138. Letter from President Kennedy to Macmillan, July 271

[Facsimile Page 1]

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I am asking David Ormsby-Gore to send you this message over the week end so that you can know just where we stand in our discussion in the relation between our new technical data and the test ban effort.

I think your technical people and ours are agreed that the new data have two principal technical meanings. First, they substantially reduce the number of unidentified events with which the system will have to cope. Second, it appears that our ability to detect shocks at a distance has been substantially improved. These developments, in combination, may permit a number of modifications in our proposals. The one thing which they clearly do not justify is a complete abandonment of on-site inspections.

The data now available, while encouraging, have not been examined in sufficient detail, and their relation to various kind of risks have not been sufficiently analyzed for us to be ready yet to say just how many on-site inspections would now be necessary. The number is clearly going to be lower than it has been in the past, but I could not today defend a particular figure against neutrals on the one hand, and critics of all test ban proposals on the other. Thus we have it in mind not to propose a new fixed number of on-site inspections at this time. We think it better to emphasize that the adamant Soviet opposition to all on-site inspection is the real stumbling block. We would indicate that if the Soviet Government will change [Facsimile Page 2] its position on this point, we would be glad to enter the most serious discussion of the appropriate number of inspections.

With respect to control stations, my thinking is that it should be possible now to adopt a system of some twenty-five stations, worldwide, of which five would be in the Soviet Union. These systems would be internationally monitored and coordinated, but nationally manned and controlled. Subject to some further technical analysis in the next few days, we are hopeful that such a system would give us adequate protections, in the light of the balance of risks involved in this whole great subject. This matter of balance of risks, indeed, is what I find more and more on my mind. As we have often said to each other, we have to consider the consequences of not having a test ban as well as the risks of having one.

[Typeset Page 371]

At the same time that we indicate the possibility of modifications in the comprehensive treaty, we are considering the possibility of a strong appeal for an atmospheric test ban, to include underwater and space tests as well. We think there may be real appeal in urging that possibility as well as the possibility of a properly controlled and inspected comprehensive treaty. In terms of world opinion, atmospheric fall-out may be more important than the arms race itself. On the other hand, in terms of the great problem of nuclear proliferation, a comprehensive treaty still seems better to me. Thus my tentative opinion is that we may wish to press both proposals at once.

[Facsimile Page 3]

At the same time, in order to emphasize and win support for our purpose of non-proliferation, we would consider pressing for a worldwide agreement which would ban the transfer or acquisition of nuclear weapons or nuclear technology to individual nations not now in the act.

We are still considering the problem of timing which is presented by the Soviet announcement of a new test series. (There is another related problem in the fact that the completion of our own high-altitude tests has been delayed for an indeterminate number of weeks by the failure of yesterday.) We do not think we should foreclose the possibility of supplementary tests, in case the Soviet series should produce extraordinary surprises. On the other hand, we wish to make clear that this series does not in and of itself lessen our interest in seeking agreement. Probably we shall need to have some reservation in our position to cover this difficulty.

One further point has become clear to us in these studies. If we get a test ban agreement at all, either comprehensive or atmospheric, we shall still be faced with the possibility of a sudden surprise by Soviet breach of the treaty. Inspection of preparations no longer seems a very hopeful prospect, and the logical alternative is to maintain our own test readiness. Indeed, Ambassador Dobrynin has suggested this possibility to some of our people. In this context we would wish to consider with you the possibility of maintaining Christmas Island, on a purely stand-by basis, as a part of our proper posture under a safeguarded test ban. I should be glad to have your personal view as to whether this possibility is worth exploring.

[Facsimile Page 4]

I have asked Arthur Dean to come back here at once, so that I can review these matters with him before reaching firm conclusions of my own. Meanwhile I hope very much to have your own comments on this general line of thinking. May I add in ending that I have written most frankly and that in this period before a final decision, I am very eager not to have these elements of our thought move outside the closest circle. May I therefore ask that if you wish to consider any of [Typeset Page 372] these matters with your advisers, you avoid indicating just what my own current thinking is.


John F. Kennedy
  1. Possible modification in proposals on test ban. Top Secret. 4 pp. Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, KennedyMacmillan, 1962, Vol. III.