148. Minutes of Meeting0

Minutes of Meeting with President held on March 9, 1962 on U.S. Position for the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference

Mr. Foster summarized the attached memoranda to the President1 setting forth the proposed U.S. position for the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference. He stated that the ACDA understood that the U.S. position would contain the following points:

An across-the-board cut of 30 per cent in all armaments in increments of 10 per cent a year over a three-year period. Strategic armaments would not be separated out as an initial measure.
The 30 per cent cut in strategic vehicles refers to both numbers and “destructive capability.” Neither “destructive capability” nor the categories into which strategic weapons would be separated have yet been defined.
No production cutoff in the first phase. Whether production will be unlimited or limited to some percentage of inventories has not yet been determined.
The 30 percent reduction in non-strategic armaments will involve both numbers and total weight.
No reduction in inventories of nuclear warheads and BW-CW in the first stage. Our position on these problems is contingent upon the outcome of experts conferences which will be proposed.
Force levels should be reduced to 2.1 million.
Authority to discuss with Soviet representatives the possibility of sampling or progressive zonal inspection techniques.
A cutoff of production of fissionable material for weapons and an initial proposal for the U.S. and USSR to each transfer 50 thousand kilograms of U-235 for peaceful purposes.
The second stage of the U.S. plan would involve further reduction of inventories of the same magnitude as the first stage and a more stringent production cutoff.

With regard to the nuclear test ban treaty, Mr. Foster stated that ACDA recommended that we present our April 18 treaty with the amendments offered last summer2 and indicate that we would like to discuss methods of speeding up the installation of the control system with the Soviets. In addition, we should urgently explore the possibility of eliminating the threshold from our present treaty proposal. With regard to inspection of preparation for testing, he reported that there did not appear to be any really effective inspection measures; however, the proposal could be made to call for declarations by heads of state that preparations were not in process and to periodically inspect the principal test sites.

The President stated that there were three new factors in the nuclear test ban issue: (1) the problem of guarding against clandestine preparations for testing is now recognized; (2) underground tests are probably easier to inspect than previously thought; and (3) underground tests of small weapons are not as important as had previously been contended. As a consequence, the President said that a smaller number of inspections would probably be acceptable and that a serious question was raised as to the real value of the threshold in our proposed treaty in view of the three-year moratorium associated with it. Mr. McCone reviewed the history of the proposed three-year moratorium, pointing out that it had been agreed by President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Macmillan at Camp David as a measure to balance our introduction of the threshold in the treaty.3 He noted without a threshold the treaty would bar us from any future testing and that there would be some level of small Soviet clandestine tests that could not be detected. Dr. Wiesner then stated that removal of the threshold would constitute a major initiative on our part and would answer one of the basic objections to our [Page 371] treaty by the USSR, the U.K., and other countries. He argued that a treaty without a threshold would be more to our security advantage than a treaty with a threshold. With a three-year moratorium, we would as a practical matter almost certainly be giving up the possibility of future underground testing since such testing would not be resumed if the treaty were being honored. However, under a threshold we would not have the right to inspect detected seismic events below magnitude 4.75, even though the Geneva system could detect and locate much smaller events than this. This would give us some ability to verify that the Soviets were, in fact, honoring the treaty below the threshold down to the point of detectability of seismic events. Our unilateral intelligence could assist us with selecting the most suspicious detected events for inspection. He noted that retention of the threshold would permit Nth countries to develop and test Hiroshima-size weapons under the full treaty obligation. Dr. Seaborg stated in response to a question that there were probably no experiments critical to national security that could be conducted by either the U.S. or USSR underground below the threshold of detection of the Geneva system although the initial development of a nuclear capability could be achieved by an Nth country below the threshold of 4.75.4 He emphasized that his principal worry was that it would be very difficult to maintain the weapons laboratories in the event that either a complete test ban was signed or a treaty with a threshold and a three-year moratorium.

Mr. Nitze suggested a possible alternative proposal in which we would withdraw our offer of a moratorium upon treaty signature but would agree to a complete ban without a threshold as soon as elements of the control system became operational. He pointed out that this would maintain the laboratories during the period when Soviet intentions to fulfill the treaty were being tested. Ambassador Dean stated that in his opinion it was impossible for us to withdraw our offer of a moratorium [Page 372] upon signature of the treaty. He pointed out that, although this was not part of the treaty, this was a firm offer that had been repeated on many occasions by both the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations. The President stated that it would be logical to give up our present threshold position for a speed-up in installation of the Geneva detection system. Ambassador Dean noted that a speed-up in installation of the system could be accomplished within the existing treaty language provided this proposal was acceptable to the Soviets.

Dr. Wiesner suggested that, if we wanted to have a nuclear test ban treaty, we should offer a complete test ban without a threshold at the outset of the negotiations and not wait to see whether or not the Soviets were willing to negotiate on our present treaty. Mr. Bundy stated that this tactic would be very effective in obtaining the support of world opinion for our position. The President asked what the position of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was on the threshold problem. He was informed that Mr. Fisher, who had just left an executive session with the Committee, reported that the Committee was skeptical about removing the threshold but that they were also skeptical of the treaty in general. The President stated that, while the views of the Joint Committee were important, it was the responsibility of the Executive Branch, and not the Joint Committee, to draft the treaty.

In response to further discussion as to whether an offer to withdraw the threshold should await Soviet initiative on the test ban problem, Mr. Bundy recommended that we should obtain the full advantage of this move at the outset of the conference.

The President concluded that if the Soviets were willing to discuss nuclear testing, we should make an initiative on the threshold proposal. He stated that he desired a treaty and wanted the world to know that we were prepared to walk the last mile to obtain it. He recalled that it was Secretary McNamara’s position that an effective treaty in this area would be to our national security advantage. He did not want to be put in a position where the U.K. or other countries could maintain that we did not in fact really desire to have a test ban treaty. Secretary Rusk stated that he interpreted this to mean that every effort should be made at the conference to obtain a treaty that is acceptable to us. The President asked Mr. Foster to be certain that Ambassador Ormsby-Gore was informed of these decisions.5

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Kaysen Series, Disarmament, Basic Memoranda, 2/62-4/62. Secret. The source text, which is dated March 12, bears no drafting information. An attached list of participants is not printed.
  2. No memoranda were attached to the source text.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. For text of the Eisenhower-Macmillan joint declaration on nuclear testing at Camp David, Maryland, March 29, 1960, see Documents on Disarmament, 1960, pp. 77-78.
  5. In a March 10 letter to the President, Seaborg elaborated on his remarks:

    “In response to a question from Secretary Rusk at the meeting yesterday, in which we discussed the proposed test ban treaty, I replied that I thought the U.S.S.R. probably could not make a major breakthrough by means of clandestine underground testing.

    “I want to be sure that it is understood that I was speaking within the context of the discussion, namely, clandestine underground testing for a limited time period prior to the imposition of adequate controls.

    “I feel that if the Russians should have a long period of clandestine underground testing, they might make substantial steps toward the development of an all-fusion weapon (that is, the so-called neutron bomb), which probably should be classified as a major breakthrough.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Nuclear Weapons, Testing)

    When Seaborg telephoned McCone on March 10 to tell him he was sending this letter to the President, “McCone replied that he thinks I should bring this to the attention of the President; he feels that continued clandestine testing underground at low yields could do some harm.” (Seaborg, Journal, vol. 3, p. 269)

  6. In a March 10 memorandum to Ormsby Gore, Bundy transmitted to the British Government the U.S. position on the test ban question in Geneva. (Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Secretary Rusk’s Conversations with UK Officials, 1961-1962, Vol. I) See the Supplement.