Summary of Print Volume VII

Following is a summary of the contents of print volume VII, Arms Control and Disarmament. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text. Volume VII, published in 1995, is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

The question of resuming nuclear weapons tests dominated discussions on arms control at the beginning of the Kennedy administration. Since 1958, the United States had adhered to a joint moratorium on nuclear testing with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. The three countries had worked for a permanent test ban at the ongoing Geneva Conference on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons Tests. The negotiations had not yet produced an agreement when John F. Kennedy became President in 1961.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Department of Defense advocated a return to weapons testing. Adhering to the moratorium, they thought, delayed weapons development and jeopardized national security. (14, 22) Other advisers, especially Secretary of State Dean Rusk, along with President Kennedy himself, had misgivings about the wisdom of abandoning the moratorium. The U.S. Mission to the United Nations thought resuming tests would damage U.S. international political standing. (29) Adlai E. Stevenson, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, was an outspoken critic of nuclear testing.

Kennedy had named John J. McCloy as his special adviser on disarmament. McCloy formed his own group of experts, known as the Fisk Panel after its chairman, James Fisk, to study the technical considerations of an agreement for the discontinuance of nuclear tests. The panel reported that a test ban agreement could hinder nuclear weapons development; however, this risk “must be appraised in the light of all the courses and risk factors the United States [considers] in its endeavor to reduce the likelihood of war and promote strong conditions of peace.” The panel ultimately recommended that the United States resume testing if timely progress was not made at the Geneva Conference. (5)

At the Conference, the United States and the Soviet Union quarreled over the issues of inspection and verifica[Typeset Page ]tion. Even within the Kennedy administration, there was disagreement over how many on-site inspections would be necessary. (4) So[Facsimile Page 49]viet Chairman Nikita S. Khrushchev often maintained that three inspections a year would be sufficient; any more would be tantamount to spying. The Soviets also opposed draft treaty provisions for a worldwide detection system headed by a single administrator; they preferred a three-man body that would not be prejudicial to any side. Khrushchev insisted that the controls proposed by the United States would endanger the Soviet Union’s national security and subject its defense program “to the will of a third party.” (31) The Soviets’ refusal to accept inspection and verification remained a stumbling block throughout the negotiations.

In June 1961, Ambassador to the Soviet Union Llewellyn E. Thompson suggested the formal renewal of the proposal for a ban on atmospheric and undersea tests. (33) The Geneva negotiations soon stalled, however, as the Soviet Union maintained that any inspection and control had to be subject to Soviet veto. (35) There was also concern that the Soviets had secretly broken the moratorium and resumed testing. (48, 49)

In a TASS broadcast on August 30, 1961, the Soviet Union ended speculation by announcing it had resumed atomic testing. A few days later, President Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan issued a joint declaration for a ban on atmospheric tests. (63) On September 5, after the Soviet Union conducted three nuclear weapons tests, Kennedy ordered the resumption of underground weapons testing. (65)

Later that fall, India introduced a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly that called for an uninspected ban on all forms of testing. The Kennedy administration responded that the “proper road to a nuclear test ban is through a treaty among the countries that can test nuclear devices.” (83) The President emphasized that he remained prepared to sign the atmospheric test ban proposed by the United States and the United Kingdom.

At the reopening of the Geneva Conference on November 28, 1961, however, agreement did not seem possible. Secretary Rusk stated that the United States would not make [Typeset Page ] a pre-treaty commitment to withhold resumption of tests. The Soviet Union had broken the moratorium; it was only fair, he argued, that the United States continue its weapons program. (99)

Semyon Tsarapkin, a member of the Soviet Delegation to the Conference, maintained that the Soviets had resumed testing because the United States was ahead in weapons development. [Facsimile Page 50] The Soviet Union could not allow the United States to retain this advantage, as the United States remained committed to the destruction of the Soviet Union. Soviet leaders also refused to submit to control posts or on-site inspections. Despite U.S. admonitions that the Soviets were being unrealistic, Tsarapkin maintained the previous Soviet position that general and complete disarmament had to come before inspection and control of armaments. (106)

With talks stalled once again, the Kennedy administration engaged in internal debate over resuming atmospheric tests. Most of Kennedy’s advisers, in particular the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), advocated following the Soviets’ lead and beginning a new series of tests. (137) Secretary Rusk thought the nation’s security depended on atmospheric testing. (131)

Other advisers took more moderate positions. Jerome Wiesner, the President’s special assistant on science issues, believed that atmospheric tests would be desirable for military development, but also felt “the security of the United States would not be endangered by a decision not to test in the atmosphere at this time.” (110) Arthur Schlesinger, the President’s Special Assistant, advised that adhering to the moratorium could make the United States look weak, while testing could make the arms race seem out of control. (113) Adlai Stevenson argued that the United States could make major gains with the non-aligned world by refraining from tests. (137)

