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234. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Nuclear Testing


  • Department of State
    • Secretary Herter
    • Mr. FarleyS/AE
    • Mr. SpiersS/AE
  • Department of Defense
    • Deputy Secretary Gates
    • Asst. Secretary Irwin
  • C.I.A.
    • Mr. Allen Dulles
  • A.E.C.
    • Mr. McCone
  • White House
    • Dr. Kistiakowsky

The Secretary said that there were several urgent items of business which had necessitated calling the group together at such short notice. He said that first he would like to bring the Department of Defense up to date on a conversation which he and Mr. McCone had had with the President on November 11th. He said that this conversation had arisen in connection with the fact that it was difficult to get any outstanding scientist to head our technical delegation in Geneva because of the feeling that the meeting would be used to serve a previous political decision to disengage from the negotiations. At Mr. Herter’s request Mr. McCone read the record of the meeting (Tab A).1 Dr. Kistiakowsky said that, having read Mr. McCone’s memorandum on the conversation with the President which refers to a statement he made to Mr. McCone, he was somewhat concerned that he did not express himself correctly. He said that Dr. Bacher, [Page 793]in explaining his reasons for refusing to become Chairman of the Delegation of Experts, did not object to a policy aiming at a limited treaty. Rather his strong objection was to his understanding that there was no clear policy and that hence his activities at the experts conference would be a holding operation while the policy was being decided in Washington. His intention in conveying this to Mr. McCone was to emphasize that other scientists would most likely take a similarly negative attitude if approached. He had therefore urged the need to obtain a clear statement of policy before assembling the Delegation unless it were to be formed of men who could be ordered to Geneva.

The Secretary said that Dr. Fisk had conditioned his acceptance of leadership of the delegation on his obtaining a policy statement regarding U.S. intentions in the technical meeting. The Secretary asked Mr. Farley to report on this matter and on the status of the negotiation of terms of reference for the meeting with the Soviet Union. Mr. Farley reviewed recent developments in Geneva in connection with the negotiation of the terms of reference, which he stated were still up in the air. The Soviets are still emphasizing the formulation of technical criteria as the major purpose of the meeting, whereas to us this is only a part of the problem. Our delegation has been instructed to seek terms of reference which will allow assessment of the capabilities and limitations of the control system in the light of the new data. This was the key point for us. So far the texts which the USDel has proposed for terms of reference have been rejected by the Soviets. The major question for us is the extent to which we must insist on terms of reference which explicitly call on the scientists to make the assessment we wish. He distributed for discussion a further version of the terms of reference which amalgamated the first paragraph suggested by the Soviet Union with a second paragraph suggested by the U.S. Delegation. During discussion of this draft minor changes were suggested and agreed. The agreed version of the draft terms of reference are reproduced at Tab B.2

The Secretary then referred to the reports we had received on the WrightTsarapkin discussions which indicated that the Soviet Union might be interested in a temporary underground test ban which would be reviewable after a period of three years in the light of further knowledge and experience of the problems and possibilities of detection. This would give the West an interim right of on-site inspection, although the numbers would still have to be negotiated. He felt that this was a very important conversation and that we could not ignore Soviet willingness to install 20 control posts in their territory, the capability of which could be improved with further experience. The Secretary said that a control system based on present technology would probably be better than none [Page 794]at all, particularly as we had repeated extension of our voluntary suspension. Mr. McCone said that we should face up right now to the fact that the Senate would not approve a treaty with large gaps in its capability. Therefore the technical delegation should focus on developing a clear description of the limitations of any presently feasible system.

The Secretary then referred to the policy statement which had been drafted in the Department for the guidance of the technical delegation on the basis of the conversation with the President. After substantial discussion and with changes suggested by Mr. McCone the statement as reproduced at Tab C was agreed.

The Secretary then referred to the problem we faced at the United Nations, where we are confronted with an Indian resolution which “calls upon the states concerned at Geneva to refrain from further tests or preparations for same pending agreement on total cessation”.3 The Secretary said that tempers were white hot at the United Nations on the testing issue and felt that the fact that the Afro-Asian resolution directed against the French Sahara tests4 had received less than a 2/3 vote was due only to the fact that the sponsors of the resolution had piqued some of the Latin Americans, who then refused to support their draft. Our problem thus is how to avoid adoption of the provision in the Indian resolution. The Secretary observed that last year we had co-sponsored a resolution, which is still in effect, which called upon the states involved in the Geneva negotiations not to undertake further tests of nuclear weapons while these negotiations are in progress.5 We had hoped to avoid being confronted with similar language this year, but if we were so confronted it might be difficult to oppose. The Secretary distributed a copy of the statement which he proposed to instruct Ambassador Lodge to make in the United Nations in voting for a provision which would call upon states to continue their present voluntary suspension of nuclear testing, and which we would hope would forestall a vote on the more unfavorable Indian resolution. Mr. McCone said that the Indian language was very bad since it would amount to an indefinite voluntary suspension “pending agreement on total cessation”, which might never come, and would also call for shutting down our laboratories. After further discussion the group agreed on the statement for Ambassador Lodge in the revised form enclosed at Tab. D.

