Summary of Print Volume III

Following is a summary of the contents of print volume III, National Security Policy; Arms Control and Disarmament. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text. Volume III, published in 1996, is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Security Policy

A major focus of the first part of the compilation on national security policy is the Eisenhower administration’s response to the Gaither Panel, which in November 1957 had submitted its report, “Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age.” (See Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, Volume XIX.) The main thrust of the report was that during the next 2–3 years the U.S. strategic position relative to the Soviet Union would be at its strongest, but that within 12–20 years both the United States and the Soviet Union would be capable of annihilating one another and that the very real dangers of miscalculation that would then exist in estimating whether or not an attack was occurring required urgent study. (1) In response to the report, the National Security Council (NSC) in early 1958 held lengthy discussions on the nation’s strategic offensive and defensive weapons systems. One result was President Eisenhower’s directive that the Defense Department should report back on the feasibility and desirability of supplemental “active” military measures to reduce the vulnerability of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) to a hypothetical Soviet surprise bomber attack. (2)

In response to the Gaither Panel’s concerns about the status of the nation’s active defenses, the Eisenhower administration held several meetings on various aspects of the problem. One was devoted to SAC alert forces. Discussions about procedures involving the deployment of these forces under emergency conditions, initially called “Fail Safe” and renamed “Positive Control,” centered on the readiness and rapid launching of SAC planes as well as procedures to recall them before attack if the alarm proved to be false. Eisenhower seemed to be generally satisfied with the SAC’s preparedness and emergency safeguards. (9, 16, 25)

A related question was the military’s coordinated targeting strategy in the event of nuclear war. In August 1959 the President [Facsimile Page 19] approved the use of an “optimum mix” of military and urban-industrial targets, which in the event of general war was to include all vital strategic elements of the enemy’s known nuclear offensive capability and to achieve a 75 percent assurance of delivering one weapon at each target. [Typeset Page XXVIII] (90, 91) He also initially agreed with Defense Secretary McElroy that the Strategic Air Command, under JCS supervision, was the best single authority to plan the targeting of what was a complex, technical problem and required computer programs. (72, 107) But when McElroy’s successor, Thomas Gates, attempted to implement a single integrated plan in August 1960, he ran into stiff resistance from the Navy. Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, opposed a detailed plan. He wanted more flexibility of arsenal as well as delivery for the unified commanders during a first retaliatory strike. (18, 113)

President Eisenhower rejected these arguments, however, and stressed the importance of having a single, rigid plan. While plans for a second strike might allow commanders more leeway, he argued, “you can and must have a firm plan for the first strike” to make it simultaneous and avoid duplication of effort. Although the issue was somewhat different from the legislation to further centralize authority in the Secretary of Defense, in order to tame interservice rivalries on budgetary and personnel matters, which Eisenhower had pushed through Congress in 1958 (3), the need for organizational reform of the military services was similar, and the President lectured the Joint Chiefs on their responsibility to subordinate their bureaucratic self-interest to “the nation’s interest.” (113) Believing that “something must be done before he leaves office, because he did not want to leave his successor with the monstrosity we now see in prospect as Polaris and other new weapons come into operating status,” he authorized Gates to set up a Joint Strategic Planning Staff (JSPS) under the direction of the SAC Commander in Omaha. By the end of the year the JSPS had developed a methodology for preparing a Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), but Eisenhower expressed dismay over the emerging SIOP’s potential for “overkill.” (125, 127)

Another concern was the status of the various U.S. missile systems. President Eisenhower frequently discussed with his senior defense advisers the progress in the Atlas, Thor-Jupiter, Polaris, Minuteman, and Titan programs, to all of which he gave “the highest priority” for research and development. (56, 72, [Facsimile Page 20] 123) These conversations allowed him to monitor closely the progress in the entire missile field and to suggest improvements. He argued, for instance, that the NSC “ought to look at the costs, what we are doing, how we are doing it, and leave a legacy of thought, if not organization, on this subject.” (72) He was especially concerned that the missile race with the Soviet Union might undermine the U.S. economy. “We must cut the cost of our missile programs or go broke,” he warned. (56)

