201. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Meeting of Committee of Principals


  • See attached list1

Nuclear Test Ban

The Secretary asked Mr. Foster to present the issues for discussion.

Mr. Foster stated that findings reported by Project Vela and by AFTAC hold some hope for modification of the present U.S. position on a nuclear test ban. These findings have received intensive consideration. As the result of press coverage, Congress has been taking a substantial interest in the matter. Alternative approaches have been discussed with the Congressional committees, which have been informed that no decision has yet been made. The alternatives presented for consideration by the Principals have been reviewed by the scientists and by the Deputies.2

The fundamental question is whether, in contrast to continued “leap-frogging” of tests, the national interest is best served by taking [Page 500] advantage of technical improvements in order to propose a treaty that might be more acceptable to the Soviet Union. ACDA feels that two types of treaties might be more acceptable to the Soviet Union than present proposals while at the same time providing assurance that we would be able to catch any gross cheating.

ACDA considers that the most desirable approach would be to present a modified comprehensive treaty with no threshold and no right to test at all. There would be an “international-national” system involving fewer stations than previously proposed. The stations would be operated by nationals of the host countries and would feed data to an international commission, which would determine suspicious events and request on-site inspection. The alternative would be a ban on atmospheric, outer space, and underwater testing but not on underground testing; any party would be entitled to proceed with underground testing under conditions which would preclude venting outside of national borders. Both approaches seem technically possible. ACDA believes that we should first present the comprehensive treaty. If that fails, we should offer the atmospheric ban.

Technical presentations should be made at Geneva to prepare the groundwork and explain why it is still necessary to have on-site inspections.

The Secretary noted that the draft “U.S. Program”3 described the new findings as “tentative” and asked how tentative they were.

Mr. Fisher explained that in an appearance before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Doyle Northrup of AFTAC had described the findings in this way and that his view had been reflected in the Holifield-Jackson letter to the President.4 On the other hand, Northrup had developed suggestions for an improved detection system based on the new findings. The findings do look very good, and we should make up our minds.

The Secretary thought we should interpret “tentative” as meaning that to the best of our present ability to know what is correct, this is the way things look.

Dr. Wiesner pointed out that there is enough certainty so that people are reasonably comfortable. His view was that the data will get better and that it is unlikely that there will be any retrogression. Present lack of agreement is largely over the subtleties of numbers.

[Page 501]

Secretary McNamara thought there were two unknowns. The first was the level of the detection threshold and of undifferentiated events above the threshold. Knowledge of this is fairly certain; there is a degree of uncertainty, but not very great. The second unknown, about which there was greater uncertainty, was the amount of advancement in nuclear technology that can take place below the threshold.

Dr. Seaborg pointed out that the detection threshold differs as between tuff, granite, and alluvium, the threshold for the latter being 14 kt. If we accept the possibility that the Soviet Union can test below 14 kt, a lot can be done. [3 lines of source text not declassified]

Dr. Wiesner did not believe that one would dare conduct tests as large as 14 kt.

Mr. Foster pointed out that the Soviet Union would face the possibility of detection. By unilateral means, we would be able to detect tests in alluvium.

Secretary McNamara was prepared to believe that the actual threshold might be around 7 kt; testing below that level, however, might give substantial gains to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, although it seemed that the degree of risk from cheating was substantial, we also needed to know the risks of not having a ban at all.

Dr. Seaborg identified the principal purposes of tests below 10 kt.5 However, he thought there was a more important question than that of the data that could be obtained from underground testing and explained that AEC’s chief concern was the effect of stopping underground testing on the vitality of our laboratories. If we stopped but the Soviet Union continued to test underground, they would be prepared to resume atmospheric testing. Dr. Haworth stated the problem in a somewhat different way, pointing out that AEC’s concern was that the Soviet Union might at a future time abrogate a comprehensive treaty with a big, all-out atmospheric test series. We couldn’t forestall such a possibility completely, but we could minimize its effects. An atmospheric ban, with continued underground testing, would permit us to maintain a posture of readiness.

[Page 502]

In response to a question by the Secretary, Mr. McNamara stated that he believed that if we could be certain that the Soviet Union would stop testing, we should do so. Dr. Seaborg had no reservations about this.

