216. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Non-diffusion of nuclear weapons


  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Ambassador of the USSR
  • Georgi M. Kornienko, Counselor, Soviet Embassy
  • The Secretary
  • Philip H. Valdes, EUR/SOV

The Secretary, who had asked Ambassador Dobrynin to call, said he would like to ask him to convey a personal message to Gromyko, following [Page 542] up the conversations Gromyko and he had had in Geneva.1 He would like to give the message orally, though if Mr. Kornienko wished to, he could go over his notes with Mr. Valdes later. The message concerned non-diffusion of nuclear weapons. The Secretary then read the message, which follows:

“This personal message follows upon our very informal conversation in Geneva about the non-transfer of nuclear weapons to nations not now possessing them.2 I have had an opportunity to consider this matter further in Washington and believe that we could clarify how best we might proceed.

“It seems to me that we could agree that our two countries share a common interest in preventing the further diffusion of nuclear weapons to additional nations. There are many elements in this common interest; high among them is the prospect that further diffusion would greatly complicate the possibilities of progress toward disarmament to which the U.S. attaches the greatest importance.

“As I explained to you in Geneva, it has been a longstanding United States policy to oppose the proliferation of national nuclear weapons capabilities. We estimate that it is now within the capabilities of up to twenty countries to achieve nuclear weapons within the next several years if they make the necessary effort. Indeed, the amount of effort required is steadily decreasing for technical and scientific reasons with which you are familiar. Obviously, the countries of greatest concern to us are not necessarily those of greatest concern to you; our respective priorities might be different. But surely we could agree that you and we would both be better off if none of them developed nuclear weapons on a national basis.

“It seems to me, therefore, that we ought to be able to find a way to move promptly with other nuclear powers to propose an agreement which would have two principal provisions: (1) a commitment by existing nuclear powers not to transfer nuclear weapons to other nations, and (2) a commitment by all others not to develop nuclear weapons of their own. I am not now using technical language but simply expressing the general idea. I recognize that there are other problems, such as the transfer of nuclear warhead technology, which might have to be covered.

“The difficulty about our moving promptly in concert on this matter arises with respect to multilateral arrangements. Your Government apparently wishes to consider multilateral arrangements with respect to nuclear weapons as a part of the central problem of the multiplication of national nuclear forces. I sincerely believe that this point of view rests [Page 543] upon a misunderstanding and that it stands in the way of our acting together on a common interest.

“From our point of view, we consider the discussion of multilateral arrangements in the West as, among other things, a means for preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons on a national basis. You apparently are fearful that multilateral arrangements are intended to provide a pretext or a screen for giving nuclear weapons to national forces to be used by national decision. This is not our purpose.

“As you know, the question of multilateral nuclear forces within NATO has been under discussion for quite some time. It is not possible to be precise about just what such arrangements might be because, as you also know, there are different approaches within NATO on what is a highly complex matter. Indeed, whether there will be anytime soon any consensus in the West on this matter is impossible to predict. But I can tell you that the United States does not have in mind equipping other national forces with nuclear weapons under circumstances which would make it possible for national governments to make individual decisions about their employment. As you know, under present United States law and allied military arrangements, United States nuclear warheads remain under all circumstances under United States custody and control.

“I had the impression from our conversation in Geneva that it might be possible for us to concentrate on the single issue of national nuclear capability.”

The Secretary explained to the Ambassador that Gromyko had asked if we do concentrate on national nuclear capability, could we be sure this meant not transferring either directly or indirectly. The Secretary said he had replied that this would be possible if it were clearly understood what was meant by indirectly. If this meant that multilateral arrangements could not be used as a screen or device to permit use by national decision, then we could work out an agreement. The Secretary then continued with the message:

“If it is clear on both sides that this is the object and that we are not now trying to deal with the issue of possible multilateral arrangements, it seems to me that we might be able to reach an agreement with respect to the non-transfer of nuclear weapons, either directly or indirectly, to additional national forces.