During the triennium the administration received periodic intelligence estimates of the Soviet Union’s military capabilities, especially its missile systems. (33, 48, 52, 75, 82, 84, 97, 98, 120) But because these [Typeset Page XXIX] estimates tended to overstate Soviet progress in the missile field, by early 1960 the notion of future “missile gap” developed, which Congress sought to explore. Eisenhower and General Nathan F. Twining, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, believed that if such a gap developed by 1961, new U.S. missile systems would be ready by 1962 to close it. (82) (They proved more than correct in this judgment for Soviet ICBM deployments lagged behind those of the United States until the late 1960s.) While Eisenhower was willing to approve modest increases in defense spending and to expedite certain important programs such as the development of reconnaissance satellites, he opposed any programs “on a crash basis until scientific analysis demonstrates real promise of success.” (102, 129) And despite political and demagogic attacks on his administration’s defense programs, he believed there was little public uneasiness about them. (93)

The NSC also discussed the status of U.S. continental defense policy. Following a January 30, 1958, briefing on ballistic missile programs (6), the NSC drafted a new position paper on continental defense policy, NSC 5802, which updated and superseded NSC 5408. While NSC 5802 called for “an anti-ICBM weapons system as a matter of the highest national priority,” it still emphasized the importance of defensive measures against a hypothetical Soviet bomber attack. (8) Because of rapid advances in missile development, however, by 1960 discussion about continental defense focused more on the desirability and extent of an anti-missile missile program. The Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for a firm administration commitment to accelerate the development of an extensive Nike–Zeus anti-missile missile system, but Defense Secretaries McElroy and Gates and the scientific community believed such a program would be too expensive [Facsimile Page 21] adequately to defend missile sites and useless to defend the population. Eisenhower was also skeptical, noting that it was questionable whether an effective anti-ICBM system could be developed in the 1960s. (82, 83, 132, 133) The divisions presaged a similar split during the Kennedy administration, with President Kennedy basically more sympathetic to Secretary of Defense McNamara’s and the scientists’ opposition to deployment of a missile defense system than to the Joint Chiefs’ position. (See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, Volume VIII.)

In the area of “passive” defense, the NSC considered the initiation of a nationwide fallout shelter plan. Although the Gaither Panel and the Federal Civil Defense Administration supported fallout shelters, others raised objections. Eisenhower, for example, “expressed a certain degree of skepticism as to the wisdom of expending billions of dollars on a shelter program as opposed to spending the money on additional measures of active defense.” He also worried that the U.S. shelter program “would insure neutralism in Europe.” (8) Secretary of State John Foster Dulles [Typeset Page XXX] also claimed that a shelter program would have an undesirable impact on “the psychology of the American people. There were practical difficulties in the way of maintaining, at one and the same time, both an offensive and a defensive mood.” When it was noted that the new addition to the State Department building did not include shelters, Dulles replied that “the State Department was expendable.” (8) Gordon Gray of the Office of Defense Mobilization, Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy, and General Twining, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), among others, also pointed to difficulties in trying to implement an extensive shelter plan. (4)

Regular military briefings on the horrific effects of nuclear war, however, convinced President Eisenhower that more emphasis had to be given to defensive measures. (38, 97) Following one such briefing in September 1960, the President commented that “he had been making up his mind to go into training as an Indian and live on deer in the Rocky Mountains.” While he still believed that “most of our money should be put on deterrence,” he also recognized the political and psychological need for the U.S. Government to demonstrate its ability to destroy an incoming missile before the Soviets could do so. He continued that “if greater emphasis is not given to passive defense, there will be no U.S. Without passive defense we could retaliate but the people we are supposed to be defending would be all dead [Facsimile Page 22] and there would be no State Department to worry about foreign affairs.” He concluded by asking several agencies to re-examine the administration’s shelter policy “on a down-to-earth basis. He would like to see all the agencies he had mentioned feeling a sense of responsibility for taking a new look at this question.” (120)

