86. Memorandum of Conversation0



  • Disarmament


  • United States
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Amb. Thompson (part-time)
    • Mr. Bohlen (part-time)
    • Mr. Kohler (part-time)
    • Mr. Nitze (part-time)
    • Mr. Armitage (part-time)
    • Amb. Matthews (part-time)
  • USSR
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Ambassador Menshikov
    • Mr. Dobrynin

In conversations at the Ambassadorʼs Residence in Vienna following the Presidentʼs luncheon for Khrushchev the Secretary and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko turned to a discussion on disarmament. The Secretary referred to the so-called bilateral disarmament talks at Washington beginning June 19 to be continued a few weeks later in Moscow. He thought that perhaps an agreement could be reached on proposals regarding particularly the forum for broader disarmament discussions.

Gromyko said that he had made to Ambassador Stevenson a number of reasonable proposals as to composition and the Secretary pointed out that Ambassador Stevenson had made some reasonable proposals on our side as well.

Gromyko referred to the fact that the US was always talking about control [verification]. He said that Mr. Khrushchev had spoken at length of Soviet willingness to accept control of disarmament in the UN General Assembly session last fall. Not a single other delegation had made any [Page 198] mention of this proposal. The Secretary said that this question could be discussed endlessly on a purely theoretical basis. Mr. Gromyko knew as well as he that nobody would disarm during the next few years. He said that perhaps if everybody were really disarmed then the question of controls would be a simple matter. In this connection he wanted to say frankly that the US was very taken aback by the Soviet position in the resumed nuclear test negotiations in Geneva. Without replying directly to the Secretary, Mr. Gromyko entered into a history of disarmament discussions and negotiations over the past 15 or 16 years. He said that there had been endless discussions of partial measures of disarmament and they had led to absolutely no results. All Soviet proposals for measures in this field had been rejected on the grounds that they would change the balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union. It was now time to tackle general and complete disarmament instead of starting up a new round of discussions of partial measures which could go on for another 10 years.

The Secretary then said that in view of the many years that had passed he wanted to ask Mr. Gromyko frankly why the Soviet Union had rejected the Baruch proposals.1 After some personal references to Mr. Baruch, Gromyko said that those proposals were calculated to ensure a continued US monopoly of atomic weapons. The Secretary said he thought this had been one of a number of other mistakes and that the Soviets could have easily accomplished the almost complete disarmament of the United States, instead of prodding us into rearming. Gromyko asked what they should have done and the Secretary replied that they should have left Greece alone, left Berlin alone, and left Korea alone. He then went on to say that when the rest of the world did not know what was going on in the Soviet Union this was a deterrent to disarmament. In fact, he said, the Soviet Union could not maintain its policies of military secrecy and also achieve disarmament. These two policies—and he was willing to grant that the Soviet Union really wanted disarmament—were incompatible. There was some discussion of post-war developments in this field including a reference to Rooseveltʼs statement at Yalta that American troops would be maintained in Europe only a couple of years after the war. At the end of this discussion the Secretary said he saw only two roads to disarmament. The first would be by the prior settlement of political problems which might create possibilities for a broader disarmament agreement. The second would be disarmament on a step by step basis with full verification and control at each step. Gromyko interjected that one of the United Statesʼ principal allies, Chancellor Adenauer, had repeatedly said and even said in a letter to Chairman Khrushchev that no solution of political problems was possible unless there was first progress [Page 199] on disarmament. The Secretary resumed saying that he had followed disarmament questions carefully since 1925. For nearly 30 years one disarmament conference after another had taken place. They seemed to him ceremonial like the mating dance of the goonie birds in the Pacific Islands. He felt it was time to be realistic about this problem. The immediate action was the conference in Geneva. He repeated that we were skeptical about the regression in the Soviet position there. In the broad field of disarmament this was a simple matter but it was a vital test. If the Soviets were serious about disarmament they would really try to come to an acceptable agreement in Geneva.

Mr. Gromyko then referred to the US adoption of the Russian word “troika” to describe the new Soviet proposals.2 The Secretary interjected that the troika had appeared in twelve different places now. Mr. Gromyko resumed, saying troika was a good word and a good idea. The Soviets felt that this proposal was no more than adequate to protect the Soviet Unionʼs natural rights. They were only asking for one-third, not two-thirds. They had a right to one-third. Any decisions adopted under the troika proposals against Soviet interests—or indeed against US interests—would be excluded. He said flatly that they were not going to deviate from this proposal. He did not want to use the word “demand” which was too strong but the Soviets were very firm on this. There was a question of the test ban negotiations, and the UN or any other international organization. If the troika proposals were adopted the US would be even better off than the USSR because the other one-third would side more often with the US than with the USSR. The Secretary commented that the real question was whether or not one-third should have a veto. Gromyko replied that if there were no veto the Soviet proposal would not make sense. The Secretary said that if adequate investigations of seismic events were not agreed on, a nuclear test ban would become improbable. Gromyko replied—after some uncertainty as to whether he had said two or three—that three investigations would be acceptable, subject of course to the agreed seismic indicators; against this the US was proposing 20 investigations (Mr. Nitze interjected 20 or 30 indicating he was matching Mr. Gromykoʼs reference to “2 or 3”).

