178. Memorandum of Conversation, April 12, between Rusk and Dobrynin1
- Nuclear Non-proliferation
- The Secretary
- Ambassador Thompson
- Mr. Hillenbrand
- Anatoly F. Dobrynin, Ambassador of USSR
- Georgi M. Kornienko, Counselor, Embassy
After discussing several aspects of the Berlin question with Ambassador Dobrynin (covered in separate memorandum of conversation), the Secretary said he would like to turn specifically to the question of nuclear non-proliferation. Here was a point in which a genuine common interest existed between the Soviet Union and the United States and indeed the United Kingdom and France. On purely theoretical grounds no nuclear power could be interested in any other power’s [Typeset Page 482] becoming a nuclear power. On purely practical grounds, looking ahead fifteen to twenty years and seeing the prospect of as many as ten to fifteen countries coming into possession of nuclear weapons, the prospect for peace was not good. An element of unpredictability would be added. We therefore have a common interest in avoiding nuclear proliferation.
It was against this background, the Secretary continued, that he had talked with Gromyko at Geneva and urged that the Soviet Union and the United States concentrate specifically on the question of non-diffusion of nuclear weapons on a national basis, that is concentrate on governments which could develop national capacities on their own. We believe that we should concentrate on this central point and not try to solve all related matters. If agreement were reached on this point, it would make further steps possible in the disarmament field. With reference to the Western Alliance, the Secretary said that he had pointed out to Gromyko that we did not have in mind the transfer of nuclear weapons directly or indirectly through this Alliance. But he had also pointed out to Gromyko that the expression “directly or indirectly through a military alliance” might lead to misunderstanding and would require further discussion. With this in mind we had drafted a [Facsimile Page 2] declaration on nuclear non-transfer of two paragraphs and had also appended a clarifying minute to explain what would or would not be covered. Our language is illustrative but serious and does not necessarily cover all of the points we would like to discuss at the time of the declaration. However, there are enough points in the minute to show that our stress is on the extension of national capabilities. We believe this to be not just another piece of paper but an arrangement that would actually prevent the proliferation of weapons on a national basis.
Ambassador Dobrynin asked whether the Secretary had discussed the declaration with the French and the British and whether they had agreed to it. The Secretary said we had given them copies but that he was not acting as their agent today. He did want to say, with a full sense of responsibility, that if the Soviets felt that our paper provided a basis of negotiations, the Allies would take this as a very serious step and we could take up the subject with them. We could not commit them today, the Secretary added, but he was encouraged to find out if the Soviets did consider the paper as a basis for negotiations.
After Dobrynin had carefully read the paper which the Secretary had handed him (text attached), the Secretary observed that some of the discussion in the West over the past few years on nuclear matters, and the increase in consultation among the Western powers on this subject, was due to the change brought about in the nuclear situation when in 1956–57 the USSR had made clear that it was targeting a considerable number of nuclear weapons on Western Europe to be [Typeset Page 483] delivered either by bombers or by missiles. This brought the question to the forefront in the thinking of Western European governments. The Soviets had stressed the point either to visitors in Moscow or during visits of Soviets leaders to the West, emphasizing that one or more countries would be destroyed. It was only natural for the countries threatened by nuclear weapons to want to know something more about them. Thus the increase in the discussion of nuclear problems in the West was the direct result of the developments which he had mentioned in the nuclear field.
Furthermore, the Secretary went on, he sincerely asked the Soviet government to believe that we ourselves are opposed to placing nuclear weapons in the hands of national governments and national forces. This is a matter of our interest. We have pursued this policy even though some of our Allies have disagreed with it. There is nothing in the background which cuts across this most elementary policy of the US government. Although the Soviets may have expressed concern from time to time with regard to something [Facsimile Page 3] which has not yet come into being, this is US government policy. What he was saying today, the Secretary pointed out, was not our answer to the recent Soviet note on the multilateral force. We would deal with this in due course, but Ambassador Dobrynin would not be surprised to hear that we disagree with many points in the Soviet note. The Secretary said he did have one immediate comment. The note mentioned the multinational as well as multilateral force. The former was mainly the British V-bombers and US Polaris submarines. These were the principal elements along with the coordination with other elements which might have related missions. The multinational force does not change the existing situation as far as the spread of weapons is concerned. Our view is that this is also true of the multilateral force. The key point about the latter is that national governments will not be able to employ it on a national basis by their own decision or that of their armed forces. The main objective is to prevent the spread of national nuclear capabilities. We are not interested solely in one, two or three countries but on a world wide basis. After all, countries not allied either with the US or the USSR may be planning to acquire nuclear capacities. Hence we think that a four-power agreement along the lines of the declaration would be great progress.
