205. Memorandum of Conference With President Eisenhower0


  • Secretary Herter
  • Deputy Under Secretary Murphy
  • Assistant Secretary Merchant
  • Mr. Reinhardt
  • Mr. Hagerty
  • General Goodpaster
  • Major Eisenhower

Secretary Herter explained the reason for his requesting this meeting: to summarize for the President matters which Prime Minister Macmillan might bring up on his forthcoming visit.

[Here follows discussion of a possible summit and Berlin.]

The President now turned to the question of our position on nuclear testing. He feels it is no longer quite right for us to be rigid in the details on such matters as inspection merely because we have been rigid in the past. All available evidence indicates that nuclear testing is bad. The allowable dose of strontium 90 is being approached in some foods in some areas of the country. With this development, the President feels that we would no longer test atomic weapons in the atmosphere. There is a requirement now for a system which both sides know would work. He realizes that some small test shots might not be detected, and elaborately [Page 715] placed underground shots are reported to reduce the shock effect on technical equipment by a factor of 1000 to 1. Therefore, he feels we would be best off by agreeing that small weapons may be tested. We should work on a system which would operate without a veto and still be meaningful. This would comprise a definite promise to the world that we would cease testing in the atmosphere.

The President continued with the thought that the scientists will say that any nuclear war would be disastrous, at least for the Northern Hemisphere. This might point to a suspension of the use of all atomic weapons, around which we have built our forces, and require us to go back to conventional tactics. All this he cited in support of his idea that we should be working toward acceptance of a test ban, which may not be so good as we want, but would test whether both sides are acting in good faith.

Secretary Herter stated that the negotiations are looking toward a three-week recess. Both sides have agreed only that they cannot agree on the veto system. The Soviets primarily fear espionage connected with inspection for underground testing. Secretary Herter believed that we can suspend atmospheric testing, possibly by the device of a renunciation on both sides or possibly by a treaty. Although the matter of the threshold has not yet been approached to the Soviets, it is expected that the Soviets will refuse any such proposal.

The President then referred to Macmillan’s idea that inspections might be held to a certain finite “maximum number.” This the President regards as infeasible. He feels that Macmillan derives his enthusiasm for this idea from the fact that Khrushchev told him it might offer some hope. Secretary Herter stated that the idea of equality of sides had appealed to Khrushchev. Mr. Merchant added that the whole thing was pretty vague.

The President continued with his idea that one thing we must bring about is a system where each side has reasonable rights, which may not be stopped by veto. If we are unsuccessful in bringing about such an arrangement, we will foresake one opportunity to demonstrate that we can get one meaningful agreement. Secretary Herter mentioned that we have, in our negotiations, tabled many papers with regard to control terms, geared to prevention of their use as devices for spying. We have not yet approached the threshold question. He added that the Soviets have refused to go beyond scientific agreements of last summer. He and the President agreed that our technical agreements of that time had been a mistake. We had gone too far in basing an international agreement on the data received from one underground test. We are now in an awkward position.

The President turned to the question of negotiations on prevention of surprise attack. Here there has been some divergence of views [Page 716] between the State Department and the Defense Department in regard to the feasibility of a study to determine what we can concede in this area. The President expressed some annoyance at this and said that the Department of Defense is not a policy-making agency. Defense policy should be confined to determining what should be our defense posture. Accordingly, he directed Secretary Herter to initiate the organization of this study, and to send a memorandum to Secretary McElroy informing him that the President had directed that this study be conducted. The President will mediate any disagreements which come up in formulating the study.

[Here follows discussion of the Near East, the wool tariff, preparations for Macmillan’s visit, and European security.]

John S.D. Eisenhower
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Top Secret. Drafted by John Eisenhower.