99. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy0

Dear Mr. President: I have carefully studied your message on the question of the cessation of nuclear tests, which was transmitted to me by Ambassador Kohler on April 24.1 You stated in this message that you consider how—from your standpoint—action should be taken for the achievement of the earliest possible understanding, and you offer proposals concerning procedures for further negotiations.

We have considered all this, consulted one another in the government, held consultation once again with specialists, and I want to tell you our considerations in reply to your message. I shall also communicate these considerations to Mr.Macmillan in reply to his message which is identical with yours.

I think that at present it is not necessary to delve deeper into the history of negotiations on the cessation of tests or present in all details our position and our proposals, which have already been stated more than once. You know them well and we have also learned almost by heart the proposals of the Western powers, just as we used to learn “Pater Noster.” I merely wish to touch upon some of the main questions and basic differences between our positions.

What is the approach of the Soviet Government to the question of the cessation of nuclear tests? It is very simple: we stand for the cessation [Page 280] of all tests for all time, wherever they may be carried out: in the atmosphere, the cosmos, underground, and under water.

We take such a position first of all because the question regarding the cessation of nuclear weapons tests has an indisputable significance from the moral and humane viewpoint. Its solution would put an end to the contamination of air, water, the bowels and surface of the earth by radio-active substances, harmful to the health of the people now living and for future generations. As it seems to us, this already appears to be a sufficient incentive for coming to an understanding regarding the prohibition of tests.

It appears that the achievement of such an understanding could also exert a definite and positive influence on the international situation. To be sure, the conclusion of an understanding regarding the cessation of tests would not stop the arms race, would not diminish by one charge the stocks of nuclear weapons accumulated by states; it would not even slow down further accumulation of these stocks. The prohibition of tests does not appear to be the key problem for lessening international tension. The roots of this tension lie entirely elsewhere, above all in the fact that the German peace settlement has not yet been reached. And yet the conclusion of an agreement regarding the prohibition of nuclear tests could somewhat clear up the atmosphere in the relations between nuclear powers and would be evaluated everywhere as an expression of their readiness to seek a solution to the questions affecting the interests of both sides. I understood that you also attach significance to this.

We are convinced that it is not difficult to solve the question regarding the cessation of nuclear tests if one manifests a desire to achieve this. Right now, when both sides have completed important series of tests and when your and our scientists are in agreement that for further improvement of nuclear weapons there is no special necessity for new tests, then it seems that it should be even easier than before to come to an agreement on this subject.

On our part we also see no difficulties whatever in the question of control over the carrying out by the states of their obligations under the agreement of prohibition of nuclear tests. We know that national means now available for discovering nuclear explosion, including also underground explosions, are amply sufficient to unmask any state which might try to conduct nuclear weapons tests under cover of secrecy.

If it is necessary to have new confirmation of the fact that even underground nuclear explosions cannot be conducted in such a way that they would not become known, then new proof of this lies in the fact that our seismic stations unerringly caught the vibrations of the earth crust produced by the recent French nuclear tests in the Sahara. I do not doubt that seismologists in the USA also have recorded these vibrations.

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But if the Soviet Union is prepared to rely wholly on the national means for verification of the cessation of underground nuclear tests, then there is no reason why the USA could not do the same.

Such, Mr. President, is our approach to the solution of the problem of prohibition of nuclear tests. This is an honest and equitable approach. If an agreement is concluded on this basis, then everybody will gain and no side will lose.

Then why do the Western Powers not accept this approach? Why do they continue to insist on international inspection of the discontinuance of underground nuclear explosions? In the interest of such a cause there is no need of inspection of the cessation of underground tests just as there is no need for international control of the cessation of tests in the atmosphere, in space, and under water with which the Western Powers now agree. But if no inspection is needed for the control of the cessation of underground tests, and yet the Western Powers continue to insist on it, then we are compelled to draw our own conclusions in regard to the reason why such a demand is put forth.

Please, understand me, Mr. President, that under these conditions we cannot regard the demand of the Western Powers for international inspection otherwise than as a policy to charge the Soviet Union for the cessation of the nuclear weapons tests a certain additional price in the form of the admission of NATO’s intelligence men to Soviet territory, where, of course, there are many objects of interest to the military intelligence of the states of this bloc. Sometimes, however, the matter is presented in such a way as if equality is ensured by the fact that espionage would be carried out, so to speak, on the basis of reciprocity. But such “reciprocity” would not result in anything good; it could only intensify mistrust in our relations. We do not want to enter on such a path and we have no desire to send our intelligence men to the United States of America.

We wish to make everything quite clear: the Soviet Union would not consent to an agreement which would be detrimental to its security. We are firmly convinced that lasting peace can be founded only on such agreements as would strengthen the security of states and not undermine it.

