203. Memorandum of Meeting With President Kennedy0


  • Disarmament Proposals

Secretary Rusk introduced the Committee of Principals’ proposals with respect to a nuclear weapons test ban and other disarmament measures. He said that we must proceed with prudence and that we must have reasonable assurances that the other side is not testing if we are to live with treaty provisions prohibiting our testing. He added that everyone was agreed that if we can get an acceptable treaty, we want a nuclear weapons test ban. He presented two alternatives:

We can go all the way for a comprehensive all-environment ban, relying on a national protection system. This system involves neutral observers at each station, plus twelve on-site inspections in the Soviet Union. The Soviet inspection figure is zero. Thus, we are exposed to pressure from the neutrals to reduce our minimum figure of twelve. He noted that key Congressional leaders were not pleased with the thought that we would be putting forward to the Russians any new disarmament proposal.
The second alternative is to start with a fallback position in anticipation of the Russians’ refusal to accept any on-site inspection. The fallback position would involve a ban on atmospheric testing.

Secretary Rusk favored going to an atmospheric ban treaty now and move toward a comprehensive treaty just as soon as the Russians would accept on-site inspection. He saw no point in playing with the number of inspections when the Soviets had clearly told us that they would accept no inspection.

The President asked what happened when the Soviets renew their tests. He called attention to the fact that we might have to resume testing, depending on what the Russians do and what we think they have learned from their most recent tests.

Secretary Rusk said we would have to protect ourselves from a situation in which the Russians would be obtaining new information while we would be treaty-bound not to test.

The President asked whether we would hold off until the Soviets have finished their testing. He also asked what we would do if they made [Page 511] us an offer on, say, January 1, to henceforth cease all testing. Between now and January 1 we would be embarrassed to test even if we were in a position to do so.

Secretary Rusk said we must keep open the possibility of future U.S. testing until we know as much as we can about what the Russians had learned during their current series.

Mr. Murrow agreed that we should make every effort to avoid playing the numbers game with inspections. He suggested that we ask the Russians to hold off for eight months or as long as we did before resuming tests.

Dr. Wiesner said we would have to continue our tests for at least a month or six weeks.

The President asked why we chose twelve as the number of inspections. He noted that our latest information on the number of earthquakes was lower in percentage terms than the reduction in the number of U.S. inspections we said we wanted. He asked why we shouldn’t put the number lower in view of the probability that the Soviets were going to refuse all inspection.

Mr. Bundy responded that Ambassador Dean’s view is that he wants a fixed number of inspections so that he can resist pressure from the neutrals who are insisting that we be precise about our proposal.

Secretary Rusk replied that Dean must negotiate with the Soviet representatives and not with the neutral representatives.

Mr. Foster commented that we should not discuss merely the number of inspections but look at the entire inspection system we are proposing.

Dr. Wiesner noted that the national detection system being proposed is a British system now adopted by the neutrals. He stated his view that it is almost certain we can detect nuclear weapons tests by a system located entirely outside the USSR. The proposal is to go from nineteen international stations down to five national stations inside the USSR. He acknowledged that the new proposal involved a degradation of from one to two KT over the Geneva system. He noted that inspection outside the USSR would continue. He mentioned 70-plus events, thirty of them outside the Kurile Islands, with which we would have to deal. He thought that we could accept six to nine inspections.

Secretary McNamara said the number of inspections we were asking was lower because we had raised the threshold. He said the threshold was now one KT in granite.

Chairman Seaborg said what we were talking about was two KT in tuff.

Mr. Bundy intervened to state that we were not trying to reach a decision now because we don’t know what our new data actually means. [Page 512] We haven’t war-gamed the situation on the basis of the new data. For example, reconnaissance satellites might be in a position to photograph alluvial shots.

In response to the President’s question, Dr. Seaborg said we could learn much from underground tests smaller than ten KT. In addition, underground tests would keep alive the laboratories and permit us to experiment with new ideas involving vulnerability of our weapons, weapons effects, primers, and the all-fusion weapons.