Toward the end of the Eisenhower administration, the National Security Council again considered the question of fallout shelters. Eisenhower was now convinced that “we should be doing a lot more than we are doing for passive defense of the population.” He opposed massive new federal outlays for a shelter program, however, and ultimately approved “the objective of obtaining fallout shelter for the population within five years, principally with local and private effort, and with Federal resources to be confined largely to setting an example and stimulating individual efforts to attain the objective but not to guarantee its attainment.” (133)

A major preoccupation of the National Security Council throughout the Eisenhower administration was its annual review of the Basic National Security Policy (BNSP) paper. As the title suggested, these papers covered all phases of the nation’s security interests, including chemical and biological weapons, military assistance, policy toward developing nations, and weapons systems. At one point the NSC even considered inclusion of a statement on birth control as a “crucial” [Typeset Page XXXI] element of its basic policy statement on “undeveloped” countries. Eisenhower strongly objected, however, claiming that if a policy statement on the issue was adopted, “we would be accused of all kinds of terrible things.” (61)

The main debate over BNSP concerned the problem of conventional forces to fight limited wars. While these discussions foreshadowed the Kennedy administration’s subsequent adoption of the strategy of “flexible response” to potential Soviet provocations, they did not get that far under Eisenhower. The discussions initially developed in reaction to the traditional Eisenhower administration doctrine of “massive retaliation,” which could result in either a massive nuclear strike or retreat in the face of Soviet aggression, and the desire for greater flexibility in U.S. military capabilities. In this view, the need for a revised BNSP seemed more urgent as the Soviet Union moved closer to “virtual nuclear parity” with the United States. In 1957 the NSC had adopted a policy statement on “limited war” that [Facsimile Page 23] called for “the development of a flexible and selective capability, including nuclear capability” to resist “local aggression” in developing countries where U.S. interests were involved.

General Maxwell Taylor of the Joint Chiefs of Staff especially continued to advocate great emphasis on conventional forces to resist limited aggression, and even Secretary Dulles, the principal architect earlier of the “massive retaliation” concept, believed by 1958 that the United States had to develop a more coherent policy in dealing with wars not directly involving the United States and the Soviet Union and to allow the United States “to fight defensive wars which do not involve the total defeat of the enemy.” Dulles also stressed that public opinion among the Western allies was beginning to reject the notion of reliance on a U.S. pushbutton to start a global nuclear in their defense and would demand some kind of modernized defensive capabilities of their own to resist possible Soviet aggression. But while trying to keep an open mind on these complicated issues, President Eisenhower remained skeptical, arguing that “each small war makes global war the more likely.” (18, 23)

Despite wide-ranging NSC discussions in 1958, no revision of the 1957 paragraphs on limited war were approved (24, 25), but further extensive discussions occurred in 1959. Largely because of State Department lobbying for a change in policy, the resulting BNSP added language calling for planning for “situations short of general war where the use of nuclear weapons would manifestly not be militarily necessary nor appropriate to the accomplishment of national objectives, particularly in those areas where main Communist power will not be brought to bear.” (64, 70) Although this wording suggested less emphasis on nuclear weapons, it was never implemented in force planning levels, [Typeset Page XXXII] mainly because Eisenhower worried about the budgetary implications of large increases in conventional forces. He also continued to be “never very eager to talk about limited war and disliked the subject.” (124) Perhaps because of this disinterest no BNSP was devised for 1960.