Well known to the entire world and certainly to you, Mr. President, is our sincere desire to reach as soon as possible an agreement among all states on the matter of disarmament. Such an act would really ensure full security for all nations inhabiting our planet. But heretofore we have not been able to reach such an agreement and, furthermore, we do not see any clear prospects in this direction. Under such conditions the decisive factor is the problem of security of every country, and we, of course, are concerned about the security of our country, and we cannot in this regard permit any concession which military intelligence services may exploit to conduct espionage in our country.

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If an agreement for universal and complete disarmament under international control is reached, such control we would not regard as espionage because it would be actually carried out on a reciprocal basis under the stipulation that all states liquidate their armed forces and armaments, and such control would be in the interest of all countries and nations of the world.

You might ask me why, if the Soviet Union considers international inspections for the discontinuance of nuclear tests as a means of espionage, it consented to the conducting of such inspections on Soviet territory four months ago? You know what motivated such a step, because at that time we explained our motives and thoughts on this point. However, since it can be seen from your letter that you interpret them in a somewhat different way, I feel that it would be better if we clarify our position once more.

We consented to inspections not because we came to the conclusion that they were necessary for verification of the states’ carrying out their obligations under a treaty for discontinuance of nuclear weapons tests. No, we agreed to this only because we ascribed a definite meaning to your statements, Mr. President, that without a minimum number of on-site inspections you would not be able to succeed in persuading the United States Senate to ratify an agreement for the cessation of tests. And though there was nothing that obligated the Soviet Union to consider the fine points of such purely internal matters as the disposition of forces in the U.S. Senate, we decided to meet you half-way and to agree to a minimum number of inspections on Soviet territory.

I shall not conceal the fact that it was not easy for us to adopt the decision to agree to the number of inspections indicated by us. But we proceed from the premise that they are not relevant to the problem and technically not justified, and so why should we agree to them? For a long time I deliberated as to whether I should take such initiative with our government or not. On the one hand I, as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, felt the responsibility for solving questions of disarmament and discontinuance of tests which, as was recognized one year ago, rests with the heads of governments and states participating in negotiations on these questions. On the other hand I, in my position, bear the highest responsibility for guaranteeing the security of the Soviet Union and must not forget this for a moment. And still I have come to the conclusion that it is probably worthwhile in this case to take a step forward now to meet the Western powers in order to ensure the swift achievement of an agreement on stopping tests. In proceeding in this manner, we, of course, had counted on the fact that as a result of a peaceful settlement of the crisis in the Caribbean Sea area on an international basis, as was hoped at that time, the germs of confidence might begin to [Page 283] sprout. We had hoped that our new step in the direction of stopping tests might help these sprouts burst forth and grow strong.

But this did not mean at all that, as you write, we had accepted the “principle of verifying on the spot undetermined phenomena.” Not at all! We have not accepted and do not accept this principle in the sense that there is any necessity for verification on the spot; there is no need for that.

That is how our agreement arose concerning inspection. This decision was dictated by purely political considerations, by the desire to achieve more quickly the cessation of all nuclear tests, but in no case did this mean any revision of our opinion concerning the futility of inspections from a scientific and technical standpoint.

After we had taken this great step toward meeting the Western powers, it was directly up to them and solely up to them as to whether the subsequent obstacles on the road to agreement would be removed. We had hoped that the Western powers, in their turn, would likewise take an equally important step forward, and the only remaining step would be to prepare a treaty text for the cessation of tests and sign it.

One can only be sorry that in reality this did not come to pass. Instead of a positive reply to our initiative the Western powers began to haggle concerning the number of inspections and the conditions for conducting them, and this cannot be construed otherwise than meaning that they are really not prepared to conclude an agreement on the cessation of tests on such a basis as would give nobody an advantage and would inflict no damage on anyone. But on any other basis there can be no agreement at all between the powers during our era. When we are requested to make some new concessions in the matter of inspections, this can merely mean that an agreement is becoming more and more remote, that its attainment is becoming less and less likely. Thus the negotiations being conducted lose all sense of direction and cannot get out of the doldrums.

And now I come to that which, apparently, constitutes the very essence of the messages which I received from you and Mr.Macmillan. To summarize briefly what is stated in these messages, their main thought, as I have understood it, reduces itself to the proposal to continue haggling over inspections, but at a higher level. Please pardon me for my straightforwardness, but I could draw no other conclusion, however much I read the messages. Considerations are expressed therein as to how to carry forward the movement as to the figures of annual inspections; reference is made to the possibility of establishing a quota for several years; there is brought up the question of how these inspections should be conducted, etc.

All this merely confirms that the sense and significance of our concession in the matter of inspections have not only not been duly appreciated, but there is a desire to use this concession as some kind of [Page 284] springboard for achieving other objectives and not at all for settling the problem of stopping nuclear tests.

