239. Editorial Note

In a letter of September 15, 1962, President Kennedy informed Chairman Khrushchev that he was “happy to note your suggestion that you are prepared to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water in the immediate future. Now that the subcommittee on nuclear test ban is continuing in session throughout the recess in the 18-Nation Disarmament Conference, I think we should make a serious effort to work out such an agreement in time to meet the target date of January 1, 1963.” Kennedy added that the U.S. had prepared such a treaty. For text of Kennedyʼs letter, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume VII, pages 568569.

Khrushchev responded in a letter of September 28. Referring to Kennedyʼs comment that a serious effort be made to work out an agreement by January 1, 1963, Khrushchev stated that the Soviets would not keep the United States waiting. If an agreement were reached on a ban in three environments, he continued, “there remains the question of underground tests.” Referring to the suggestion of British scientists at the recent Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs that automatic unmanned seismic stations could help determine whether an underground tremor was a nuclear blast or an earthquake, Khrushchev stated: [Page 503] “After thinking this suggestion over we came to the conclusion that it can be accepted if this would make it easier to reach an agreement. In this case it could be provided in the treaty banning all nuclear weapon tests that automatic seismic stations be set up both near the borders of the nuclear states and 2-3 such stations directly on the territory of the states possessing nuclear weapons—in the areas most frequently subjected to earthquakes.” Khrushchev proposed that, after reaching agreement on a three environment ban, negotiations continue on an underground ban and that all nuclear powers refrain from carrying out underground tests during the negotiations. For text, see ibid., pages 575579.

Kennedy replied in an October 8 letter: “I am encouraged by the areas in which we are in accord and by your statement that the Soviet Union is prepared to make ‘new efforts’ in order to conclude an early agreement. Certainly it would seem we are agreed in our approach to three types of tests—in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water.” With respect to underground tests, Kennedy stated that the “development of automatic unmanned seismic mechanisms might very well, if properly worked out, facilitate agreement on the means of actually detecting underground explosions—although my scientists indicate that it would require much more than the two or three such stations you mentioned as being located directly in the areas most frequently subjected to earthquakes. Of course, these mechanical devices would still have to be supplemented by a modest number of on-site inspections.” For text, see ibid., pages 585586.