147. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


  • US
    • ACDA/D—Mr. Foster
    • ACDA/STDr. Long
    • ACDA/IR—Mr. Spiers
    • Ambassador Dean
  • UK Embassy
    • Ambassador Ormsby Gore
    • Mr. Peter Wilkinson, First Secretary

Ambassador Ormsby Gore apologized for feeding in more “bright ideas” from the UK on the nuclear test issue and handed Mr. Foster the paper attached at Tab A.

After reading the document, Mr. Foster observed that there was one major new proposal, i.e., the dropping of international control posts in [Page 366] Soviet territory. He observed that this suggestion would not be acceptable to Congress and the American public. Ambassador Ormsby Gore inquired whether the fundamental U.S. position was to build on the present treaty and not to consider any substantial departures from it. Mr. Foster said this was the case, although it was possible that we would choose simply to stand on the present treaty without any changes.

Ambassador Ormsby Gore said that the U.K. feels strongly that after the statement of the President regarding the modifications which would be suggested at Geneva, it will be necessary to put forward a proposal which seems reasonable both to our own and to world public opinion. We need to offer the Soviets a “new choice.” The U.K. agreed that the controls incorporated in the offer must be scientifically adequate and offer a reasonable safeguard to national security. However, two elements in the over-all situation had changed since last April. First, there had been some important technical advances that suggested there would be even further improvements. Dr. Long asked what the new U.K. evidence was. Ambassador Ormsby Gore said that he could not discuss the details until tomorrow, since his “brief” had not arrived. Continuing, he said that the second element was our assessment of the advantage to be gained by one side or the other from undetected underground tests. Such advantage was apparently much smaller than we had heretofore thought and this should change our approach to the importance of controls in this area. He noted that this was an argument used by the President in justifying atmospheric testing. Mr. Foster agreed that we would not be as frightened about underground testing as before, but such testing was useful, particularly in the area of small weapons. He said that the US had spent some $50 million last year on Vela. Although areas had been uncovered which showed some promise of improvements, the actual progress was relatively small. Ambassador Ormsby Gore said that he understood that important advances had been made in depth of focus theory. He promised further details on this tomorrow. He noted, also, the success the UK had had with a 15-array seismic equipment system. He added that it would be difficult for the West to defend itself against a Soviet attack on the 19-kt threshold when it was well known that 5-kt shots had been picked up without difficulty.

Dr. Long noted that there was a wide spread of scientific opinion in the U.S. on these points. While some of these developments showed theoretical promise, it was hard for us not to rely on the assessments of the men in charge. Ambassador Ormsby Gore asked whether it was the U.S. position that it knows of no significant technical advances justifying major changes in the control system. Mr. Foster said this was correct. He said that we had been instructed by the President to come up with an internally agreed U.S. position by 5:00 today.1 The President believes that [Page 367] the treaty as it exists today is essentially the proper basis on which to proceed. However, he believes we should explore possible modifications to take care of the problem of inspection for preparations and in order to speed up the on-site inspection process. The question of elimination of the threshold is still being debated. Some believe it should be unchanged and some feel that the proper course of action for the US is to drop it entirely. He did not believe there would be any major difficulty on the question of the number of control posts and it would be possible to consider a minor liberalization in the number of inspections. Inspections might be weighted in seismic areas. He said that the President was extremely anxious that we reach an early understanding with the U.K. on how we would play our hand in Geneva. Dr. Long pointed out that the U.K. proposal seemed to ignore the problem of location. With the U.K. approach, the area subject to inspection would be huge. He felt that this was a most vulnerable point in the U.K. approach.

Ambassador Ormsby Gore thought that the West might be in a good position if it could move to a fully comprehensive treaty and make the modification he had suggested on the question of the Administrator. This would stand well with public opinion even though the Soviets would certainly not accept the proposal. The U.K. felt that sticking with the present treaty without change would not fulfill the promises made by the President and the Prime Minister to present modifications. He recalled that the President had said to him in response to a specific inquiry that the U.S. would not suggest any increase in the burden of inspection. Mr. Foster said that the President would be quite willing to consider elimination of the threshold if the majority of his advisers thought this was reasonable. Dr. Long said that, on balance, we were coming to the conclusion that it would be best not to change the inspection posts grid through relocation.

Ambassador Ormsby Gore said that he felt the single most important thing we could do is abolish the threshold. In addition, we could speed up the control post installation process, and make some provision for inspection of known test areas. Dr. Long felt that it might make some sense to abolish the threshold, since this would give us the possibility of on-site inspection of seismic events below the 4.75 level. Since the moratorium on sub-threshold tests is presently part of our position, we would not necessarily be giving up anything by moving to a comprehensive treaty. Mr. Foster agreed, but reiterated that his personal feeling was that the U.K. suggestion in Point 3 would be unacceptable, although he would, of course, put the matter up to the President.

[Page 368]

Tab A

Memorandum by the British Embassy


Our latest scientific advice is that national systems do or can provide a reasonable degree of assurance of detection of all atmospheric tests of a yield that matters, and of underground shots above an insignificant level: and that the types of shots unlikely to be detected are unlikely to affect in any serious way the balance of nuclear power.

At the same time, it is only reasonable that there should be some form of international system of verification to give the world some positive check on the findings of national systems and to provide a negative check if one party accused another of carrying out a test and the accused party denied the charge. This minimum international system would have at the least to comprise machinery for organising sampling flights by aircraft, for studying evidence submitted by nations and for sending inspection teams. With regard to negative checks at the request of the accused party, there would be no problem over the number of inspections. For positive checking the organisation ought to be allowed at least a quota of inspections at its request, refusal of which would be presumptive evidence of a breach of the treaty.
The essential point of this proposal is that there would be no permanent control posts in Russian territory which is a major Russian objection. In return we could reasonably ask for a veto-free quota of inspections of at least ten or more. It would also be reasonable to demand the right to make periodical inspections of known testing sites in order to detect preparations for testing; and to require that the Preparatory Commission should have additional authority so that some verification might start immediately on signature.
Finally, to meet another possible Russian objection, we hope that the Administrator of the Organisation could as we have suggested be on a comparable basis to the Acting Secretary General of the United Nations.
In short, we hope that the U.S. Government would join us in proposing a modified treaty on the following lines:
The parties agree to conduct no more nuclear tests.
An International Tests Verification Organisation with the basic structure as in the Western Treaty proposals of a Conference, a Commission, a single Administrator, and inspection machinery (but not control [Page 369] posts) should be established to investigate any accusation by one party that another has tested by arranging air sampling flights and by studying records produced by the parties: the Organisation may, on the basis of its study, make inspections in the territory of the accused party, to a limit of say ten occasions in any one year in any one party’s territory at the request of the other side; the Organisation shall inspect any site or installation at the request of the Government responsible for that site or installation: the Organisation shall publish its findings.
The Organisation should also have the right to carry out periodical inspections of known testing sites.
The Organisation shall be run by an Administrator who consults with deputies broadly on the U Thant basis.
The parties agree not to carry out peaceful explosions except after inspection by the Organisation of the object to be exploded and of the instrumentation of the explosion and its records.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 600.0012/3-862. Secret. Drafted by Spiers.
  2. See Document 148.