefinitely from nuclear tests if the monitoring system referred to in paragraph 5a(2) is operating to the satisfaction of each party concerned and if the inspection system for the cut-off has been installed to the satisfaction of each party concerned and if the cut-off has been put into effect.

d. The U.S. will announce that if tests are resumed, it will give notification in advance of dates and approximate yields of such tests; provide reciprocal limited access to tests; and conduct such tests underground.

e. Provisions will be made for the continuation, under international auspices, of any nuclear explosions necessary for the development of peaceful application of such explosions.

Enclosure 2


Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant for Disarmament and Atomic Energy (Farley) to Secretary of State Dulles


  • Proposed Policy on Nuclear Tests


We believe that with the Geneva talks approaching a conclusion, early policy decisions must be taken on the question of nuclear tests. Dr. Fisk, Ambassador Thompson and Embassy London have also expressed this view within the past week (Denuc 103, Moscow 248, London 661, [Page 621] attached as Tab C).4 In your letter to Prime Minister Macmillan on June 135 you indicated that we hoped to be able to approach the UK shortly on this matter in the light of information developed in the Geneva talks; and the UK reminded the Department last week of its desire to discuss the question with us upon conclusion of those talks. The approach of the United Nations General Assembly, the release of the United Nations Radiation Committee scheduled for early August, and the possibility of the question of tests arising indirectly in connection with the proposed Special Security Council Session are additional factors which demand consideration of this question.
On July 30 Chairman McCone handed you a message sent to him by Commissioner Libby and Dr. Edward Teller (Tab B).6 The message suggests that to avoid our being forced by public opinion into a complete test cessation we might propose (1) to limit the offsite fission fallout per year to one megaton equivalent each year released by the U.S. and the same amount by the USSR, or alternately (2) to ban completely off site fallout and permit underground testing by everyone.
While any measures which notably reduced fallout would lessen public concern about the health hazards of continued testing, we believe the AEC proposal is insufficient from the political standpoint and that it has the following specific disadvantages:
It would be viewed as a retreat from previous Western proposals which have called for suspension of tests rather than test limitations, and would seem an illogical sequel to the Geneva talks directed toward methods for enforcement of a possible test suspension.
It would not be accepted and hence would enable the USSR to continue to exploit the testing issue and its own unilateral suspension in world-wide propaganda and to avoid the question of a production cutoff by continuing to hide behind the issue of a test suspension.
By the same token, it would be an easy way for the USSR to avoid the inspection to which it has otherwise become largely committed as a result of the Geneva talks.
It would not inhibit the development of nuclear weapons capabilities by fourth countries, a problem which has been of some concern to the U.S. and one which is of apparently increasing concern to the USSR as well.
It would not have the effect of a test suspension in freezing weapons development of the U.S. and USSR at a time when we retain some [Page 622] important advantages in weapons technology (according to technical studies prepared by the Science Advisory Committee).
A limitation of fallout to a fixed amount would, according to past technical consideration of similar limitation proposals, be difficult to enforce by inspection.
The policy recommendations which you discussed in general terms with the panel of disarmament advisers and approved for discussion with other agencies in April, we believe, afford the best basis for decisions at this time. In summary, the nuclear test proposal we have discussed with the other agencies and revised in the light of their comments, is the following: The nuclear provisions of our present proposals (test suspension and cut-off) would be made separable from the other elements of the package, but testing would remain linked, as far as the U.S. is concerned, to the cut-off which would become a condition subsequent. Nuclear tests would be suspended for three years beginning as of the effective date of the agreement.7 The suspension would not continue beyond twelve months unless satisfactory progress was being made in the installation of the inspection system. The U.S. would declare at the outset that testing would be resumed if agreement on an adequately inspected cut-off of production of fissionable materials for weapons purposes had not been reached at the end of three years. Conversely, we would announce that the suspension would be extended for an indefinite period if agreement is reached on the installation of a control system to assure that no further fissionable material is produced for weapons purposes. The U.S. would announce that, if it became necessary to resume testing, the U.S. would henceforth test only underground.
This proposal would, we believe, turn to our advantage each of the factors mentioned in paragraph 3 above which weigh against the AEC proposal. It would be a logical follow-up to the Geneva talks, deprive the Soviets of the propaganda advantages of the testing issue, enable us to begin arms inspection within the USSR, inhibit fourth country programs, and could freeze our present weapons advantage. It would, by removing the test issue, enable us to place more effective emphasis in the nuclear cut-off as the condition subsequent. Most important, it would be evidence of United States willingness to go the “extra mile” to help achieve more meaningful measures of disarmament and thus go far to counter the image which is all too prevalent abroad of a militaristic United States.
Attached as Tab A8 is a proposed revision of the paragraph on nuclear tests in present NSC policy which would incorporate the changes recommended above. The other disarmament policy recommendations discussed in the interim report to the Cabinet Committee (Tab D)9 need not, in our view, be decided until the studies on surprise attack now underway under the leadership of Dr. Killian have been completed.


That you meet at an early date with Chairman McCone, Dr. Killian, Secretary McElroy and Mr. Allen Dulles to seek agreement on the nuclear provisions of U.S. disarmament policy along lines suggested in Tab A.11
That you then seek a Presidential decision in the proposed revisions in policy as early as feasible.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Office of the Special Assistant for Science and Technology. Secret. Copies were sent to McCone, Quarles, and Allen Dulles on August 7. (Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/8–758)
  2. Secret. There is no indication of drafter on the paper, but a note on Farley’s memorandum (Enclosure 2 below) indicates that this revised paragraph was prepared by the Working Group on Disarmament Policy on April 28.
  3. This was a working paper and not a numbered NSC paper. The rest of the paper has not been found.
  4. Secret. Drafted by Vincent Baker with concurrences from Smith of S/P, Kohler and McBride of EUR, Reinhardt, and Walmsley.
  5. Denuc 103 from Geneva, July 25; telegram 248 from Moscow, July 26; and telegram 661 from London, July 30, are in Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/7–2558, 700.5611/7–2658, and 700.5611/7–3058, respectively. See the Supplement.
  6. The text of this letter was transmitted in telegram 8917 to London, June 13. (Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/6–1358) See the Supplement.
  7. This message was attached to a memorandum of conversation by Dulles, July 30. (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, General Memoranda of Conversation) See the Supplement.
  8. A three-year period is a minimum for a meaningful inspected agreement since from 18 to 24 months will be required for installing the inspection system. [Footnote in the source text.]
  9. See Enclosure 1 above.
  10. DDS Memo #16, Report of Working Group on Disarmament Policy, April 28, 1958. [Footnote in the source text. The report has not been found.]
  11. There is no indication on the source text whether these recommendations were approved.
  12. Killian responded in an August 6 memorandum to Herter pointing out that if the United States wanted to ease international tensions, freeze Soviet nuclear capabilities, or move toward a cessation of production of nuclear materials, the Department of State paper was the course to follow. If, however, the United States wanted to continue research and development in nuclear weapons while partially responding to public concern about fallout, then a test moratorium might take the form suggested by the AEC (see footnote 6 above). In any case, Killian suggested that the decision was one for the NSC and the President to make. (Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/8–658). See the Supplement.