1. The Soviet tests of 1961 showed significant advances, especially in
effects testing and anti-missile technology.
2. While there is no immediate danger, it would not be safe to accept a
further series of Soviet tests if we make no progress in the
3. Only some form of inspection and control can give us proper assurances
against a repetition of the events of last fall.
4. Thus, until such agreement is reached, we have no choice but to
maintain a lively development program of our own.
5. The particular object of this program is to ensure the continued
effectiveness of the strategic deterrent.
6. For this purpose, three kinds of tests are important:
a. Confidence tests which will allow us to be sure that our designed
warheads and weapons systems really work. The Russians did many of
these, but they are the least important part of our own series and do
not in and of themselves justify a resumption of testing.
b. Development tests—these are important because they allow us to deliver
the same effective yield with a lighter warhead and thus permit adding
to our missiles decoys and other penetration aids which will guarantee
effectiveness even in the face of an anti-missile system.
c. Effects tests. These are the most important of all, because they will
tell us things we do not know about the effects of nuclear explosions
high in the air. This knowledge is essential if we are to have real
confidence that something we don’t know may not be used against us in
In summary, no individual test in and of itself can be said to justify
the resumption of testing, but a posture of non-testing is simply
untenable, in straight military terms, as long as the Russians retain an
uninspected freedom to repeat the operations of last year. In addition,
Gaitskell, like Stevenson, will
be impressed by your account of the careful and repeated consideration
which all aspects of this matter [Typeset Page 245] have had—the intelligence, the military
balance—the exploration of possible alternatives like an atmospheric
test ban agreement.
The President’s Review of the
Atmospheric Testing Problem
1. The President has not had a more difficult decision—or one to
which more careful study has been given. The following are
indications of this:
a. the results of Soviet tests have been reviewed by a first-rate
panel under Hans Bethe, and the President has had repeated briefings
with the help of critical comment by such men as Wiesner and the careful English
expert, Sir William Penny. It is plain that the Soviets have made
substantial progress, and it is agreed that if we do not test and
they go on to a further series, they may make very significant
advances relating to anti-missile weapons systems.
b. the tests proposed for this series have been reviewed repeatedly,
in the same critical fashion, and the President will restrict them
to those which are genuinely relevant to maintaining the
effectiveness and credibility of our nuclear deterrent. While no one
test in this series is decisive, each of them will be authorized
only if the President is convinced that it is militarily and
technically a serious contribution to deterrence. The tests proposed
are described at Tab B.
c. the President himself has repeatedly sought for a reasonable
alternative to test resumption, and it is with deep disappointment
that he is facing the conclusion that he has no alternative—unless
and until there is a big change in the Soviet position. Some of the
questions that have been studied at the President’s direction are
listed below together with the conclusions that have been reached so
(1) Why can’t we say that we will prepare for
testing, but not actually test unless the Soviets take to the air
This is at first sight an attractive option, because many—though not
all—of the experts contend that a technological stand-still
agreement today—even after the Soviet tests—would be safe enough.
Unfortunately, an unpoliced moratorium is not safe for us—even if we
keep our laboratories as ready as possible. As Sir William Penny
told the President and Mr. Macmillan at Bermuda, first-rate scientists in an
open society simply will not keep their minds on problems that can
only be attacked if and when [Facsimile Page 4] someone else breaks an
agreement—nor can a large technical establishment be kept fully
alert and active on [Typeset Page 246] any such contingency basis. Thus it will always be
open to the Soviets, using French or Chinese or Israeli activities
(or even our own underground testing) as an excuse, to prepare
another series of tests and set them off when they feel ready. A
second surprise of this sort would not only be dangerous
technologically; it would shake the confidence of our own people—and
our Allies—in our good sense. It would thus be open to the Soviets,
by a simple resumption of testing, to strengthen the Goldwaters and
the Walkers quite a lot.
In other words, there is no half-way house between an inspected and
controlled arrangement which would let us stop our weapons research
and a reluctant decision to go ahead with necessary research and
experiments, including atmospheric tests.
2. Can we not put off the decision in the
hope that real progress will be made at Geneva in March?
