218. JCS Statement on the Three-Environment Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, August 121

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1. Upon receiving the final draft on the three-environment nuclear test ban treaty recently negotiated in Moscow, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began a comprehensive review of the terms of this treaty in order to determine what effect its ratification would have on the security of the United States. In this review, they deliberately set aside all considerations of former positions taken on other occasions on the subject of a test ban treaty and focused their attention on this particular treaty at this particular point in time. As a base of departure for their appraisal, they first established certain criteria to assist them in evaluating from a military point of view the acceptability as to content and timing of a limited test ban treaty which would prohibit nuclear test explosions in all environments excepting underground.

2. It was the judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that four criteria or conditions would have to be met for a limited test ban treaty to be compatible with the national security. First, the United States should not accept limitations on testing if the Soviet Union had or could achieve a significant advantage in any militarily important area of nuclear weapon technology which, under the treaty, could not be overcome by the United States. Second, recognizing that the USSR could be expected to take advantage of any reasonably safe opportunity for clandestine testing, the Joint Chiefs determined that a test ban treaty could be accepted only if successful cheating would have no seriously adverse effect on the relative balance of [Facsimile Page 2] military power. Third, it was considered important that withdrawal from the treaty should be uncomplicated, allowing the United States to withdraw without undue delay upon acquiring reasonable evidence of a treaty violation or in the event our national interests were imperiled. Fourth, if the conditions of criteria one and two were not completely met, the treaty must convey adequate compensatory advantages elsewhere.

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3. As a closely related matter, but not as a criterion for the treaty itself, the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted the importance for the United States, if it embarks on this treaty, to continue underground testing at a rate to insure continued progress in nuclear technology. They were equally impressed with the need for the United States to maintain the readiness and the determination to resume atmospheric testing promptly. Finally, they believed that account must be taken of the dangers of relaxed military effort by the US and our allies; hence, that ratification of the treaty should be accompanied by evidence of a clear intent to maintain and improve the military posture of the West.

4. Having determined the foregoing conditions of acceptability, the Joint Chiefs of Staff then undertook to measure against them the specific terms of the three-environment test ban treaty drafted recently in Moscow. To assist them in their deliberations, they consulted with those officials who have particular responsibilities and competence in this field. These were officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of State, the Atomic Energy Commission including field laboratories, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology, and from technical agencies of the military establishment.

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5. With regard to the current relative position, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reached the following conclusions:

a. Evidence indicates that the USSR is ahead of the United States in the high-yield [text not declassified] technology, in weapons effects knowledge derived from high-yield nuclear explosions and in the yield/weight ratios of high-yield devices; that the USSR is about even at the intermediate range [text not declassified]; and that the USSR lags somewhat behind the United States at yields less than about [text not declassified].

b. In the antiballistic missile field, there is evidence that the Soviets are further advanced than the United States. However, development of the US system does not depend on atmospheric testing and hence this treaty will not significantly influence any imbalance that may exist.

c. In the field of tactical nuclear weapons, particularly in the field of very low-yield weapons, the United States is probably ahead in the quality and diversity of systems although the superiority in quality may be questioned since the USSR may have conducted very low-yield tests which were never known to us.

6. It is important to emphasize that the superiority under discussion in the preceding paragraphs refers essentially to technological superiority. It does not take into account such superiority as derives from numbers of weapons, variety of delivery systems and the magnitude of nuclear plant and stockpile. Hence, technological superiority is only one aspect of the net superiority which must take into account all of these factors. As to net superiority in ability to inflict damage on the [Typeset Page 624] enemy, the JCS consider that the US at present is clearly ahead of the USSR in the ability to wage strategic nuclear war, and is probably ahead in the ability to wage tactical nuclear war, whereas the Soviets have developed a substantial mid-range ballistic missile capability.

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7. Considering the foregoing to be a reasonably accurate statement in broad terms of our present position relative to that of the USSR, the Joint Chiefs of Staff then considered what the effects would be if the proposed test ban treaty should go into effect and both sides faithfully observe its provisions. They concluded that the United States would not be able to overtake the present advantage which the USSR probably has in the high-yield weapons field, whereas the Soviets, by underground testing, probably could retrieve in time any lead which we may presently have in the low-yield tactical field. Both sides could achieve an ABM but one with less desirable characteristics than would be the case if additional atmospheric tests were conducted.

8. There are other disadvantages which apply in varying degree to both sides. For example, knowledge of weapons effects is incomplete at best and although knowledge could be gained from underground testing, knowledge which only testing in the prohibited media could provide would be denied. Also, there would be no opportunity to conduct environmental tests of current weapons or of those which might be acquired in order to verify their performance.

