124. Telegram 5441 to London, April 121

[Facsimile Page 1]

Eyes only Ambassador Bruce. Following is a message from Prime Minister Macmillan to the President which was passed to him by Ambassador David Ormsby Gore.

QUOTE April 11, 1962

Dear Friend,

Our joint approach to Khrushchev about nuclear tests has gone well here and I think our public position in the world generally is now pretty good. I am very grateful for all your patience in working this out. I fear, however, that there is still one point which disturbs me.

In your message to me of February 27 you mentioned an addition to the series of tests proposed which you described as a pair of “systems tests” to show whether all the components of Polaris and Atlas work together. In my reply of February 28 I said that these two tests represented a difficulty but that I agreed with you that they could be included in the programme.

I am afraid, however, that when I said this I had not fully [Facsimile Page 2] understood what was involved. I only realised when we received the detailed list of proposed tests towards the beginning of March that these two tests might mean full operational testing of ballistic missiles armed [Typeset Page 328] with nuclear warheads. I am told that this is in fact the case although you have not given final authority for the firing to be made.

I must confess that I am worried about this. In the first place, I wonder if nuclear warheads are really necessary for full operational testing of the missile systems. My scientists advise me that, given the appropriate instrumentation, the missile systems could be satisfactorily tested with the nuclear component replaced by dummy or non-nuclear material. The nuclear warheads themselves could be proved elsewhere. Secondly, missile systems are fallible and there is always the possibility of an accident, however unlikely that might be. But the most important difficulty seems to me the strong possibility that if the United States fires missiles across and into the Pacific with nuclear warheads, which are exploded, the Russians, will follow suit. I am really concerned lest something that you or we do should open up a new and particularly dangerous field of competition in this perilous nuclear world. The position will of course be quite [Facsimile Page 3] different if the missiles are fired without their warheads, but I do feel that it would not be right to make these particular nuclear tests and I ask you to reconsider the matter. It seems to me that the Russians are bound to find out what has happened and to inform the world and it would be hard to sustain the case in public.

I am sorry to seem in this way to be going back on what I had agreed but as I explained I did not at once understand the full significance of what you proposed.

With warm regard,

Yours sincerely,

Harold Macmillan


  1. Text of message from Prime Minister Macmillan to President Kennedy on joint approach to Khrushchev. Secret. 3 pp. Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/4–1262.