The trouble with this proposal is partly technical and partly
political. Technically it is very hard to hold a large task force of
thousands of scientific men, with a supporting military team, on a
basis of indefinite readiness. It’s like arranging to invade North
Africa with no D-day.
The political objection is even stronger. If our decisions on testing
are governed merely by changes in the negotiating “atmosphere,” we
put it in Khruschev’s power to control our behavior by unreal but
tempting hopes and promises. We have had three years of this,
climaxed by the tests of last fall. Short of effective and binding
agreements, we must now follow the courses necessary for our
Obviously, March and April are not very good months for test
resumption—but really any time is bad, from now on. From the public
relations point of view an earlier date might have been better
(though not perhaps at the UN). But
the series has been set so as to be genuinely useful, and not simply
to make a big bang at a convenient time.
We continue to be deeply concerned about disarmament, but we cannot
accept a one-sided unpoliced moratorium—we believe, indeed, that
such a course would weaken the chance of reviving Russian interest
in effective disarmament agreement.
[Facsimile Page 5]
3. What about fall-out?
The series has been prepared under guidelines which require that
fall-out be minimized and the currently proposed list would have
about 1/3 the fall-out of the Soviet series of 1961. We are
preparing careful and thorough statements of just what this means,
as far as scientists can say. There can be little doubt that
fall-out has some dangers—but it is equally clear that exaggerated
fears have been generated. Our proposed new tests will add perhaps ½
of 1% to the natural level of radiation in the Northern Hemisphere
(very little goes south). This is [Typeset Page 247] about 1/50 of the change you would
experience if you moved from Washington to Denver.
Except for the moral problem of inflicting damage on the environment
of other nations, the magnitude of the fall-out problem is smaller
than that of building roads on which, statistically, many thousands
of people will die. If nuclear energy had only peaceful uses, it is
doubtful that this kind of fall-out would be such an issue, or would
stand in the way of harbor-building, canal-making, and other
construction activities. It is not fall-out, but the horror of
atomic war which it suggests, that makes the difficulty important.
But on this larger scale the fall-out problem has to be measured
against the danger of giving the Soviets hope of achieving a
Still, fall-out is bad, and there will be no attempt to avoid this
4. Will testing make it harder to reach
understanding with the Soviets on disarmament and other cold-war
Probably the deepest objection to testing—in the Administration as
well as in the country—is that so many hopes have been invested in
the test-ban as a means to progress in arms control and in mutual
understanding. Many Americans who recognize the new problems created
by the Soviet tests, and Soviet intransigence on effective test
controls, still hope that we will not “double-bar the door” by tests
of our own.
But the strong consensus of our experts on Soviet behavior is that a
decision not to test now would not improve
the chances of real progress. The judgment is that the Soviets would
not attribute such a decision to genuine good will, but rather to
weakness in the face of “peace-loving opinion.” The strongly
dominant view is that [Facsimile Page 6] the Soviets will move toward a disarmament
agreement only when they are persuaded that they cannot have it both
ways—and then only when they see that disarmament is less dangerous
than the arms race. Thus the probability is that in terms of the
Soviet state of mind, a decision to test is now desirable. The
decision will not be made on this ground—but it does seem clear that
testing will not cost us a great chance to
make real progress by an act of trust and confidence.
5. Does this mean that the test-ban treaty is
pretty much of a dead duck?
On our side there is still a real desire to stop atmospheric
testing—but it is hard right now to be very hopeful. We ourselves
have some questions about the existing treaty draft, although we are
reluctant to abandon it. On our side, what seems needed is some
safeguard against a repetition of the surprise of last September;
the President has ordered studies of this problem. It may turn out
that the problem is not techni[Typeset Page 248]cally very difficult—conceivably
surveillance of a few testing grounds and limited rights of
reciprocal access to a few developmental laboratories would give
substantial assurances, and conceivably the existing treaty could be
softened in the area of inspection for underground tests, which no
longer seem either as important or as hard to detect as they once
But the Soviet Union seems still to resist any
form of effective inspection and control. Moreover, its interest in
the specific problem of the test-ban may have been much reduced by
its difficulties with Peking, which has probably made very clear its
unwillingness to accept any limitation on its own development of
nuclear weapons. We have our own problem, of course, with the
French, but this did not bother the Soviets until they began to
object on other grounds as well.