The Secretary said that the Soviet troika proposals were a real block to any progress in the disarmament field. If they were maintained, it would be a waste of time even to discuss disarmament since no disarmament would be possible if any one country could block any real inspection. Gromyko then cited as a precedent, President Rooseveltʼs proposal of a veto in the UN Security Council. The Secretary confirmed that the US [Page 200] continued to accept a veto of the kind contained in the UN Charter. However, he pointed out that this was really limited in its original concept to considerations involving the use of force and the possibility of war. Gromyko replied that if the whole world were capitalist perhaps the question of the veto would not arise. However, the Socialist bloc does exist. The Secretary said that even if there were a disarmament agreement the first Soviet veto would bring it to an end since this would be an automatic signal to all the other parties to start to rearm.

Gromyko then said that in the present circumstances general and complete disarmament was the only way out. The Secretary asked him if he were sure that general and complete disarmament was a real policy of the USSR which they were ready to put into practical effect. He asked further what the Soviets would do, for example, with the Poles, the Czechs, or Hungarians if they had no arms. (At this point there were some side talks between Gromyko and Menshikov during which the latter said the Secretaryʼs statement implied Soviet domination of Eastern European countries.) Gromyko replied that what happened in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and so forth, was a question that they would decide for themselves. Of course there were treaty commitments between some of these countries just as there were between the US and their allies. The Secretary said that he had just been wondering about this question. Certainly, he observed, an early result of disarmament would be the self-determination of peoples. Gromyko replied that the Soviets were always ready for self-determination. However, he believed he saw in the Secretaryʼs remarks the roots of a wrong approach. The Secretaryʼs idea would not help. He then said (rather as an after-thought) that it was possible that the Americans had some doubt about the behavior of its present allies after general and complete disarmament.

The Secretary then asked when the USSR had adopted the troika idea. Was it only two years ago? Gromyko replied that everybody gets wiser in time or should get wiser. He said that the Sovietsʼ experience with theUN operation in the Congo had made them realize the importance of this proposal. He then went on at some length as to the long years of US domination of the United Nations by a mechanical voting majority. Referring to the fact that the composition of the UN had changed, the Secretary said he would have understood the troika proposal better if it had been made in the late 1940ʼs. Gromyko replied that the Soviets had not made it at that time because they thought the United States would behave better in the UN and operate on a basis of reconciling the views of the wartime allies on all major problems. President Rooseveltʼs veto proposals for the UN Charter represented a very realistic approach. However, the United States since that time has invalidated many provisions of the Charter and emasculated the Security Council.

[Page 201]

Gromyko said the UN arrangements had been worked out by compromise so that there would be no direct collision of interests. It was the deviations from UN principles that had caused trouble. The Secretary suggested that it might be helpful to hear the views of each side concerning the course of events since the adoption of the Charter.

Mr. Gromyko said the Charter was good, though some provisions were vague. The Soviets did not wish to place themselves in a position where on all matters substantively affecting their interests they were outvoted. Nor would they want to put the US in that position. The US would also be better off under a troika arrangement.

The Secretary said this arrangement would run against every principle of arbitration and conciliation. Gromyko said they did not want arbitration. Nothing said about the Security Council or in the General Assembly halls would convince them that any arrangement would produce impartial voting. Always, even in the International Court of Justice, voting reflected the state of affairs in the world. Arbitration and conciliation, therefore, were not solutions to the problem and would not help.

The Secretary expressed regrets that the preceding Administration had not gotten a test ban agreement before the Soviets invented the troika. Gromyko said the US should have accepted before the Soviets became wiser.

The Secretary said he was pessimistic regarding the troika and doubted whether the other two-thirds, as the Soviets term them, would see a solution in it. Gromyko said that the two-thirds was the formal side of the question. The substantive side was that any international body would not take decisions that related to the security interests of all countries without unanimity. There were two sides to the troika proposal: the three-sided arrangement plus unanimity of the most powerful countries. The US wants an order by which it could impose its decisions on the Soviet Union. Gromyko asked how he could convince the US that this was not possible.

Mr. Nitze reminded Gromyko that disarmament was a question which affected the vital interests of our countries, and we are thus dealing with the question of whether and how an agreement can be made effective and how its implementation can be insured at each stage.