Director McCone said he favored underground tests but commented that other countries could conduct underground tests, thereby resulting in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He recalled that in April 1959 President Eisenhower had proposed a test ban very similar to the one now being considered. To do so again would involve repeating an idea previously turned down by the Russians. He read an extract from President Eisenhower’s letter containing the test ban proposal. He said he was not proposing an atmospheric test ban but he did recall that the Soviets proposed such a ban immediately after they had finished their last test series and we, at that time, ridiculed their suggestion.

The President said that if we now propose such a ban, they would turn it down. He suggested that we may want to reserve this proposal for use after they complete their test series, if we believe they have learned little in this series.

Secretary McNamara said we are not in a position now to decide on the number of inspections. He saw the situation as involving the risks of continuing tests affecting the risks of the treaty ban. He suggested that we agree to an atmospheric test ban, a willingness to accept a simplified comprehensive test ban treaty, and an agreement prohibiting transfer of weapons but continuance of our underground testing program.

Mr. Bundy said he felt we were not yet ready to decide on a national detection system.

Secretary Rusk said what he had in mind was a national system which would include neutral observers at the national stations.

The President said it was reasonable for us to have neutral observers in the national stations. He suggested that we proposed this idea even if we had to give way on it later.

Secretary Rusk said that Congressional leaders were asking why we kept talking numbers of inspections in view of the fact that the Russians kept rejecting all inspections. He thought one way around this Congressional problem was to keep attention focused on an atmospheric test ban.

The President said that if we could get all tests stopped it would be very good. The danger of proliferation and the prospect that [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] might acquire a nuclear capability offset [Page 513] the danger involved in possible Soviet cheating. He thought we should go to Congress with this argument.

Mr. Foster said he thought we could impress Congress with the new data which we have acquired. He said we could evaluate the risks of Soviet cheating as compared with the risks growing out of a continuation of the arms race.

Mr. Bundy said we need more information as well as more education of our negotiators in Geneva. He wondered if we could ask for a delay in negotiations. Secretary Rusk pointed out that we ought to brief our Geneva officials on the nature of the new technical data.

The President commented that we had messed up the handling of the new data in the U.S. Government. He said that information about it was all over town before we had decided what effect it would have on our policy. For the future, he said we must make our policy decisions before the U.K. or anyone else is informed of new information. We cannot publicize new data in such a way as to make it appear that information is ahead of policy. He asked that we seek a three- or four-day delay in the Geneva negotiations and that we order Ambassador Dean to Washington to talk to him here on Monday.1 He could tell us his problems and the scientists with their information could return with him to Geneva.

Mr. Bundy said the posture would be that the President had discussed new policy proposals, had asked Dean to return for further policy discussions, and that Dean would return to Geneva carrying the decisions we had reached.

Secretary Rusk said that we must have on-site inspections and the Soviets will not accept such inspections. In his view, Vela information did not open the door to a solution.

The President suggested that Mr. Foster hold a background press conference, making the point that new information improves the detection situation but does not solve it and that the purpose of the press briefing would be to cool off Congress and the British by repeating our view that on-site inspections continue to be necessary, even with a national system under an international organization.2

The President said Alternative I sounded right to him (see the July 26, 1962 paper attached).3 He asked that a memorandum be written to the British on the limitations of the new data. The group would meet with Dean on Monday. In his view, we could not get away with a position which involved refusal to discuss numbers of inspections. He wanted [Page 514] additional information on the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The press would be told about Dean’s return but would be given no information or background on details of Alternative I proposals. The press would be told that the President was reserving a decision until he had talked to Dean and until several questions which had arisen in today’s meeting could be answered. An effort would be made to knock down any reporter’s view that there was a division within the government or that a major controversy had arisen with respect to the test ban treaty proposal.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, ACDA, Disarmament, General, 7/27/62. Top Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text. A list of the 19 participants at the meeting is in the President’s Appointment Book. (Ibid.) McCone also prepared a summary memorandum of this NSC meeting. (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI, ER Subject Files, NSC, 7/1/62-7/31/62) See the Supplement.
  2. July 30.
  3. No record of this press briefing, if held, has been found.
  4. Not attached, but presumably Foster’s memorandum to the President, Document 202.