[Page 795]

Mr. Gates asked whether the conversation with the President reported earlier meant that we had changed our plans to table a limited treaty. The Secretary answered affirmatively, noting that we would not be in a position to make any political decisions as to the nature of our further steps until the results of the technical conference were available and had been assessed. Mr. Gates said that as far as the Department of Defense was concerned the vital objective was to avoid indefinite continuation of the moratorium. He noted that one-point safety testing was being held up because it was deemed inconsistent with the moratorium. Mr. McCone said that the AEC was proceeding with the one-point safety program. Dr. Kistiakowsky noted that the President had approved the program. Mr. McCone said that the planning was being done with the objective of avoiding any risk of nuclear yield before January 1st. Mr. Gates said that it was his understanding that one-point safety testing would have to be postponed as long as a moratorium were in effect. Dr. Kistiakowsky reported that the President had recently made a definite statement to him that as long as the blasts were produced by a chemical explosion, whether or not a nuclear reaction takes place, it is not in his view a nuclear weapons test. Dr. Kistiakowsky himself strongly agreed with this view. So far as he knew the weapons laboratories felt very confident that they could conduct these experiments within the framework set by the President. Mr. McCone said that if the moratorium on testing were to be extended it would be necessary to clarify that this type of experimentation is not prohibited. In his view, also, safety tests qualified as nuclear experiments and were not weapons tests. The problem was that the press might get wind of these experiments in view of the elaborate precautions that had to be taken and that their nature might be misinterpreted. Dr. Kistiakowsky suggested that the President himself make a plain public statement before any further extension of the moratorium clarifying the fact that these experiments are not weapons tests. The Secretary observed that the difficulty with a Presidential statement would be its effect on public confidence in the safety of our weapons. Mr. Irwin agreed with the serious political consequences of any leaks about our need to conduct safety testing. Accordingly he opposed doing such testing as long as the moratorium was in effect. Mr. Gates said that regardless of all of the considerations the fact is that the moratorium has prevented us from doing safety testing. Mr. Irwin asked what yields might be involved in safety testing. Mr. McCone replied that it would be on the order of tens of pounds. Mr. Gates asked why we could not tell the Soviets the truth and advise them that we do not consider such experiments to fall within the category of weapons tests. It would be better to do this than to be caught in the act without prior explanation. The Secretary said that he would like to see in black and white just what one would say in this connection.

[Page 796]

Returning to the problem of extension of the moratorium, Mr. Gates observed that the Soviet Union is getting just what it wants for nothing. With every extension of the moratorium we will encounter greater political difficulties in ever resuming testing. There are always political reasons for extending the moratorium “just a little while”. He now considers that extension for a further year is a practical certainty. The Secretary said that he felt we should make no commitment to extend beyond a “few weeks” since this is the time which would probably be required for the technical talks. The fundamental question before us is do we really want an agreement and will we use our best efforts to achieve it. Mr. Irwin said that the historic position of the Department of Defense was to oppose suspension of testing. The Department of Defense now supports the official policy but does not want to be committed to suspend tests which are beyond our ability to control. Mr. McCone said that this represented the AEC position also.

The Secretary said that he was disturbed at the apparent postponement of the urgent safety tests. He had the impression that these had been approved and that everything was going ahead on schedule. Mr. McCone repeated that this was the case although we had scheduled the tests so that there would be no possibility of a nuclear yield until after January 1st. Dr. Kistiakowsky said that this matter should be clarified so that all needed safety tests could be conducted regardless of whether the moratorium were continued. These tests are essentially research experiments for safety purposes. They do not involve useable weapons and should not be construed as weapons testing.

Mr. Gates said that there was one way out of the present dilemma and that was for the AEC to agree with Dr. York that one-point safety tests were not important and to reverse its present policy of cutting back on production until the safety problem was resolved. Dr. York felt that the one-point safety problem was just one minor risk among other larger ones and should not preoccupy us to the extent that it had. Dr. Kistiakowsky said that he agreed entirely with Dr. York. No amount of one-point safety testing will give us 100 per cent assurance of weapons safety, in any case. This is a relative matter and should not be given undue importance.

The Secretary asked again for a draft of a statement of what we might say should any safety testing we do become public knowledge. He suggested that this matter be discussed at the next meeting of principals on Tuesday and that DOD and AEC be prepared to present their suggestions at that time.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Additional Records of the Assistant for Science and Technology. Secret; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Spiers and approved by S on November 23. For Kistiakowsky’s account of this meeting, see A Scientist at the White House, pp. 155–156.
  2. According to McCone’s account of the meeting at Tab A, the President “stated he felt that the purpose of the technical conference was to examine the capabilities of detection systems in view of all presently known information, much of which has been developed since the original technical conference in March, 1958. As a result of this examination, to reach agreement both on the capabilities of any detection system and the areas in which the detection system could, and could not, provide safeguards.” The full text of Tab A is in the Supplement.
  3. Tabs B, C, and D are in the Supplement.
  4. For text of the resolution sponsored by India and others, as approved, see Part B of Resolution 1402 (XIV), November 21, printed in Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1959, pp. 396–397.
  5. Resolution 1379 (XIV), approved November 20, 1959. Before voting on the resolution as a whole, the Assembly voted on two paragraphs of the draft resolution, which failed to receive a two-thirds majority. The approved resolution and the failed paragraphs are ibid., pp. 1546–1547.
  6. Resolution 1252 (XIII), November 4, 1958, is printed ibid., pp. 1214–1217.