One of Kennedy’s main concerns was the bad press that would result from performing an atmospheric test in the United States. He asked Prime Minister Macmillan to allow the United States to use remote Christmas Island for the first test. Macmillan feared world outcry over U.S. resumption of atmospheric tests. Before allowing the United States to use Christmas Island, Macmillan required a clearer picture [Typeset Page ] of the kind of tests the United States would perform, as well as a better understanding of the purpose of the tests. He was concerned that a return to testing would hurt disarmament efforts. Although the Soviet Union had broken the moratorium, the Prime Minister did not believe the United States had to respond in kind. (95) Macmillan eventually agreed to Kennedy’s request, but he wanted any announcement of tests to be connected with a new disarmament initiative. (122)

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On March 2, 1962, Kennedy delivered a radio and television address announcing his decision to begin preparations for atmospheric tests. He stressed recent Soviet tests and U.S. security needs as reasons for this decision. Despite the resumption of tests, he stated that the United States remained committed to a comprehensive disarmament agreement at the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) in Geneva. (143) The ENDC, opening on March 14, 1962, replaced the Geneva Conference as the major forum for test ban negotiations. It included five NATO countries, five Warsaw Pact countries, and eight non-aligned countries.

U.S. representatives at the ENDC still insisted on an objective international inspection system that could distinguish between natural and artificial seismic events. (163) The British felt the United States should be more flexible in the negotiations for a test ban treaty. The United Kingdom put forth its own proposal at Geneva, one that did not provide for as many inspections as the U.S. plan. Kennedy feared the United States would appear to have ruined a chance for agreement if he rejected the British plan. He was fairly sure the Soviet Union would not agree to the plan because it also included inspections; perhaps the United States should go along with the plan and let the Soviets take the heat for blocking agreement. (161) Kennedy’s hunch was correct, and the Soviets rejected all Western proposals.

At an April 18, 1962, National Security Council (NSC) meeting, Kennedy approved an atmospheric test series, held in the Pacific Ocean area from April 25 to November 3, 1962. Kennedy was sensitive to world reactions to the tests and wanted them completed as quickly as possible. At the NSC meeting he asked for a short lead time between announcement and actual testing to minimize publicity. The President also inquired about the possibility of a photographer taking [Typeset Page ] a picture of the mushroom cloud. A meeting memorandum noted that “everyone but the President seemed to feel that radiation in milk was no real problem.” (176)

Failure to make real progress in gaining Soviet acceptance of on-site inspections as part of a comprehensive test ban resulted in the U.S. resurrection of a proposal for a ban on atmospheric testing. Secretary Rusk thought it was useless to haggle over the number of inspections when the Soviets had repeatedly told negotiators they would accept none. (203) Instructions sent [Facsimile Page 52] in August 1962 to Arthur H. Dean, head of the U.S. negotiating team, reflected the realization that a limited treaty might be more feasible. The instructions stated that Dean should declare a willingness to discuss a comprehensive test ban treaty involving internationally supervised control posts. However, if the two superpowers could not agree on this aspect, the United States should suggest an atmospheric-outer space-underwater test ban treaty. (211) On August 27, Kennedy and Macmillan issued a joint statement indicating their representatives had been authorized to negotiate a limited treaty as an alternative to a comprehensive ban. (224)

While test ban negotiations continued, Secretary Rusk began to explore the possibility of an agreement on the non-transfer of nuclear weapons. Rusk first approached France, the United Kingdom, and Germany at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting in December 1962. The United Kingdom agreed to the concept, but Germany and France had some reservations. (249, 265) The Soviet Union was unenthusiastic, claiming that NATO contradicted the professed U.S. desire for non-proliferation. (261) Although eclipsed by the test ban negotiations, talks on “non-diffusion,” as it was sometimes called, continued sporadically throughout 1963. Secretary Rusk’s initiative ultimately bore fruit with the signing of the multilateral Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968.

Soviet leaders had become interested in the idea of using automatic seismic recording stations, or “black boxes,” as the means for monitoring violations of a test ban. At the Pugwash Conference in September 1962, Soviet and U.S. scientists approved the suggestion for using automatic seismic stations for the purposes of control. Khrushchev wrote [Typeset Page ] to Kennedy saying that he would like to view the U.S.-Soviet scientists’ agreement as an encouraging sign. (232) Wiesner advised the President that the stations would not eliminate the need for on-site inspections, because so little was known about the characteristics of earthquakes in the Soviet Union. (233) Kennedy rejected the idea of relying on the black boxes. As he told Khrushchev, “My scientists indicate that it would require much more than the two or three such stations you mentioned.” (236)

The Cuban missile crisis in late October 1962 sounded an alarm to both Kennedy and Khrushchev. Their messages to each other at the end of the crisis mentioned the need for renewed efforts on arms control. Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy, “We [Facsimile Page 53] should like to continue the exchange of views on the prohibition of atomic and thermonuclear weapons.” (239) Kennedy responded, “Perhaps now, as we step back from danger, we can together make real progress in this vital field.” (239)

