32. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy0

Dear Mr. President: I am addressing you on a question which, as is evident from your message of February 7 last,1 occupies your thoughts as well.

I could not but be gratified that you also are giving some thought to the role which the recently created 18-Nation Committee, which is beginning its work on March 14, 1962 in Geneva and of which our countries are members, will play in the solution of the disarmament problem. This is required if only because the Governments of the countries represented in that Committee have been entrusted, by decision of the sixteenth session of the UN General Assembly, with a matter of such vital importance to the peoples as general and complete disarmament.

There is no need to prove that the further development of the international situation will depend, to a large degree, on how the work in that Committee will progress. Will it be able to rise to a level from which the distant and difficult will appear near and real, will it cope with the great task placed on it—to work out an agreement on general and complete disarmament? Or will the new disarmament body begin, from its very first steps, to stumble over the same difficulties over which its predecessors suffered a fiasco?

These are the questions the answers to which are now being sought by everyone who is not indifferent to the future of mankind. And these questions animate the peoples all the more deeply and strongly because the arms race is ever growing, devouring the labors and the achievements of hundreds of millions of peoples, while the danger of a new war is increasing, acquiring substance in the mass of armaments.

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It seems to me that all this has to be borne in mind in order correctly to evaluate the significance which the disarmament negotiations to be resumed in Geneva are acquiring under present conditions.

You will, apparently, agree with me, that certain preparatory work for these negotiations has been done. For the first time in the entire history of negotiations a disarmament body has a rather clear mandate—the basic principles of general and complete disarmament approved by the UN General Assembly. Hopes are raised also by the fact that now the composition of the disarmament body includes representatives of all of the three main groups of states existing in the world: the socialist, those belonging to Western military blocs, and the non-committed. These are undoubtedly positive factors.

At the same time all of us cannot but be aware of the fact that there still remain to be made truly Herculean efforts in order to have the disarmament negotiations bear the awaited fruits. It is sufficient to compare the Soviet program for general and complete disarmament with other proposals advanced at the sixteenth session of the UN General Assembly, which are being put forward as a counter to our program, to see clearly what mountains have yet to be moved from the path toward agreement.

The Soviet Government deems it necessary to see to it in advance that the work of the 18-Nation Committee does not become caught in the beaten track and that it not be reduced in the final analysis to debates between bureaucrats. All too often the various committees, subcommittees, and commissions on disarmament, a great number of which have been created in the past, have ceased their inglorious existence for us not to draw the necessary lessons from this.

In our opinion, the most important thing now is to have the 18-Nation Committee make a powerful and correct start in its work and obtain a good impetus which would permit it to work productively, with a high degree of efficiency.

Who is capable of bringing about such a beginning? Who can most quickly step over the routine conceptions and disagreements which, like a snowball, accumulate on disarmament negotiations as soon as these have begun? I should think that this must first of all lie on the shoulders of those who are invested with the greatest trust of the peoples and who have the full breadth of authority.

Guided by these considerations, the Soviet Government proposes that the work of the 18-Nation Committee be opened by the Heads of Government (State) of the countries represented in that Committee. For this purpose the Heads of Government would arrive in Geneva by March 14 and would themselves perform the most responsible and complex part of the work which awaits the 18-Nation Committee at the initial stage. Perhaps this idea will appear somewhat unusual, but, you will [Page 89] agree, it is fully justified by the greatness of the goal and by the circumstances in which the Disarmament Committee is beginning its activity.

Today, direct contacts among State leaders have firmly entered the practice of international relations: meetings, conferences, exchanges of messages, and personal participation in the work of the most represent-ative international bodies. And this is understandable. The more quickly distances between States are overcome and the more terrible weapons of annihilation become, the more the responsibility of State leaders increases and the more perspicacity and wisdom is required for resolving both important international problems and others, which may, at first glance, even appear to be secondary, inasmuch as they more often than not go down with their roots to the questions of war and peace. This is doubly true in respect to disarmament, which affects the most sensitive interests of States, their security interests, and requires for its solution particular circumspection, flexibility and bold exploration.

I shall not conceal the fact that I received the joint message sent by you and the United Kingdom Prime Minister at the very moment when I was working on this message to the Heads of Government of the States represented in the 18-Nation Disarmament Committee. It is a cause of satisfaction that our views go generally in the same direction. I fully share the thought you expressed about the personal responsibility of Heads of Government for the direction of disarmament negotiations and your suggestion that the state of affairs in the 18-Nation Committee be the subject of a broader exchange of views between us. However, why must we take only a half step and limit ourselves to being represented in the opening work of the Disarmament Committee by Ministers of Foreign Affairs? If one is to be consistent, then, proceeding from the considerations expressed by you, one will perforce arrive at the very proposal which is being advanced by the Soviet Government, namely, to begin the work of the Disarmament Committee at the highest level. The work of the 18-Nation Committee can be begun at the highest level even if not all the Heads of the Governments (States) members of the Committee wish or can take part; that need not be an obstacle to our participation in its work. It goes without saying that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of our countries should also take part in the work of the 18-Nation Committee both with the Heads of Government and during the subsequent period of the work of the Committee.

Thus very many factors speak in favor of our proposal concerning participation of the Heads of Government in the work of the 18-Nation Committee. Of course, there may be people who will understand our proposal in the sense that the Soviet Union is allegedly again placing a Summit meeting on the agenda and who will begin deliberating whether or not the conditions for that meeting now exist. I should like to clarify right away that in this case it is not a matter of a Summit meeting, as it is [Page 90] usually understood, but rather of the Heads of State participating in the 18-Nation Committee created by the UN; nor is it a matter of considering a broad spectrum of international problems but a question of negotiating one specific problem—that of disarmament. And only one who is not at all interested in its solution can assert that conditions are not yet ripe for the consideration of the disarmament problem.

Obviously, one cannot reckon that the Heads of State will be able immediately to accomplish in Geneva such work that all that will remain will be to sign a treaty on complete and general disarmament. But if as a result of their efforts a proper direction to further negotiation is given and if the contents of a treaty on general and complete disarmament are outlined, even that would be an enormous change for the better long awaited by the peoples. I should think that it is worthwhile, very much worthwhile, to undertake such an attempt which, in the event of its success, something the Soviet Government genuinely hopes for, promises to bring about a breakthrough in international relations and bring mankind nearer to the realization of its age-old dream of peace.

It is no secret to anyone that frequently negotiations about increased military preparations are being conducted at the Heads of State level. But since this is so, then on what grounds can one object to the holding of the initial meetings of the 18-Nation Committee at the highest level in order to make real efforts for the sake of such a noble goal as disarmament! History would not forgive us if we were to let go by the opportunity of considering the disarmament problem in such an authoritative forum as a meeting of the Heads of Government of 18 States especially conducted for that purpose.

I should like to hope that you will correctly understand the motives which have prompted the Soviet Government to propose that the work of the 18-Nation Committee be begun at the level of Heads of Government (State), and that you will have a positive attitude toward this proposal.

I have addressed myself with messages of a similar content to all the Heads of Government (State) of the countries represented in the 18-Nation Disarmament Committee.


N. Khrushchev
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Confidential. Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence. Also printed in Documents on Disarmament, 1962, vol. I, p. 32.
  2. See Document 31.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.