The Secretary then said that it is fundamental to the U.S. position that we should not put forward proposals for purely propagandistic or political reasons. Public statements on the Project VELA findings have built up great expectations, but we must be prepared to live with the proposals we advance. We are always under steady pressure, from those bearing less responsibility, to alter our proposals. The numbers (of detection stations and on-site inspections) we talk about are significant to us but less so to others. They will urge concessions and try to whack the numbers down still further. Unless we are prepared to state our position and stick with it, there will always be erosion.

There are two approaches we might take. We could go in with a fairly complete and tight comprehensive treaty, support it with the data we have, and be prepared to fall back to an atmospheric ban. On the other hand, the Soviet Union is categorically saying that it will accept no on-site inspection. Gromyko repeated this in personal conversations. Under these circumstances, our numbers are not particularly relevant. Changes in our numbers don’t move us toward agreement. Perhaps we should say that we would like to work on a comprehensive treaty but that we are aware of the Soviet position on on-site inspection. So long as that position prevails, there is no point in playing a numbers game. For our own part, we want to make a start somewhere, so we propose starting with an atmospheric treaty and making it comprehensive as soon as possible. Since the rest of the world is primarily concerned with atmospheric tests and the effects of fallout, this approach should be well received.

Mr. McCone recalled that we had tried this approach twice before, once in 1959 and again in 1961.

Mr. Fisher, however, pointed out that the 1959 proposal had been an elaborate one whereas the present proposal was pared down. The 1961 proposal had been put forward under special circumstances and a time limit had been placed on its acceptance. We have not put forward a proposal for an atmospheric ban in the manner in which we would do so now.

Although not feeling at this point in a position to express a final preference, the Secretary had the impression that atmospheric tests seemed more important than underground tests and that it would be more desirable to seek an atmospheric ban than to go through a series of conflicts over numbers, both at home with the Congress as well as abroad.

Mr. Murrow agreed. He thought our posture would be good in terms of world opinion.

The Secretary then noted that we have supposed that the Soviet Union would not accept an atmospheric ban. However in view of Soviet [Page 503] concern over the proliferation of nuclear weapons, he thought that if we could move forward simultaneously with an atmospheric ban and something on non-proliferation, the Soviet Union might accept it.6

Dr. Wiesner asked why we should use Soviet interest in non-proliferation to get an atmospheric ban. Why not try to get a total ban. Moreover, he thought that other countries were unlikely to agree to a self-denying non-proliferation agreement, if we ourselves retained the right to test underground.

With reference to the apparent impossibility of obtaining Soviet agreement to a comprehensive treaty with on-site inspection, Dr. Seaborg assumed that there was no disagreement in the U.S. regarding the need for inspection, and the Secretary asked whether it could be reported to the President that there was no opinion that zero inspection would be acceptable.

There was general agreement with this statement. Mr. McNamara added, however, that although he was not prepared to say that zero inspection was acceptable, he was also not prepared to say what risk would be involved in a continuation of testing. He thought that we should put down the risks that would arise from the Soviet Union’s beating the system and put alongside these the risks involved in continuation of testing. His personal view was that the risks of continued testing were very serious if we looked ahead ten years. He was seriously concerned about the degree of proliferation that would take place in this period.

Mr. Murrow asked whether this did not argue against putting forward a specific number of required inspection. Mr. McNamara thought it might. He thought the Secretary’s suggestion of associating an atmospheric test ban with a non-proliferation agreement was interesting, but he wondered whether we could get agreement.

Mr. Bundy thought this approach was so one-sided that we were unlikely to get agreement. Only those countries which now had nuclear weapons would be free to test. Dr. Wiesner supported this view, but Mr. Nitze [Page 504] disagreed. He thought that there was a certain inequity anyway and that if the Secretary’s approach were followed, the situation would not be much more inequitable than at present. However, he suggested that we add to the atmospheric ban and nonproliferation proposals, an expression of our willingness to extend the ban to underground testing if the Soviet Union would agree to inspection. Mr. Foster agreed that the possibility of a comprehensive treaty should be part of the package.