In December the number of permitted on-site inspections again moved to the forefront of negotiations, this time in a dispute over the meaning of two conversations between Dean and the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister. The Soviets supposedly came away from the two meetings with the impression that the United States would be willing to accept two to four inspections a year. On December 19, Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy saying that the Soviet Union was prepared to accept Dean’s “offer.” Although Kennedy informed Khrushchev that Dean had mentioned the possibility of eight to ten inspections, not two to four, Soviet negotiators continued to refer to the two-to-four offer. (251, 256)

Dean maintained that he had suggested the United States might be willing to accept eight to ten inspections, only two of which had to be in aseismic areas. He pointed out that there had been no interpreter during the conversations, which were supposed to have been on an informal level. Dean’s aide at the meetings confirmed his figures. The Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, William Foster, attempted to clarify Dean’s comments at a plenary session of the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee in March 1963. He stated that he regretted any misunderstanding Dean may have caused, but the United States would not accept only two to four inspections. (251)

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On July 10, 1963, Kennedy gave W. Averell Harriman, special emissary to the test ban negotiations, instructions for the next round of talks in Moscow. The President asked Harriman to try to negotiate the most comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty possible. Kennedy realized that agreement with the Soviets on a comprehensive treaty was unlikely, however, and so advised Harriman to seek an agreement banning testing in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater. Kennedy also wanted Harriman to continue to emphasize the relationship between a nuclear test ban and the U.S. desire to control nuclear weapons proliferation. In addition, Kennedy instructed his emissary to explore Soviet intentions on a number of issues, such as the establishment of nuclear free zones and an agreement not to place nuclear weapons in orbit. (319)

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The final round of negotiations began on July 15, 1963. Any hopes for a comprehensive ban were immediately dashed when Khrushchev said that the Soviet Union would not permit any inspections, even the two or three they had previously accepted. (325) Full attention then turned to a ban for atmospheric-outer space-underwater testing. The Soviets agreed to a three-environment test ban drafted by the United States and United Kingdom in August 1962, with two exceptions. (328) The draft treaty allowed peaceful explosions in the three environments if treaty signatories agreed to the explosions. It also provided a procedure for withdrawal from the treaty if a country performed a nuclear weapons test that others believed might threaten their national security. This matter was settled on July 17, when the United States gave up the peaceful uses clause in exchange for Soviet acceptance of the withdrawal clause. (329)

The negotiators also addressed the problem of Soviet desire for a non-aggression pact (NAP). (325, 333) Although Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko repeatedly stated that the Soviet Union saw a non-aggression pact as an important part of the negotiations, he eventually agreed that a test ban would not be contingent upon the pact. (335, 343) Likewise, Harriman decided to downplay the issue of non-proliferation when Khrushchev and Gromyko showed no interest in the subject. (331, 332)

With these differences resolved, the United States and Soviet Union agreed to initial the treaty once they developed [Typeset Page ] language for the communiqué. (343) Two days later, on July 25, 1963, the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union initialed the document and released its text. (353) On August 5 representatives from the three countries signed the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Underwater, commonly known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) in Moscow. (359) President Kennedy hailed the agreement as an important step in reducing world tension and limiting the nuclear arms race.

Senate approval had been a concern throughout the negotiations. On July 21 the Department of State held a special meeting to consider any Congressional problems that might arise over the treaty. Administration officials reported that most key Senators were on board. (337) Kennedy later decided to include several Senators in the delegation sent to the official treaty signing. According to a memorandum, “the purpose of the Senate delegation is to interest them as well as to provide additional oppor[Facsimile Page 55]tunities to direct public attention to the benefits of a test ban treaty.” (340)

Secretary Rusk and Harriman also met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to reassure them that the treaty did not prevent the use of nuclear weapons in hostilities. The Secretary also stated that the treaty permitted the United States to continue underground “peaceful uses” experimentation for Plowshare, an area of concern for the Chiefs. The JCS ultimately reported that they had no major problems with the treaty. (362)

On September 24, 1963, the U.S. Senate gave its consent to the Limited Test Ban Treaty by a vote of 80 to 19. The treaty entered into force on October 10 when the instruments of ratification were exchanged in similar ceremonies in Washington, Moscow, and London. (366) In spite of the achievement of the treaty, the United States had no plans to abandon underground testing. The Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission began preparing for a series of higher yield underground tests, as well as new testing techniques in August 1963. (363, 364)

Arms control efforts continued, however, as the Kennedy administration prepared for the next meeting of the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, scheduled to resume on January 21, 1964. Upcoming issues included pro[Typeset Page ]duction cut-offs of fissionable materials and the formal inspection of production facilities and armaments that were to be destroyed. (373) The United States and Soviet Union also began efforts to refrain from placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit. (370, 371) In a September 1962 speech, Deputy Defense Secretary Roswell Gilpatric had stated the U.S. intention to prevent the arms race from extending into space, (226) and by the end of 1963, the two sides had developed outlines of an agreement. The administration of Lyndon Johnson resumed the talks, and the Outer Space Treaty was signed in 1967.