93. Message from Prime Minister Macmillan to President Kennedy, March 91


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Dear Friend,

I hope I may be [illegible in the original] to use this less formal beginning.

Thank you very much for the telephone message which you gave to David Gore [illegible in the original] defence policy and the Opposition statements. Please don’t worry about it at all. Gaitskell is very respectable and never suggested that you had said anything to him about our defence policy generally. Wilson is perhaps rather less responsible and has a more liberal view of what Winston used to call the “many-sidedness of truth.”

As regards the present state of discussions about nuclear tests, I would like just to say how much I have valued our co-operation since the Russian tests last November. Our discussions at Bermuda and our correspondence were, I think, of real help. I must really congratulate you on the great skill with which you argued the case for the decision to resume. It has made a deep impression over here. Of course, people are now hoping that Geneva [Facsimile Page 2] will produce some result, although I do [Typeset Page 278] not think that expectations are foolishly high. Naturally they were encouraged by what you said in your speech on March 2 to the effect that “new modifications will also be offered in the light of new experiences. I would only urge the importance of making a supreme effort now to get a nuclear test treaty agreed with the Russians. We must not only make this effort, but be seen to be making it so as to get the maximum of general support if the Russians unreasonably turn us down. I am, therefore, greatly concerned that we should not be put on the defensive immediately the Disarmament Conference opens.

There is one sweeping proposal which we could put forward if it can be justified by our scientists. It is that we might accept a much simpler treaty based on national detection systems alone, but with the very important proviso that these shall be supported by an international authority (as provided for in our 1961 treaty) but responsible in the main for two primary functions. These would be:

(i) To collate and evaluate seismic data from all over the world, and

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(ii) to have under its control mobile inspection teams, who could be sent to investigate without hindrance any suspected violation of the treaty in any country.

Our latest scientific advice seems to suggest that this would give acceptable coverage. No doubt your scientists are considering this and I hope means can be found for a rapid joint assessment. If in fact this advance is reasonably acceptable, a treaty on this basis would give adequate assurance of detection of tests, without the more elaborate procedures of the 1961 draft treaty, and it would seem to provide some means of making an imaginative new proposal. Moreover by reason of its simplicity it could come into effect immediately on signing, and would thus eliminate the long preparatory period envisaged in the 1961 draft treaty, which was a matter of much concern to Congress. We could add a proposal for inspection of known proving grounds as a safeguard against secret preparations for tests.

It is very doubtful whether the Russians will accept even this offer because of the provision for inspection [Facsimile Page 4] teams who could travel without hindrance on the territories of States concerned, but if they were to turn it down it would put them in a very bad position. I would be grateful if you would give urgent consideration to this problem.

I quite understand that it will be very difficult for the scientists to reach an agreed view before Mr. Rusk and Lord Home meet Mr. Gromyko on Monday. I hope, however, that you will authorise Mr. Rusk to leave the way open for a possible change of position, by saying, for instance, that while at present we regard the 1961 treaty text as a sound basis for further discussion, the situation would be to some extent changed if it could be proved that national systems provided an entirely adequate basis for detection.

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One point which strikes me as an amateur is that we always assume that the Russians cheat. If they do, it would hardly be worth their while to do so with only one test; for useful results they would need a series. And a series is surely bound to be found out.

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I was much interested by what you said to David Gore about Berlin. I look forward with keen anticipation to your new ideas.

With warm regard,

Yours very sincerely,

Harold Macmillan
  1. Present state of discussions on nuclear tests and Berlin issue. Top Secret. 5 pp. Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, MacmillanKennedy, 1961–1962.