64. Memorandum from Smith to National Security Council, November 11

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  • Proposed Presidential Statement on Nuclear Testing

A draft Presidential statement is distributed herewith in connection with the November 2, 1961 meeting of the National Security Council.

Bromley Smith
Executive Secretary
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With the Soviet Union now drawing to a close its current series of nuclear tests, it is time for every American, and for every friend of freedom, to examine the meaning of these tests in their true perspective. For whatever senseless threats have been made, whatever groundless fears have been raised, whatever irresponsible headlines, rumors and speculation have been circulated, the basic facts remain unchanged. We have not lost our lead in the military balance of power. We have not lost our determination to face any risk in the defense of our vital interests. And we have not lost our desire to achieve a world free from the fear of both nuclear tests and nuclear war.

I do not suggest that we can completely dismiss these Soviet tests as unimportant bluff and bluster. They are important to any thoughtful person, in any country, who cannot help but have new concern for the health of his children and new contempt for such crude and cruel tactics. Presumably these blasts are also important to Soviet military leaders and scientists for testing certain weapons or experiments—and as further evidence on these purposes becomes available, it will be evaluated in the light of our own progress.

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But this much can be said with certainty now:

(1) In terms of total military strength, we would not trade places with any nation on earth.

(2) Every potential aggressor knows that the strategic nuclear force which we could bring to bear—even if we had first been struck the most devastating blow he could launch—would still be greater than the total strategic forces he possessed before attacking us.

(3) It is not necessary for us to explode oversized bombs to confirm the hard fact that we have many times more nuclear power and strategic delivery systems—intercontinental bombers and ballistic missiles—than any other nation on earth in a force so deployed as to survive any sneak attack and capable of devastating any nation foolish enough to threaten the security of this nation or any of its allies.

In the absence of a signed and effective test ban treaty with enforceable inspection, our own testing program will proceed on the basis of our own needs. When our responsibilities to free world security require us to test new weapons in any environment, all necessary advance preparations will [Facsimile Page 3] have been completed. But an actual test series is not undertaken lightly or hastily. Others may test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere for so-called psychological or political reasons—but the United States has no intention of rushing into precipitate atmospheric testing without solid military justification and careful scientific preparation. Others may conduct a series of such tests without taking any substantial steps to safeguard the health of their own citizens, their co-inhabitants of this planet and generations yet unborn—but the United States will conduct no such series without imposing whatever safeguards are necessary to prevent its world-wide fall-out from rising above a mere fraction of that resulting from the current Soviet series.

In short, the United States will undertake atmospheric nuclear tests only when such tests are deemed necessary, in the light of our evaluation of Soviet tests, to maintain the Free World’s present superiority in defensive and deterrent strength—only to the degree that the orderly and essential scientific development of new weapons has reached a point where further progress is not possible without such tests—and only within limits that restrict the fall-out from such tests to an absolute minimum.

To sum up: As long as we can keep our heads clear, our voices calm and our powder dry, it will make no sense for the enemies of freedom to attack, or for the friends of freedom to face the future with any spirit other than one of abiding confidence.

  1. Presidential statement on nuclear testing. Attached is a proposed Presidential statement. No classification marking. 3 pp. Seaborg, Journal, Vol. 2, pp. 350–352.