Arms Control and Disarmament

This compilation begins with the three disarmament proposals of Harold Stassen, President Eisenhower’s Disarmament Adviser. Stassen’s initiatives, which were to mark the beginning of serious U.S.-Soviet negotiations on the cessation of nuclear testing, consisted of agreement on installation of 8–12 test monitoring [Facsimile Page 24] inspection sites in both the United States and the Soviet Union followed by a 2-year ban on nuclear testing, creation of an inspection zone in Central and Eastern Europe against surprise attack, and another inspection zone covering Eastern Siberia, the Arctic, the Northwestern United States, and Western Canada. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) agreed that because a test cessation agreement in its simplest form would limit the development of smaller, “clean” weapons, it was a detriment to U.S. national security. They claimed that there were no airtight methods to confirm that the Soviets were not testing and that the cessation of testing would actually result in both nations building more, not fewer, weapons to compensate for the reduction in technical advancement. (136)

Stassen and Henry Cabot Lodge, Ambassador to the United Nations, both of whom worried that the United States was becoming morally isolated by its slow reactions on the disarmament issue, argued that a new, fresh U.S. proposal was required to regain world support for the U.S. position. (136, 137) The Eisenhower administration, while acknowledging the potential significance of these views, had not developed a new position by March 27, 1958, when the Soviet Union announced a test cessation. The Soviets’ test suspension put the United States in the position of having to choose between continued nuclear weapons testing to improve the nation’s defense capabilities, which would look warlike and immoral in world opinion, or stopping testing. The Eisenhower administration agreed that the Soviet initiative required a “new and more flexible position.” (145)

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed that the Soviets’ test ban initiative was its latest propaganda move designed to undermine the U.S. reputation in world opinion. Over the coming months, he argued against the rationale of the Defense Department and the Atomic Energy Commission that an immediate test cessation would hurt U.S. defense capabilities and would be giving the closed Soviet society an unfair advantage to improve their nuclear arsenal through espionage and secret testing. He commented that “unless we take a radical step [Typeset Page XXXIII] now, our failure to do so will in effect be a step to ‘go it alone’ as a militaristic nation in world opinion without friends and allies.” (148, 150, 166) Both he and President Eisenhower agreed that although nuclear weapons and not tests were the real danger [Facsimile Page 25] to world security, public opinion demanded a cessation of testing. (155)

In August 1958 the National Security Council finally formulated a comprehensive proposal on test suspension to present to the Soviets. The initiative consisted of a 3-year agreement to suspend testing. To take into account the Defense Department’s and Atomic Energy Commission’s reservations, this new proposal stipulated that the test suspension not continue beyond 3 years if satisfactory progress was not made on a viable inspection system. (165)

Meanwhile, a National Security Council ad hoc working group under Dr. Hans Bethe began to study the technical feasibility of monitoring a test ban. The recommendation of the group, supporting a suspension, concluded that inspection stations with the immediate mobile access of inspection teams would provide adequate safeguarding for an agreement limiting nuclear testing. (147) In July and August 1958, a meeting in Geneva of experts from Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania made some progress in discussing the several technical details involved in inspection systems. (164, 176)

The first challenge the United States faced at this technical conference was gaining British support for the U.S. position. The United Kingdom did not want even to consider suspending testing until it had developed its own sufficient nuclear capabilities. (150, 155) To get around British fears of vulnerability in the face of disarmament pressures, the 1954 Atomic Energy Act was amended on June 2, 1958, to allow for increased exchange of atomic weapon information to U.S. nuclear allies, particularly the United Kingdom. (166, 175, 176)

Safeguards against surprise attack were another issue relating to disarmament that the United States tried to address during 1958. A study prepared by an inter-agency working group concluded in September 1958 that an effective safeguard to prevent surprise attacks would require an inspection system to monitor any agreed upon limitation of bomber readiness. (180) The United States also agreed to a meeting in Geneva of technical experts to study the practical problems and feasibility of inspecting against surprise attacks. Although this conference made significant progress on technical issues, the Soviet Union resisted inspection of its military sites. (185, 188, 189) Dr. George Kistiakowsky, the President’s Science Adviser, wrote President [Facsimile Page 26] Eisenhower that inspection was not sufficient—there was no way to monitor missile-launching submarines, for example. A better solution to the problem of surprise attack, he argued, was the actual disarmament [Typeset Page XXXIV] of nuclear weapons rather than inspections. (192) When the Geneva surprise attack conference was in fact suspended on January 21, 1959, the Western side was convinced that the Soviet side would not agree to limit discussions to inspection and observation measures and that future talks would have to consider disarmament measures that might affect the surprise attack problem. (193)