The Secretary concluded that both the principal alternatives should be presented to the President. He continued to fear, however, that if we presented specific numbers in Geneva, we would generate much controversy at home and that such controversy would be purposeless in view of the Soviet position. If we don’t go in with numbers, we will have more time to explain the situation to the Congress. We could say at Geneva that it would be possible to work the matter out on the basis of lower numbers but not prior to acceptance by the Soviet Union of the need for inspection.

Mr. Keeny cautioned that this approach would, in effect, invite the neutrals to present proposals involving very little inspection. Dr. Wiesner agreed and thought that by extrapolation, the old numbers would go way down in the light of the new findings. If we go forward with the findings but without the numbers we want, we may be compromising our own position. Mr. Foster noted that this did not seem to change the fundamental point which was that apparently the Soviet Union would not accept any numbers at all. We can say that if the Soviet Union will accept inspection, the number will be lower than 20.

Mr. Bundy agreed that it would not be fruitful to present precise numbers. As far as Congress was concerned, he thought we would have an additional problem with the question of “international-national” systems. It might be desirable to remain uncommitted on this point. Dr. Wiesner, however, pointed out that we had agreed to study the neutrals’ proposal and that it would be strange if we said nothing. Mr. Foster thought this could be handled by stressing the use of national systems in support of an atmospheric ban. The Secretary hoped that we could clarify the term “international-national” and avoid any confusion with the Soviet interpretation.

Mr. McNamara stated his understanding that under the foregoing approach we actually would continue underground testing. Mr. Bundy noted that the second round has been approved with no time limit. Mr. Murrow asked whether there was any necessity of announcing completion of the current series. He noted that the beginning of each new series was always greeted with a poor reaction abroad. He wondered why we could not simply drag the present series out. Mr. Bundy said that was, in effect, what we were doing.

Mr. McNamara then asked whether, under an atmospheric ban, we would contemplate preparing for resumption of atmospheric tests to [Page 505] prepare for the contingency that the Soviet Union might do so. Mr. Bundy thought it would be important to be prepared, that we would need to maintain standby readiness through time. The Secretary pointed out that the kind of preparations we undertook would be affected by the question of whether preparations were initiated before or after an agreement. We should try to set up categories of preparations that would be desirable and acceptable after the signing of a test ban. Dr. Seaborg noted in this regard that Christmas Island presented a knotty problem. Mr. McNamara thought we could determine what things could be done without becoming known internationally.

Dr. Wiesner commented that we were probably taking too narrow an approach in considering countermeasures to possible resumption of testing by the Soviet Union. Rather than resume testing ourselves, we might, for example, say that we would double the size of our missile force. This might be a more effective deterrent to Soviet resumption.

(Note: In connection with the foregoing, no discussion took place respecting the texts of the draft treaties.)

Production During Stage I of Disarmament

Mr. Fisher explained that ACDA recommended that Stage I production of armaments be on the basis of one-for-one replacement by types.7 Even under this approach, there would have to be an upper limit on production. As a basis for negotiation, we could say that the reduction should be at least 10 percent a year during Stage I but that it might be greater. A reduction on this basis would parallel the reduction of armaments, and we could take advantage of the Soviet proposal that armaments and production be reduced proportionately.

Gen. Lemnitzer thought that much depended on the definition of “types”. He asked whether a Minuteman could be substituted for an Atlas.

Mr. Fisher explained that all B-52’s would be regarded as one type regardless of series but that Minuteman and Atlas represented different types.

Mr. McNamara stated that production by types was acceptable.

Gen. Lemnitzer expressed the view that there should be no ban on production of prototypes or on modernization of production facilities.

Mr. Foster, however, pointed out that there would be a need to show that we were prepared to go ahead with disarmament. Production of new prototypes would raise doubts about this. Moreover, the approach was based on the belief that by 1964 the U.S. would be in a good position [Page 506] and that it would be best to freeze types at that time. Dr. Wiesner added that we certainly would not want to permit new facilities for producing weapons to be established during Stage I.

The Secretary asked about the cut-off between production of items for military and for civilian use. Mr. Foster thought the dividing line was sufficiently clear for present negotiating purposes, but there would be problems later. He noted that this problem had been encountered in the JCS wargame on inspection and believed that it would be desirable to have additional wargames.

