77. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy 0


  • Direct White House-Kremlin Telephone

It may be useful, in your meetings with Khrushchev, to mention that we propose to install a direct telephone connection between the State Department and the United States Embassy in Moscow if the Soviet Government has no objection. This telephone would permit direct communication between the heads of the United States and Soviet governments without being ostensibly and exclusively designed for this purpose. Such communication might be useful, in a grave crisis, in reducing the risk of war by miscalculation.

Khrushchev has in the past indicated that he favored a “white telephone” between the United States President and himself, in order to reduce the risk of war by miscalculation. This telephone connection could serve the same purpose, without creating as many political problems.

This discussion might afford you an opportunity to avert to the broader question of the risk of war by miscalculation, and to the fact that this risk may be of some significance during the next few years, when the advantage accruing to a first strike could lead to a pre-emptive strike if one side thought that the other was about to attack.

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There is little evidence that this problem has yet figured prominently in Soviet thinking about arms control. It may be useful to get Khrushchev to thinking about the problem and about the need for remedial measures. This might possibly increase the chance of progress in any later discussions of such measures with the Soviets. A sober view of this risk might also help him to appreciate the risks that he will be accepting if he initiates further aggressive moves in the period immediately ahead.

  1. Source: Department of State,S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, USSR. Secret. The source text bears no drafting information, but a handwritten notation states that it was signed by Rusk on May 25. Another copy states that it was sent to the White House on the same day. (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1906) A third copy was attached to a memorandum from McCloy to Rusk, May 25, which stated his belief that a direct telephone communication system might reduce “the risk of war by accident or miscalculation.” (Ibid., S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, Owen Chron)