Gromyko said that one could adopt a paper agreement but not contribute to a solution. You must seek agreement with the USSR; this is the way of solution. We do not want to take decisions against you. You must reconcile your interests with ours. Under President Roosevelt one proceeded from this assumption. If the two powers were not able to reconcile their interests, it was better not to have a decision.

Ambassador Thompson suggested that there was a vast difference between important political decisions where it might possibly be granted that no great power could let others tell them what to do. Applying [Page 202] this to disarmament was somewhat like the following analogy: Two men have revolvers and decide to give them up. They must be able to check whether another revolver is not hidden under the vest of the second party.

Gromyko said the Soviets are aiming at this purpose. General and complete disarmament—if a treaty was concluded, then all pockets could be examined. Even trousers could be taken off.

Mr. Nitze asked how you get through the intermediate stages. Gromyko said they did not propose GCD like a rocket shot. They had done their best to set out the stages with controls. Until complete disarmament was reached, there naturally would not be complete control. The degree of control would be in accordance with the degree of disarmament. Control would be in accordance with the steps being taken.

Mr. Nitze said the test ban could be viewed as a first step in which we could see how controls would work out. Ambassador Matthews said he concluded Gromyko was pessimistic regarding disarmament. Gromyko replied he was pessimistic regarding the US position on disarmament. There was a question of the horse and the cart, and the Soviets proposed that the two go together.

The Secretary said he wished to understand how the troika administration would actually work. Suppose we have an agreement regarding the number of inspection posts and the number of on-site inspections. The machines record a seismic event, say in Reno, of a magnitude above the 4.75 threshold. If the inspection teams say that they should go to Reno and this inspection would be within the agreed number, is it the Soviet view that the US Administrator on the troika could say “No, you cannot go to Reno?” Gromyko said that if the inspection was in the quota of say three per year, it would be carried out according to the provisions on which understanding had been reached. It would be up to the scientists to agree. There would be a question regarding other inspections.

The Secretary said for the moment we were talking about the number of agreed inspections. If the scientists have to agree unanimously, then we get the same problem all over at a different level. However, if there was an acknowledged seismic event above the 4.75 threshold, on what question do the Soviets consider it necessary for the country being inspected to have reservations? We would already have agreed to the necessity for the inspections. Gromyko replied that the functions of the administrative body were not precisely determined. As far as the agreement on the quota of inspections, if the scientific instruments agreed on the need for inspection, then it must be examined.

Mr. Nitze said suppose the US scientists think the event not up to the 4.75 threshold, the Soviets and other (perhaps British) scientists say the event was above the threshold. Can the US Administrator veto inspection teams going to Reno? Gromyko said the administrators should [Page 203] agree; it canʼt be done automatically. The Secretary wondered whether this was not a formal requirement. We both assume that we would not be testing if the agreement were signed. canʼt we be reasonably relaxed regarding inspection? We would not expect anything to be found in Reno, and the Soviets would probably not expect anything to be found in Kiev. Why prevent inspections? Gromyko said if there were disagreement among the scientists, then the administrative body should decide according to the administrative rules, that is, the troika. Why build in advance such an abundance of doubts? He asked the Secretary directly, do you think we are exploding atomic weapons now? The Secretary replied that we have no evidence that the Soviets are testing, but that it is very difficult to prove a negative proposition. Gromyko stated vigorously that the Soviets think that the US is sure the Soviets are not testing.

The Secretary said underground testing is more a problem than atmospheric testing. We could probably work out an atmospheric agreement without much difficulty. Gromyko said the best solution would be to prohibit all kinds of testing. The Secretary said we would like to work toward it; 4.75 seems to be the practical limit right now. If scientists can reduce this to zero, so much the better. You and we understand that these things go to the heart of our national concerns. It is somewhat easier for the Soviets since they can go all around the US on busses and check up. He remarked in jest that the Soviets have fewer busses. We did not in any case have to have US inspectors, and inspectors of other nationalities, say Swiss, would be checking solely on the presence or absence of an explosion.

Gromyko said without an agreement it is possible to detect all testing. An agreement would make everybody more confident. Why should the US in advance suspect violations? The Soviets considered such stress on voting and the veto an undue concern.

Mr. Nitze said one must assume these matters affect the vital interests of our countries, and both countries had an acknowledged interest in having inspections. Then we could invite Soviet inspectors and they invite ours, and both would be serving their national interests.

The Secretary said underground testing was not now detectable. The US wanted to be sure the Soviets stop if we stop testing. He made the next aversion just in case it presented a problem for the Soviets. Were there, he asked, particular areas which the Soviets would not want to have examined? If so, we could probably work out some way to handle this problem. He hoped this was not an obstacle to Soviet agreement, but he gathered that this was a far-reaching political issue for them.