Another stalemate in disarmament discussions occurred when the Defense Department discovered that information discussed at the first Geneva technical meeting was inaccurate. (168) The Hardtack II tests revealed that instead of there being an 80–90 percent level of confidence in detecting a 5-kiloton and above underground explosion, this level of confidence could only occur at 20 kilotons and higher. Defense officials argued that the new information made the underground test detection system being developed at the Geneva conference unreliable. (169)

By January 1959 the Eisenhower administration had split on strategies for using the new data in the current nuclear test negotiations in Geneva. AEC Chairman John A. McCone argued that because of the unreliability of the underground test detection system, only atmospheric tests should be banned. Underground tests might be curtailed after more experimentation. Secretary Dulles believed that “there was not one chance in a hundred that the Soviets would agree to the controls that we think are necessary to police the agreement we had in mind.” He felt that the U.S. Government should keep the Hardtack II information to itself and let the Soviets take the blame and bad publicity for the failure of the talks. Because the Soviets were arguing for a veto on any potential inspections, Dulles felt that focusing on the intransigence of the Soviets on this issue seemed to be the best method to disengage the United States from the talks. (195–196, 202) President Eisenhower, however, still wanted a comprehensive test ban. He felt that despite the new information on underground inspection a workable system could still be designed. (205, 206)

The British also hoped for a test ban. With political elections getting closer in Britain and public concern growing over the issue of radioactive fallout from nuclear testing, British Prime [Facsimile Page 27] Minister Macmillan pushed President Eisenhower to conclude some kind of test ban treaty. But while the President urged his senior disarmament advisers to move toward an agreement, he did not overrule or dismiss those who opposed any testing accord that did not include extensive safeguards for U.S. security.

By April 1959 Christian A. Herter, who that month succeeded Dulles as Secretary of State, instructed the U.S. delegation at Geneva to agree to a comprehensive test ban if two provisions were met: if the Soviets backed down on their demands for a veto, and if they accepted the adequate number of on-site inspections necessary to detect [Typeset Page XXXV] underground explosions. If this initiative failed, Herter authorized the delegation to work for a phased approach that would include an immediate ban on atmospheric testing, and a subsequent ban on underground testing once sufficient controls, based on Hardtack II data, were established. If the Soviet Union rejected these proposals, the delegation was to announce the U.S. decision to end the conference because of the Soviets’ disinterest in a treaty and to reveal its plans for a unilateral cessation of atmospheric tests. (213) President Eisenhower believed that worldwide public anger over nuclear testing would force the United States to stop atmospheric testing in the long run, and thus a partial or comprehensive bilateral ban would be better for U.S. interests than unilateral, unreciprocated actions. (216)

Perhaps also aware of the importance of maintaining worldwide public support for its disarmament policy, the Soviets also seemed unwilling to break off the talks. They refused to consider, however, that the conclusions from the meeting of experts in 1958 were anything but viable. Consequently, they would not discuss either an adequately safeguarded comprehensive plan or a phased plan. The negotiations deadlocked when the United States refused to consider any agreement that did not contain a sufficient number of inspections. (223)

As the Geneva disarmament talks dragged on, many in the Eisenhower administration became concerned that the voluntary U.S. testing moratorium first announced in October 1959 was giving the Soviets exactly what they wanted. The moratorium supposedly stopped U.S. and Soviet testing, but it was not controlled. (234) Of further concern was the fear that the British desire to reach any agreement, including an uncontrolled moratorium, would weaken Western positions on disarmament negotiations. The United States spent a large proportion of time at [Facsimile Page 28] the Geneva test negotiations trying to reconcile the Allied positions on disarmament. (227)