The Soviet Government sincerely desires to reach an agreement for the cessation of nuclear tests, but it cannot and will not approach an understanding on the conditions proposed by the Western powers. Our people would have every right to severely question their government if it entered into negotiations as to how many intelligence agents we would admit annually to our territory and what conditions we would grant to such intelligence agents. But the Western powers in their proposals, which they have advanced in negotiation for the cessation of nuclear weapons tests, insist that in the implementation of any inspection they have the right to check the territory to the extent of 500 square km. Just imagine what an enormous area would be covered by these inspections, if there were seven or eight of them, as the Western powers insist on. And is it possible for you to think that we can seriously regard such a proposal, the unserious character of which is obvious to us.

When we agreed on two or three inspections we thought that these inspections would be very symbolic, and that the question would never arise concerning the inspection of such vast areas—all the more so with the use of various methods of boring, flying about, etc. No, we will not accept that, because there is absolutely no need for that. Thus, if the position of the Western powers is judged by their proposals, then one comes to the conclusion that they really have no serious attitude toward negotiation. And it seems to me that if the Western powers would seriously consider their own proposals and realistically evaluate their partner’s position, then they themselves would come to understand that these proposals are unacceptable to us.

If the question is now approached in a businesslike manner, then it must be admitted that the establishment of automatic seismic stations, the so-called “black boxes,” is fully sufficient, and to this, as before, we consent. Nothing else is required.

As soon as I had studied your message for the first time, I said to Ambassador F. Kohler2 that it was evidently based on the old positions of the Western powers and for that reason cannot provide a basis on which to reach an agreement. This impression of mine has now become even stronger, and I even wonder whether the dispatching of the messages by you and Mr.Macmillan is not connected with some additional internal policy consideration.

In any case we took note of the fact that although the messages of the President of the United States and of the Prime Minister of Great Britain addressed to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR were [Page 285] in this case strictly confidential, the content of these messages was announced by the press of some of the Western countries several days before they were handed to the addressee. It is as if someone wanted especially to show who is the initiator of this “constructive” step. We, however, will not participate in these schemes and will not be drawn into them.

What will the further course of developments be on the question of stopping nuclear tests? To tell the truth, I do not know; it depends on the Western Powers whether there will be an agreement. The explosions of American nuclear devices in Nevada and of French nuclear devices in the Sahara cannot but cause us to wonder whether there are any prospects at present of reaching an agreement on the banning of tests, or whether we shall not again have to turn our attention in another direction, that of taking measures which would ensure a still more reliable guarantee of the security of the Soviet Union and other Socialist states. This, obviously, is also made imperative for us because of the measures of the Western powers in establishing a joint nuclear force in NATO.

Is such a development, Mr. President, in harmony with the interests of our two countries? It seems to me that it is not. But this depends not so much on the Soviet Union as on the other side, and on the future actions of the other side.

It gives me no satisfaction to say this. I repeat that we were anticipating something quite different in the question of stopping nuclear tests—the conclusion of an agreement. And we are now, as before, prepared to seek an agreement, provided that our negotiating partners are also prepared to do so. It would be even more important to approach a decision on the main problems—disarmament and a peaceful German settlement. But in the disarmament discussions at Geneva there has been, as before, no evidence of any accomplishments except the multiplication of the number of minutes. Such a situation cannot but give rise to anxiety.

In your and Mr.Macmillan’s messages you propose sending to Moscow high-ranking representatives who would have full powers to carry on, in your name, discussions about the cessation of nuclear weapons tests. So be it; we are even prepared to try this method of discussion too, and in general we consider it right to use every opportunity in order to effect a rapprochement of the positions of the respective sides. For that reason we shall be happy to receive in Moscow the high-level representatives of the United States and Great Britain. It is important, however, that they be empowered to negotiate on the question of stopping nuclear weapons tests on the same realistic and equitable basis which life itself suggests, i.e., without spying inspections in foreign territories. This is the crux of the whole problem.

We would, of course, also welcome a meeting at the highest level, the possibility of holding which, for the purpose of reaching a definitive [Page 286] understanding on the agreement for banning tests, is mentioned in your message. I should gladly take part in such a meeting, provided that there is hope of its being successful; for that, one thing is now necessary—namely, that the Western powers, too, show a desire to negotiate and come to an agreement.

These are my ideas as regards the thoughts which were set forth by you and Mr.Macmillan in your messages.

With my respects,

N. Khrushchev
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Secret. The source text is a Department of State translation. Another English text is in telegram 2839 from Moscow, May 8. (Ibid., Central Files, DEF 18-4) Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence.
  2. See Document 96.
  3. See telegram 2719 from Moscow, April 24, in vol. VII, pp. 685686.
  4. Printed from a translation that indicates Khrushchev signed the original Russian-language version. A bracketed note after his signature indicates it was illegible.