66. Notes on National Security Council Meeting, November 21

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Mr. McNamara set forth the Defense Department’s conclusion regarding the tests which might be performed and the necessity for each type. He listed the following four groups of tests:

1. Systems tests (proving out existing systems and hardware).

2. Proof tests (proving stockpile items).

3. Development (increase yield; yield to weight).

4. Effects (ICBM warhead, vulnerabilities and AICBM).

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Mr. McNamara stated that the first two categories of tests of which there would be approximately eight shots are presently ready. He pointed out that while certain advantages would accrue from both categories of tests there was no overriding reason to perform these tests at present. With regard to Categories 3 and 4, he stated that the Defense Department felt strongly that these tests should be accomplished. Otherwise the U.S. nuclear program would remain more or less stagnant and such advantage as this country might presently possess would sooner or later be overcome by the Soviets. Approximately 15 shots would be required and initiation of the series could begin in approximately 5 or 6 months. Mr. McNamara concluded by recommending that the testing program be resumed immediately. AEC and State concurred.

Following an introduction by General Cabell, Dr. Scoville presented the CIA evaluation of the Soviet nuclear program.

Dr. Seaborg agreed with McNamara’s proposal to initiate testing immediately of Categories 1 and 2. He cautioned, however, that underground tests such as those presently underway cannot compete with an aboveground program, such as the Soviets are now conducting. He discounted the fallout from the U.S. program by forecasting that the entire test program envisioned within the four categories would produce a worldwide fallout of less than one megaton. Even the effects of this fallout could be controlled and limited. In citing the drawbacks of the Las Vegas testing area Dr. Seaborg said that the AEC had come to no conclusion as to where additional tests should be held.

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Dr. Brown further discussed a detailed test program for the four categories cited by Mr. McNamara. He reaffirmed Mr. McNamara’s statement that Categories 1 and 2 would reap marginal benefits from the military and technical standpoint. Dr. Brown made a strong case for the resumption immediately of a test program in Category 4. He stated that Defense studies in conjunction with AEC indicated that tests could not be resumed for approximately six months even if the decision were made immediately to resume atmospheric testing.

The President inquired as to how long it would take to complete a reasonable test program for Categories 3 and 4. Seaborg replied that a specific time period would be difficult to predict although he estimated that one shot per week would be an optimum rate in order to permit the recording and assimilation of the great volume of data normally obtained. He agreed that the program could be accelerated, but at the same time certain conditions, such as meteorological, at some testing sites might cause delays and it should be expected that 4 to 6 months would be required to complete this program.

Dr. Bradbury confirmed the disadvantages of testing underground, stating that a period of six months is sometimes required before even [Typeset Page 190] the basic data becomes available and even then chemical analysis becomes extremely difficult. He reviewed the conditions at the various test sites and cited advantages and disadvantages of each. He pointed out clearly the advantages to be gained through atmospheric testing.

The President asked Dr. Bradbury about work on the neutron bomb. Bradbury replied that from a technical standpoint there was no such thing at present and he regretted that this notion had become so popular. He admitted that the laboratories were working on a fusion device which would have low radiation and fallout and from this idea has come the popular expression “neutron bomb.” The feasibility of the principle has not been fully established, nor has the military usefulness or reasonable size of weapon been determined. The President suggested that Senator Russell be informed of the facts concerning this idea and the state of its development. The President further expressed regret that Senator Dodd had made certain statements about the weapon and the necessity for it—all of which now are clearly without foundation.

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The President asked if the Council should consider abandoning the Nevada test site because of test limitations and of objections from residents of California and the mountain states. Dr. Bradbury suggested that Nevada be retained since the site was appropriate for certain kinds of testing, particularly for weapons suspended from balloons. But of the various sites suggested for the resumed program Bradbury offered the opinion that Eniwetok offered the best possibilities.

In response to the President’s inquiry about the military requirements for testing, General Lemnitzer briefly confirmed Mr. McNamara’s presentation. He asserted that all four categories were important and had been studied and supported extensively by the military although he agreed with the evaluation of the Council that Categories 3 and 4 were more important.

Ambassador Stevenson questioned the wisdom of resuming tests at Eniwetok since this island is not U.S. territory. He expected this fact would invoke criticism that the United States endangers the lives of citizens other than its own. He felt that the U.S. would be criticized further for resuming tests, but felt the criticism could be overcome if the initiation of the tests were handled right and timed right. By timing (with regard to the resumption of a full program for Categories 3 and 4) he hoped that the resumption would begin after the conclusion of this session of the General Assembly. He also expressed the hope that any test program would be compressed into the minimum time period. Mr. Foster observed that in spite of his position on disarmament he was convinced by the presentations that the United States should resume testing. He felt that the reasons and the necessity were clear and valid.

The President said that he did not want to leave the impression that this particular NSC meeting came to the conclusion that the United [Typeset Page 191] States will resume testing. He preferred not to state U.S. intentions or to commit himself to a future course of action. He said that he could agree only to an implication that preparations might begin if in the best judgment testing were absolutely necessary.

Mr. Murrow stated that the reaction of most nations of the world to the Soviet testing was more one of anger than one of fear. He would like therefore not to invoke this same kind of reaction toward the United States. He expressed the belief that the United States should announce its intention clearly not to resume testing at this time. The President replied that such an announcement was not possible. The [Facsimile Page 4] President then asked that members of the Council review the proposed Presidential Statement. But in view of the number of exceptions taken to the Statement as proposed, the President asked that the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Chairman of AEC, and Director of USIA remain after the close of the meeting to assist him in the drafting of the new statement.

  1. Resumption of testing, evaluation of Soviet nuclear program, neutron bomb status, test sites, and review of Presidential statement. Top Secret. 4 pp. Johnson Library, Vice President’s National Security File, NSC Documents, Testing.