In December 1959 U.S. and Soviet technical experts met for a second time to discuss difficulties relating to testing controls. For the United States it was an opportunity to try once again to revise the data from the 1958 conference. The Soviets, however, saw U.S. concerns over up-to-date safeguards as a U.S. propaganda ploy to disengage from a disarmament accord. Because the Soviets “refused to give serious consideration to anything relating to criteria for inspection” while the U.S. side insisted on talking about elaborate and effective inspection systems, the talks ended without any agreement. (238)

As a possible compromise to the conflicting U.S. and Soviet positions, Kistiakowsky suggested in January 1960 the threshold concept, whereby all tests above a certain measurable seismic magnitude would be banned. Under a threshold agreement, the United States and the Soviets would conduct joint research to improve inspection techniques [Typeset Page XXXVI] and subsequently to lower threshold limits. Adequate safeguards would be provided on banned testing levels while there would be no increase in the agreed upon on-site inspections. (239, 240) Despite skepticism about the Soviets’ interest, the U.S. delegation introduced the concept at the Geneva talks.

In spite of the U.S. doubts, the Soviet Union informed the Geneva Conference in March 1960 that it was prepared to discuss a treaty based on the threshold concept. They wanted to begin discussion on suspending tests above a 4.75 seismic magnitude. (247, 248) However, disagreement over testing under the 4.75 magnitude destroyed hopes for a possible agreement on the threshold concept. The Soviets wanted a moratorium for testing under 4.75, while the United States wanted only a set moratorium period with an agreement to conduct joint research on underground test detection technology. (250) The Soviet downing of a U.S. U–2 reconnaissance plane over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, together with disagreement over the moratorium and U.S. frustrations over the Soviet refusal to consider seriously any type of controls, once again prevented any break-through on the nuclear testing issue at the Geneva negotiations. (253)

A fresh start seemed possible at the Ten-Nation Disarmament Conference on March 15, 1960. President Eisenhower hoped to persuade the Allies to focus on larger disarmament [Facsimile Page 29] issues—namely, a suspension in the production of fissionable materials. (244) Here too a stalemate resulted. Ambassador Eaton, Chairman of the U.S. delegation, reported that the Western position at the conference was increasingly weakened by Allied interest in obtaining a disarmament accord at any cost. Eaton recommended revising the U.S. plan to appease allies, especially France, which were worried that U.S. intransigence would ruin any hope of an agreement. All such proposals proved futile, however, when the Soviets walked out of the conference on June 27, 1960. (256)

Meanwhile, the United States began to develop a new approach to disarmament negotiations. Preliminary talks began on a cooperative research program with the British and Soviets that was designed to improve the ability to detect underground nuclear explosions. To improve trust and cooperation in the program, all the nuclear devices to be used for the testing research would be inspected by all three countries to confirm that they would only be used for peaceful purposes. In case the Soviets refused the joint research project, the Eisenhower administration also proposed a fallback plan whereby the United States would open up its nuclear devices to the United Nations for inspection before beginning unilateral research testing. This time the administration’s plans faced obstacles, not just from the Soviets, but also from an election year Congress that did not like the idea of unilaterally showing U.S. devices to the Soviets for nothing in return. (259)

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President Eisenhower soon realized that domestic political problems resulting from the upcoming elections would prevent not only an agreement but the actual research. (260) When Secretary Herter determined by mid-November that the Soviets were holding off on the Geneva negotiations to see if a better deal could be made with the newly elected Kennedy administration, he proceeded to call for a recess. The First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly discussed disarmament issues in the fall of 1960, and the U.N. General Assembly passed three resolutions on disarmament in December, but hopes for substantive progress on arms control talks with the Soviet Union were deferred until President-elect Kennedy took office in late January 1961. (264, 265)