It was agreed that the recommendation on production should be presented to the President for approval.

Reduction of Military Bases in Stage I

Mr. Foster stated that the ACDA recommendation8 put discussion of military bases back toward the end of Stage I but did permit discussion. The U.S. would not accept the singling out of “foreign” bases but might be willing to begin a reduction of bases at some point in Stage I. It would be inconsistent to be unwilling to discuss this if progress were made on other points.

The Secretary asked whether there will be any foreign bases we will be prepared to give up in the next few years. Mr. McNamara estimated that we would probably give up a small number in the next two or three years, perhaps 20-50 out of, say, 500 of the larger bases (not counting the many small installations). Mr. Murrow thought it might be useful to have a definition of “military bases” that would differentiate between large bases and small installations.

Gen. Taylor asked whether this presupposed redeployment. Mr. McNamara said that what he had in mind was some of the B-47 bases and other bases of that character. Twenty was not a large number. The Secretary pointed out that we do not redeploy in order to reduce bases; we reduce bases when we redeploy.

Mr. McNamara accepted the recommendation on military bases, and it was agreed that the recommendation should be presented to the President for approval.

Stage I Force Levels

The Secretary noted in view of the Soviet action accepting a Stage I force level of 1.9 million, there would be increased pressure for the U.S. to accept the same level. Mr. McNamara recognized that this would be the case. Mr. Foster requested that the force level study be expedited so that we might be able to say something before the next recess, which was [Page 507] expected in September. Mr. McNamara agreed that the study should be expedited. Mr. Nitze noted in this connection that the question of civilian personnel was of great importance.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Secret. Drafted by Gathright and approved in S on August 16. McCone also wrote a memorandum for the record of this meeting, July 26. (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI Memos for Record 4/7/62-8/21/62) See the Supplement.
  2. The attached list of 23 participants is not printed.
  3. A meeting of the Deputies on July 20 discussed a draft nuclear test ban treaty. No record of this meeting has been found.
  4. “U.S. Program Regarding a Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons Tests”, draft of July 25. [Footnote in the source text. The draft has not been found. A July 24 draft is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA/D Files: FRC 77 A 23, Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee. Regarding a July 26 draft, see footnote 2, Document 202.]
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Separate Memorandum of Conversation classified Secret-Restricted Data on file in ACDA and AEC. [Footnote in the source text. A memorandum from C.E. Conger (ACDA/D) to William H. Brubeck (S/S), August 10, attached to the source text, notes that because certain of Seaborg’s remarks involved atomic energy restricted data, ACDA/D “summarized this part of Seaborg’s remarks in a brief separate memorandum, copies of which will be on file in ACDA and AEC.” This memorandum of conversation has not been found. A note from Brubeck to Emory C. Swank (S), August 13, also attached to the source text, notes that S/S would obtain a copy of the memorandum containing Seaborg’s remarks “if the Secretary desires to read it.” No response from the Secretary has been found.]
  7. Separate Memorandum of Conversation classified Secret-Limited Distribution on file in ACDA and S/S. [Footnote in the source text. In his August 10 memorandum to Brubeck, Conger wrote that during the meeting “the Secretary requested that references to a recent talk with Gromyko be closely held.” Thus this part of the Secretary’s conversation was summarized in a separate, limited distribution memorandum. This separate memorandum, attached to the source text, reads: “Referring to recent conversations with Gromyko, the Secretary stated that he thought the Soviet Union was seriously concerned about the question of nuclear proliferation, particularly in the case of West Germany. Gromyko had suggested language to the effect that we would not help other countries ‘directly or indirectly’. The Secretary had questioned whether the United States and the Soviet Union would interpret ‘indirectly’ in the same manner. However, he thought there was some possibility that we could develop mutually acceptable language on non-proliferation which would safeguard our position on a multi-national European nuclear force while assuring the Soviet Union that we would not assist any state in obtaining nuclear weapons for use on the basis of a national decision.”]
  8. See “Recommendation on Production Limits in Stage I”, draft of July 23, 1962. [Footnote in the source text. A copy is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA/D Files: FRC 77 A 23, Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee.]
  9. “Stage I reduction of military bases”, draft of July 23, 1962. [Footnote in the source text. This draft has not been found.]