In sum, then, while a workable treaty is not hard to design, the
prospect of its acceptance seems lower than at any time since 1958,
and it is hard to avoid the judgment of Hans Bethe that a test-ban
is no longer the most promising first step to disarmament.
6. Are we then embarked on an unlimited round
of test and counter-test?
No one can give a definite answer to that question. Our own testing
will be governed by our need for a secure deterrent.
[Facsimile Page 7]
We shall not test this time as much as the Russians did, and our
plans for future tests will be governed essentially by the
development of our judgment of the relation of tests to the balance
We cannot tell for certain today which of two opinions is right. One
group holds that the technological future of nuclear research is
essentially limitless, and it expects that as long as the arms race
continues it will be urgently important for the United States to
maintain a very large development and testing effort. The other
group takes the position that there is a practical as well as a
theoretical limit to what nuclear weapons can do, and that at least
at the upper levels of yield a stand-off can be maintained with
relatively little effort, as long as there is vigilance against any
Currently the President inclines to the second view, and if it should
prove accurate, the need for further atmospheric tests—whatever the Russians do—should be limited.
Smaller tactical weapons can, in the main, be tested underground,
and the probability is that effects tests in the next few years will
confirm our present belief that a secure deterrent is relatively
easy to sustain. In any event there will be no testing race merely
for its own sake.
Brief Description of the Proposed
The proposed tests fall into three categories:
1. Confidence Tests
These are tests of warheads, and probably of two major weapons
systems as a whole, designed to make sure that we have what we think
we have in our basic new missile systems—especially Polaris and
Minuteman. The case for these is the weakest of the three, and
probably we would not approve a resumption of testing for this
category alone. Many of our technical men believe that such tests
are not necessary and that the necessary confidence can be obtained
as well or better in other ways.
But it is a fact that the Soviets engaged in very extensive tests of
this sort, and it is also a fact that the President’s military
advisers (McNamara-Gilpatric, the JCS, and General Taylor, independently) believe
strongly that our military planning and our basic self-confidence
require that we do some of this now that the
Russians have done a lot. And no less an authority than Hans Bethe
has strongly supported tests of the warheads (as distinct from the
weapons system as a whole.)
One important subordinate argument in favor of such tests is that as
long as the military do not have full
confidence in these missiles they are likely to want twice as much
of everything (this is General LeMay’s explicit argument for the B–70 and other
things the President has turned down).
2. Development Tests
These tests are aimed, essentially, at improving the weight-to-yield
ratio of our weapons. This is important not because we need bigger
yields or lighter warheads for their own sake, but because the
ability to deliver a given yield at a reduced weight is a highly
significant element in assuring our ability to penetrate enemy
anti-missile defenses. When we can reduce the weight of the warhead,
we can add decoys and other devices to increase the probability that
the weapon will get through. Thus weight-to-yield improvement is a
part of our reply to the hazard of Russian anti-missile
[Facsimile Page 9]
3. Effects Tests
The most important tests, four in number, relate to effects of atomic
weapons. One of these relates to anti-submarine warfare and is of
tactical significance for the Navy. The other three relate to the
environment of missiles. One is to take place on land, for the
purpose of measuring nuclear effects on hardened missile sites. The
remaining [Typeset Page 250]
two, the most important in the series, are high altitude tests
designed to enlarge our knowledge of the effects of nuclear
explosions in this environment. The Atomic Energy Commission rates
one of these experiments as “vital to the technical evaluation of
possible U.S. AICBM systems and
of penetration of enemy defenses by our ICBM’s.” The other test is equally significant in its
relation to “black out,” the effect which atomic explosions may have
on the radar equipment of AICBM
These effects tests will not end our areas of ignorance in this very
difficult field, but they should allow us to proceed, perhaps with
another series or two, to a full confidence that the Soviet Union
will not confront us at some future date with an anti-missile
capability that might change the whole balance of power.