“This is a matter which we would, of course, have to discuss with our allies because two of them have their own nuclear capabilities and because the others would be among the large numbers of states who would be expected to renounce national nuclear weapons. If you believe that there is a possibility of progress in this direction, we would be glad to take up this matter with other governments producing nuclear weapons and try to find as quickly as possible a basis for agreement. We could [Page 544] keep in touch either through your Ambassador in Washington or through our Ambassadors in Geneva. My own personal view is that it would be of advantage to take this important step and that we should not abandon the effort because of other factors not directly related to the central issue. If we find that we can agree on the substance, we would need to consider how best to move rapidly to bring the matter to a conclusion. It may be, for example, that we should seek to obtain declarations on the part of other governments that they are prepared to enter into the type of agreement we would put forward; this would give us an opportunity on both sides to ascertain that all governments essential to an agreement would in fact participate.

“Will you be good enough to let me have your reactions at your early convenience?”

He summarized for the Ambassador by saying he was asking whether there is enough prospect for agreement in order to pursue it urgently to bring it to a conclusion. If not, we would not wish to go through the exercise, which could worsen matters if it failed. Here is one point where for a dozen reasons you and we have a common purpose in not seeing atomic weapons move to other hands.

Dobrynin recalled Gromyko had raised three questions: possible loopholes, inclusion of international alliances, and the two Germanies. As Gromyko said, we think this is most important. He would like to repeat what Gromyko had said. Agreement on a broader scale will take time. We want to work on it. Meanwhile, we want an agreement with you on the more narrow question of the two Germanies. This would include not giving them weapons or data, and their not acquiring either themselves.

The Secretary said his proposal does not contemplate a special arrangement for Germany. From the Soviet point of view, it already exists. He knew our longstanding national policy that we have applied even with respect to France. Germany itself took commitments in 1955 on ABC weapons. We consider this a formal commitment. We do not see an advantage at this time in making special arrangements for Germany. Other countries are important. He was interested in Germany; we were interested in mainland China; we both should be in Israel.

Dobrynin said he had the impression the Secretary thought a separate agreement for the two Germanies was possible.

The Secretary said he supposed this agreement he proposed was not possible unless Germany was included.

Dobrynin said Germany is the number one problem for the Soviets. They are therefore prepared to proceed with a general agreement, but want another on the two Germanies, undertaking on our side not to transfer weapons or data, and on theirs not to produce or try to get nuclear weapons in any way.

[Page 545]

The Secretary said he had the impression from Gromyko that if there were any delays in reaching a general agreement, he might want to come back to one on Germany.

Dobrynin said this was not his impression.

The Secretary said there was a reference to a non-transfer agreement in the principles paper,3 but the Soviet side did not take this up for discussion. The Secretary supposed that if we had an agreement of this sort including Germany, Soviet concern would be taken care of, as well as our concerns.

Dobrynin objected that there are too many states. It would take quite a time.

The Secretary asked if the Soviet Government has ever made a formal announcement on its policy concerning non-transfer.

Dobrynin replied it had at the UN last March.4

The Secretrary said he meant a statement of existing Soviet policy, not what the Soviets would be prepared to do. We have said we are opposed on a national basis to proliferation. He said that in our principles paper we indicated the Deputy Foreign Ministers could go into non-diffusion, or this could be done in a different forum—we had Geneva in mind. He said he thought the Soviets overestimate the difference in time between the two agreements (general, or on Germany). His guess was that of the 104 in the UN and the 6 or so not in the UN that were involved, most would agree promptly. Some who could produce nuclear weapons have never declared themselves, for example Sweden, Switzerland, Brazil and India.

Dobrynin said the Swedes have said they are prepared to enter into an agreement. The Swiss have not. He understood the Secretary’s point, however.

The Secretary said his point was that we do it on a comprehensive basis, including Germany.

Dobrynin asked if Germany would be mentioned in the agreement.

The Secretary said every country would be mentioned, since all would sign.

Dobrynin asked if Germany would be specifically mentioned, in a clause.

The Secretary asked why it should be, anymore than mainland China?