Gromyko said the Soviets would resume testing if the US did, and other countries would also. He emphasized that the Soviets would not lose more than we by resumption. Everybody would lose, but he replied the Soviets were not more interested in a testing agreement than was the [Page 204] US. The Secretary and Gromyko agreed that each otherʼs scientists would be asking for more money in case of resumption.

Ambassador Thompson said that with regard to the question of suspensions, it was a factor for the US that we had to take the agreement to the Senate, and to successfully defend it, it would have to be an agreement without loopholes. The Secretary said this was the problem expressed in the second degree, the first degree was what we can recommend ourselves to Congress. He did not want to review history, but since 1945 we think there has been a long stretch of agreements that have not been observed. Our problem of mutual trust is not a new one. Neither of us can put its basic interests in the otherʼs hands. We need assurances, and we think that an effective inspection system could contribute to mutual trust.

Gromyko asked where was that other Hammarskjold that could be objective? The Secretary said that here we were talking about a more limited question, regarding the troika applied to inspection administration. Gromyko said the situation was “most complicated.” The Secretary said Gromyko understood our political system and would understand that a signature of a treaty would absorb the energies of the Administration in getting passage of the agreement. Gromyko replied that especially regarding foreign affairs matters the Administration could convince Senators.

The Secretary said that we regretted the prospect that this issue might turn up as a major problem in the field of general disarmament, even should we all agree to go far down the road toward disarmament. Gromyko said we should proceed on disarmament even without a testing agreement. Disarmament discussions should not be conditional on this question of testing, although the situation would be quite different if a testing agreement were signed.

Mr. Nitze asked how one could be optimistic concerning the outlook for broader disarmament if we could not solve the easier problems? Gromyko agreed that we should solve the testing agreement, but if we could not, it was the Soviet position that general disarmament discussions should go forward. Mr. Nitze asked whether the troika proposal would not cut across other disarmament proposals. Gromyko said that they had formulated proposals for our examination. He again stressed that if tests were resumed, the Soviets would not lose more than the US. Everybody would lose, but he repeated that the Soviets would not lose more.

Later in the conversation, Gromyko said the time might come when the US would regret it did not accept the troika. The Secretary expressed his doubt, but said he had become reluctant to become categorical as he had gotten older.

[Page 205]

The Secretary said that he took it that we were on dead center regarding nuclear testing. Gromyko nodded and said that “It is a very complicated situation.” The Secretary said that we had gone quite a way to meet the Soviet points of view and up popped the troika. Gromyko said they wanted to correct their mistakes. Maybe they should have raised the troika before. He said it would not damage the US but would protect their own interests. They could not have agreements that permitted arbitrary decisions, and he thought that the US had too great suspicions of the Soviet Union.

The Secretary said our distrust did not begin to match Soviet distrust for an impartial administration. Gromyko retorted that there was no such being. Was Hammarskjold one? He had been pushed by the US and Western powers to demonstrate his lack of impartiality. The Soviets think the two powers should try to reach agreement together. It was more important for the US to agree with the Soviet Union than with Hammarskjold. Now the US has an agreement with Hammarskjold but not with the Soviet Union.

Ambassador Thompson expressed the opinion that the Soviets had made a real misjudgment regarding Hammarskjold. They think Hammarskjold made judgments for the sake of the US, when he actually made them for what he believed to be the purposes of the UN. This did not really affect the proposition that no great power would allow the imposition of a decision affecting its vital interests.

Gromyko said the Security Council took good decisions on the Congo. It would have been better if they had been carried out. Lumumba would not have been killed, he was not a Communist. Who did not let the decisions be carried out? Without the backing of the Western powers Hammarskjold could not have acted as he did. The US may consider that some matters can be solved without the understanding of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union does not think so. Perhaps some problems could be postponed. Such a situation is not normal. One cannot rely only on a majority. This might change to the US disadvantage. The troika is not so bad as the US considers.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 397.5611-GE/6-361. Secret. Drafted by Armitage and Kohler and approved in S on June 18. A summary of this conversation, transmitted in Secto 15 from Vienna, June 4, is in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. VII, pp. 8385.
  2. For text of this proposal, June 14, 1946, see A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-1949, pp. 865-871.
  3. For text of the Soviet troika proposal, April 28, see Documents on Disarmament, 1961, pp. 134-142. Extracts are printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 1129-1130.
  4. During a lull in the discussion of disarmament, Rusk told Gromyko that the United States intended to approach Outer Mongolia regarding the possibility of exchanging diplomatic missions. A 1-page memorandum of this part of the conversation, US/MC/12, is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1901.