9. Such disadvantage as might accrue to the United States under conditions of honest fulfillment of treaty conditions would be further aggravated if the Soviets successfully should cheat by illicit explosions in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space. By cheating, they might carry out investigations of weapons effects in the field of ballistic missiles, ballistic missile defense, ASW, and high-yield technology (the latter only if the testing were done in outer space). However, the dangers of detection and the cost and difficulty of testing in outer space would tend to impose severe restrictions upon such clandestine testing. Other clandestine tests in the atmosphere or underwater, depending upon their size, would [Facsimile Page 5] involve a fairly high probability of detection by our conventional intelligence or our atomic energy detection system. Moreover, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider the resulting progress which the Soviets might make clandestinely to be a relatively minor factor in relation to the overall present and probable balance of military strength if adequate safeguards are maintained.

10. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the withdrawal provision requiring 90 days notice following a unilateral US decision provides a satisfactory means of escape in case we believe our national interest is being threatened. They are impressed, however, by the possibility of an abrupt abrogation by the Soviets, followed by a comprehensive series of atmospheric tests.

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11. Recognizing the foregoing disadvantages and risks, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that they can be reduced through certain safeguards. These safeguards include:

a. The conduct of comprehensive, aggressive, and continuing underground nuclear test programs designed to add to our knowledge and improve our weapons in all areas of significance to our military posture for the future.

b. The maintenance of modern nuclear laboratory facilities and programs in theoretical and exploratory nuclear technology which will attract, retain and insure the continued application of our human scientific resources to these programs on which continued progress in nuclear technology depends.

c. The maintenance of the facilities and resources necessary to institute promptly nuclear tests in the atmosphere should they be deemed essential to our national security or should the treaty or any of its terms be abrogated by the Soviet Union.

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d. The improvement of our capability, within feasible and practical limits, to monitor the terms of the treaty, to detect violations, and to maintain our knowledge of Sino-Soviet nuclear activity, capabilities, and achievements.

12. Having considered the technological and withdrawal aspects of the proposed treaty and the safeguards we should take, the Joint Chiefs of Staff then took note of the effect of the treaty in the broad field of international relations and of world-wide military strategy. They recognized that considerations of nuclear technology and weaponry were not the sole determinants of the merits of the treaty; that if it would contribute to a further division of the Sino-Soviet Bloc, this result would be a major political achievement with important and favorable military implications. If this treaty attracts signatories representing the vast majority of the nations of the world on both sides of the Iron Curtain, it should make an important contribution toward the restraint of the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and the reduction of causes of world tension. Both of these advantages, if achieved, should contribute to the fundamental objective of the US armed forces, namely the deterrence of war and the maintenance of peace on honorable terms. These possibilities are of such importance to the United States that they offset the foreseeable technological disadvantages noted above.

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13. In conclusion, the Joint Chiefs have reached the determination that while there are military disadvantages to the treaty, they are not so serious as to render it unacceptable. In the past, the JCS have not regarded as important the attainment of weapons in the [text not declassified] range from which the United States will be debarred by the treaty. They feel that the types and numbers of megaton yield weapons available to us now or in the future (up to [text not declassified]) could give us an adequate capability in the high-yield weapon range. Under the [Typeset Page 626] treaty, both sides could make about the same technical progress in the ABM field although the Soviet may possess nuclear blackout information not available to the United States. If the Soviets are to catch up with the United States in the low-yield field, particularly in numbers, they will be subjected to a major additional expenditure of national resources which are already under heavy strain.

14. The broader advantages of the test ban treaty have led the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conclude that it is compatible with the security interests of the US and to support its ratification. If we can contribute to a further division of our enemy, that advantage will compensate for foreseeable fluctuations in nuclear technology. The most serious reservations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with regard to the treaty are more directly linked with the fear of a euphoria in the West which will eventually reduce our vigilance and the willingness of our country and of our Allies to expend continued effort on our collective security. If we ratify this treaty, we must conduct a vigorous underground testing program and be ready on short notice to resume atmospheric testing. We should strengthen our detection capabilities [Facsimile Page 8] and maintain modern nuclear laboratory facilities and programs. Finally, we must not for a moment forget that militant Communism remains committed to the destruction of our society.

15. Having weighed all of these factors, it is the judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that, if adequate safeguards are established, the risks inherent in this treaty can be accepted in order to seek the important gains which may be achieved through a stabilization of international relations and a move toward a peaceful environment in which to seek resolution of our differences.

  1. Notes concerns, but supports Treaty ratification. Secret. 8 pp. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Test Ban 15, Post-Trip.