[Page 546]

Dobrynin replied Germany was an issue between our two countries. This is one of the most explosive areas.

The Secretary commented there are other countries in that area of Europe which should be added.

Dobrynin recalled the Soviet Government has made proposals concerning this. He said he had had the impression the Secretary accepted Soviet apprehension over West Germany having atomic weapons. It is our problem number one, he repeated. If we proceed with the other agreement, there would be a delay.

The Secretary said that the discussion concerning our principles paper was in the context of the German question as a whole. He did not see how we could pull out non-diffusion and deal with it as a special German problem. We can deal with it, however, in a general way, and he did not see why this should take so long.

Turning to the point in the Secretary’s message concerning multilateral arrangements, Dobrynin said he thought this was all right—it is not part of the central problem. He asked about Germany, however. The Soviets had three points, not to give Germany atomic weapons directly, indirectly, or through multilateral arrangements.

The Secretary said we should clarify this. If Dobrynin asked him what multilateral arrangement was likely to come into being in NATO, he could not tell him. There are differences of approach, and he did not know what consensus could be reached, if any. He could say, as an example, that we would not consider a nuclear-armed Dutch submarine, with a Dutch crew and a Dutch captain to be multilateral just because it was assigned to NATO, for this would be a case of a national government’s being able to use nuclear weapons by national command.

Dobrynin asked if it would be written in the treaty that it does not include multilateral arrangements.

The Secretary said it would not be, not in that way. We would describe what the treaty forbids. No additional country would be able to use nuclear weapons through its own national decision.

Dobrynin added but we would be free to give them through NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The Secretary said not to national forces. With our existing arrangements, we have nuclear weapons to support NATO forces, but they are in our hands. If you said the decision to use nuclear weapons would be made jointly by the Warsaw Pact nations, we would not object. But if you transferred weapons to the Czechs or East Germans, and they could use them, we would object.

Dobrynin objected that this sort of agreement does not cover everything.

[Page 547]

The Secretary agreed this was true. He said, however, that we are concerned with the overriding problem of not transferring to national use. We are not concerned with just Germany, or even China. We know, for example, that Egypt is giving high priority to nuclear physics.

Dobrynin objected that he did not think Egypt was really a problem, unless perhaps Israel obtained nuclear weapons. The Secretary had said, he added, that it was impossible to be precise about just what multilateral arrangements there could be.

The Secretary replied he had said that because we simply do not know. What we say is that whatever they may be, they cannot involve transfer to national forces. We are removing that possibility.

Dobrynin asked about procedure. Would there be some negotiation between the two of us?

The Secretary replied that he needed to know if Mr. Gromyko thinks there is sufficient possibility for agreement to make it worth going into. If so, he would then take it up with the British and French, who produce nuclear weapons, to see if we could define our position further. Then we would see if we could work out language.

Dobrynin said he would send the Secretary’s message, but he was certain his government would have difficulties over these questions.

The Secretary said it may be there is a broader field on which the Soviets want agreement. If we cannot reach agreement on this broader field, let us take the central, most important two thirds of it, and screen off and block out national capability from the multilateral area.

Dobrynin said this would be more limited.

The Secretary agreed, but said it gets at the greatest problem.

After a discussion of other issues the Secretary returned to the question of non-diffusion to say that he wished we could report agreement on non-diffusion at the UN General Assembly.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.6112/8-862. Secret. Drafted by Valdes and approved in S on August 15. A memorandum of the Secretary’s conversation with Dobrynin on a comprehensive test ban agreement on this occasion is not printed. (Ibid.) See the Supplement.
  2. See Document 198.
  3. See Document 198 and footnote 6, Document 201.
  4. Reference is to a paper prepared for discussions with the Soviets on Berlin; for the fifth revision, see vol. XV, pp. 9598.
  5. Reference may be to Gromyko’s letter to Acting Secretary-General U Thant, March 10, 1962, on the spread of nuclear weapons; text in Documents on Disarmament, 1962, vol. I, pp. 83-86.