After some discussion of Berlin at this point (covered in separate memorandum of conversation), Dobrynin commented that the main point about the non-transfer declaration proposed by the US is that to which Gromyko had objected previously. Dobrynin said he had also made the same point in an earlier conversation and his government had likewise had done so in a note some months ago as well as in its recent note. This was not purely a matter of propaganda but the way [Typeset Page 484] the Soviet government felt. The US was actually beginning the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Chairman Khrushchev had welcomed President Kennedy’s remarks regarding US policy on non-proliferation, but what has been going on since last summer is the actual proliferation of nuclear weapons. Without even speaking of Germany, a country like Italy which has not had nuclear weapons will now have them in the so-called multilateral units. The policy of the USSR is to have no nuclear weapons except in national units of the USSR. The US has had the same within the NATO framework. This the Soviet Union could accept. But when the US speaks of so-called multilateral teams made up of countries who do not now possess nuclear weapons, this is a new and dangerous step. It marks a real difference in quality. In a year or two the situation will further change and then there will be proliferation. Dobrynin repeated that the multilateral force would put the control of nuclear weapons in the hands of other countries which did not have them now. He recalled that before the Paris Agreements [Facsimile Page 4] in 1954, the Western countries had claimed that they were going to prohibit the Germans from having all sorts of weapons, even heavy conventional armaments, but in a few years this was pushed aside. The Germans had complained that they were not being given equal treatment. Now they have the biggest army in NATO, and where were the Paris Agreements? Now the first step in satisfying West German nuclear demands was to be the multilateral force. This was only the beginning, the Soviets felt. The US was on a dangerous path on which it could not stop. The Germans would always try to bring about changes. The first step would be to change the rule of unanimity to decision by majority and thus eliminate the US veto. The only solution would be for the USSR and the US to keep their monopoly. This was the basic position of the Soviet government. The US-proposed declaration, Ambassador Dobrynin continued, dealt with everything except the multilateral force or the multinational force. He could only note the reservations in the minute, and felt that the US was really proposing nuclear proliferation both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The Secretary said he would try to distinguish the two things. From the quantitative aspect, the question of disarmament applied to both sides. The USSR had built up a substantial nuclear force requiring a substantial nuclear force on our side. It appeared from a recent Khrushchev speech that important decisions had been made to allocate a considerable amount of new resources to military purposes. The question of quantity should be grappled with in the disarmament context. In this sense, quantitative proliferation needs serious attention.
On the qualitative side, we were opposed to putting other governments in a position, not merely on paper, to hold and employ nuclear weapons. We have no arrangements in mind towards this end. This [Typeset Page 485] was an important point which the Soviets should remember. Dobrynin commented that this was where the US and the USSR differed. The Soviets could not see how a development could be prevented over the years which would lead to real control of nuclear weapons in the hands of the members of the multilateral force. The Secretary said we were sure that this would not happen with respect to the NATO countries. But there were also other countries which would move towards possession of nuclear weapons in the next ten years or so unless there were some such agreement as we had proposed. Dobrynin said he was not so sure about the NATO countries. Unless, the Secretary continued, we can combine a NATO arrangement with a larger agreement, the question will get out of control. Dobrynin observed that the multilateral force was a process of [Facsimile Page 5] proliferation. The Secretary responded that we were quite certain that this was not so as far as NATO was concerned.
Dobrynin said that when he looked at the post-war history of West Germany, recalling for example statements made by Mr. Dulles in 1954 and how the Germans now had the strongest army in NATO, he could only wonder where we would be in five years. The Secretary commented that he did not want to go over the whole history of the post-war period, but it was a fact that the West Germans had not begun to arm until after the East Germans had started. The East Germans had been permitted to begin arming one year before the West Germans over the protests of the Western powers. Dobrynin injected that he could produce a list. The Secretary observed that if the Soviets maintained twenty divisions in East Germany, we could not maintain that many in the Federal Republic. Dobrynin said the Soviets were prepared to withdraw from East Germany anytime the US was prepared to withdraw from the Federal Republic.
