194. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Nuclear Tests


  • Anatoli Dobrynin, Ambassador of the USSR
  • Georgi M. Kornienko, Counsellor of Soviet Embassy
  • The Secretary
  • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary
  • Martin J. Hillenbrand, Director, Office of German Affairs

During a discussion devoted mainly to Berlin1 Dobrynin referred to the need of the Soviet Union to be militarily prepared in view of what he described as provocative American statements about a possible attack on the Soviet Union. As to nuclear tests, the Soviet Union had felt that the United States had been ahead. It had then caught up, and now the United States was testing again. This was a vicious circle. The Secretary said that an announcement was being made that the Christmas Island phase of the tests had ended.2 Dobrynin observed that we would still be testing on Johnson Island and in Nevada. He asked if there were any deadlines on these tests. The Secretary said that he thought they would end soon. Dobrynin asked if he meant in one or two months. The Secretary responded that it would probably be in that range, but he could give no commitment on this since he was not in charge and such matters as weather could affect timing. However, if Dobrynin wanted a base of reference we had said that we would make fewer tests than the Soviets had made in their last series. Hence the Soviets could do a certain amount of calculating on their own.

Dobrynin observed that newspaper reports indicated we had obtained good results from our underground tests. The Secretary commented that the Soviets should have sent their people as observers. Dobrynin said that the tests seemed to be proving the Soviet point. The American press had indicated detection as taking place over 3000 miles. The Secretary said this applied to certain kind of events only. Although a [Page 486] full report was not yet available, we believed that some control points and inspections would still be required. Some improvement had been achieved. If the Soviets felt that their scientists had instruments which went all the way, this was a matter which should be discussed between the scientists of both countries.

The Secretary observed that he had been sorry to see that Khrushchev, in his recent speech, had come back to the point that any kind of inspection was tantamount to espionage.3 This was not in accord with the facts of what would really happen under international inspection. It was difficult to put this development into correct prospective, since up to a year or a year-and-a-half ago, the Soviet were talking of international inspection. In the last year or so, however, the Soviet Government has maintained that all inspection is unacceptable because it is equivalent to espionage. Inspection was not really capable of producing espionage, and this question had no relation anyway to the techniques of modern war.

After a rather obscure reference to a 1957 proposal for control posts and air inspection which had been rejected, Dobrynin admitted that a year ago the Soviet had changed its position because its security was involved. He wondered why the US so strongly insisted on inspection in connection with a test ban. Since detection can take place without inspection, this insistence merely increased Soviet suspicions. The Soviet Union was fully aware that the US had adequate facilities in adjacent countries to detect Soviet tests. The Secretary said that this would not apply to underground and small tests. Dobrynin said that perhaps tomorrow American scientists would announce that they could detect explosions 5000 miles away. The Secretary responded that, if Soviet scientists had such a capability in their instruments, why were they not willing to talk about it. Dobrynin asked why, if American scientists were so sure, the US did not sign the treaty. The Secretary observed that our scientists were not sure of the possibility of effective detection and identification at such great distances. The full technical analysis was not yet completed, and perhaps the Vela Tests would help to solve the problem, but they would not eliminate the need for inspection.

Dobrynin said signature of the treaty would eliminate distrust and provide progress, which so far had not been made. The Soviet Government felt strongly about this and the need to discuss these disarmament questions. All tests could be detected. Only underground tests had been in question. Now even US scientists were convinced, as British scientists [Page 487] previously had been. Soviet scientists were convinced. Why did the US have to be so stubborn and continue saying that it must have posts in the USSR? The Secretary said that, even on the basis of the Vela Tests, national systems would not suffice, but scientists from the various countries might discuss the question and see if they could not come to some conclusions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 600.0012/7-1262. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Hillenbrand and approved in S on July 13. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office.
  2. The memorandum of conversation on Berlin is printed in vol. XV, pp. 215222. Regarding their discussion of other subjects, see vol. V, Document 127.
  3. The Atomic Energy Commission made this announcement on July 12. (The New York Times, July 13, 1962)
  4. In the course of a long speech to the World Congress on Disarmament in Moscow on July 10, Khrushchev said that the U.S. control proposal was “designed to set up a legalised system of international espionage for the benefit of a potential aggressor.” (Documents on Disarmament, 1962, vol. II, pp. 642-643)