The Secretary stated that we would have no objections if the Soviets were to make arrangements within the Warsaw Pact similar to those we were proposing to make within NATO. Dobrynin responded that the Soviets did not want this. The Secretary said he wanted to ask the Soviet government to study the draft declaration against the background of his statement to Ambassador Dobrynin. The latter said he would of course refer the text to his government, but he was sure that it would be found unsatisfactory. He inquired as to what we understood by the term “minute” to be attached to the declaration. Ambassador Thompson said it was a document intended for purposes of explanation. Referring to the text of the draft non-transfer declaration, the Secretary noted that Gromyko had raised the point about using the device of an Alliance to achieve something indirectly. The Secretary recalled that he had told him that it was not our intention to transfer nuclear weapons through a military alliance to national control. But since the expression “indirectly through a military alliance” does not [Typeset Page 486] carry a full explanation on its face we must be clear what it means. It would therefore be important to append a minute to avoid misunderstanding. Dobrynin said he could recall what Gromyko had said about indirect transfer. He had been against precisely what was going on in connection with the multinational and multilateral force, although what the US proposed to do had not been very clear at the time. The Secretary said the issue was the ability of national governments to use their own national forces to launch nuclear weapons. He recognized that there might be political reasons why the Soviet Union did not want other NATO countries to consider themselves part [Facsimile Page 6] of an Alliance which has nuclear weapons at its disposal. However this question of national nuclear capacity was so important that it was worth taking hold of the particular point and stopping that at least. We were prepared to enter into an agreement on this. Dobrynin said there were no specific political reasons for the Soviet position. The USSR was against proliferation in any Alliance.
The Secretary observed that President Kennedy had already clarified the point that these arrangements would be in no way separated from the responsibility of the United States. Dobrynin injected that the fact was that other countries would possess nuclear weapons. The Secretary responded that no other country would come into their possession. Dobrynin repeated that they would have possession. The US might not be in a position to be fully responsible. The USSR already felt that the West Germans were exercising a strong influence on US policy, for example in the negotiations on Berlin and German problems. This influence would increase in years to come. One read that the Germans would be paying one-third of the cost of the multilateral force. They would try to acquire a decisive voice. The Secretary said that if he really believed this he would sign the agreement today so that in five or ten years from now the governments would be bound. What the Soviets fear would then not be possible. Dobrynin said that the fact was that through a rather complicated scheme the US was going to give other countries nuclear weapons. Who was proliferating? You or we?
The Secretary observed that the Soviets should look at the alternative. It was either this arrangement or no arrangement. The security of the Soviet Union and of the US demanded the arrangement. Dobrynin merely repeated that the Germans would be tempted to acquire nuclear weapons. The Secretary pointed out that they would sign paragraph two of the declaration. Dobrynin said that he did not know whether they would sign. The Secretary responded that he thought that they would sign. He thought that a lot of countries should sign, for example the Chinese. Dobrynin commented that the Soviet Union had no multilateral force with the Chinese. The Secretary asked whether the Chinese [Typeset Page 487] would sign. Dobrynin said he did not know, but the Soviets were not proposing a multilateral force to them. However the US was inviting the USSR to do this. If the US continued, the Soviet Union would have no alternative but to do the same for its friends.
The Secretary said he wanted to suggest that this subject was one of importance both to the US and the USSR. It should be discussed seriously [Facsimile Page 7] on this kind of basis and not get caught up in public exchanges of notes. Dobrynin observed that the Soviet note dealt with the general subject and contained some of the same ideas that he had expressed, but the Soviets had not published their previous discussions. However, the whole subject was out in the open and was being discussed in the Western press. The Secretary observed that a curious thing about the multilateral force was that those who criticized it in the West were those who wanted national nuclear forces. Dobrynin said this merely illustrated that those who wanted this would press for more tomorrow. The Secretary noted that the Soviet criticism of the multilateral force was for opposite reasons. The fact was that those who want national nuclear capacities tomorrow should be pinned down by a signed agreement today. The multinational force was not really involved in the issue, the Secretary added, despite the rude comments on it in the Soviet note.
After a brief discussion of Berlin at this point, the Secretary said he did hope that Ambassador Dobrynin would urge that his government give serious attention to the draft declaration against the background of the Secretary’s statement. We are seriously interested in avoiding proliferation of nuclear weapons into national hands. There is no question about President Kennedy’s central purpose on this question.[Facsimile Page 8] [Facsimile Page 9]
- Nuclear non-proliferation issues. Secret. An attached copy of the draft non-transfer declaration with an appended minute provides additional information on the declaration. Confidential. 10 pp. Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.↩