226. Editorial Note

During 1961 and 1962, Kennedy administration officials became increasingly concerned about a possible arms race in outer space. On September 25, 1961, for instance, President Kennedy had proposed in an address before the U.N. General Assembly “keeping nuclear weapons from seeding new battlegrounds in outer space” and extending the rule of law on earth “to man’s new domain—outer space.” (Documents on Disarmament, 1961, pages 470-471) On December 20, 1961, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved General Assembly Resolution 1721 (XVI) on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. For text, see ibid., pages 738-741. The U.S. treaty outline on general and comprehensive disarmament, submitted to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee on April 18, 1962, proposed: “The parties to the Treaty would agree not to place in orbit weapons capable of producing mass destruction.” (Ibid., 1962, volume I, page 360)

On May 26, 1962, President Kennedy issued NSAM No. 156, which called for the Department of State to organize a committee composed of representatives of the Departments of Defense and State, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. This committee would review negotiations on the peaceful uses of outer space “with a view to formulating a position which avoids the dangers of restricting ourselves, compromising highly classified programs, or providing assistance of significant military value to the Soviet Union and which at the same time permits us to continue to work for disarmament and international cooperation in space.” (Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM 156)

This NSAM 156 Committee submitted its Report on Political and Informational Aspects of Satellite Reconnaissance Policy, dated July 1, under cover of a July 2 memorandum from Secretary Rusk to the President. The report made several recommendations, but the committee members did not reach a decision as to whether to propose a separate arms control agreement (i.e., outside the framework of the April 18 treaty outline on general and comprehensive disarmament) “banning weapons of mass destruction from being carried in satellites, with appropriate verification controls,” but agreed only that no such proposal should be tabled until the issue had been reviewed with the President. (Ibid.) Attached to the report was a paper listing the pros and cons of a separate ban on bombs in space. Following NSC discussion on July 10, President Kennedy issued NSC Action No. 2454, which accepted the NSAM 156 Committee’s recommendations and referred the question of a separate arms control accord back to the Committee for further study. (Department of State, S/S-NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of [Page 564] Action by the National Security Council) The Committee’s unanimous recommendations, which were incorporated into a July 12 memorandum from Secretary Rusk to the President, included opposition to a declaratory ban, the need for adequate verification controls, and further study by ACDA of the inspection requirements. (Ibid., S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM 156)

The President questioned the need for inspection, however, and asked for study of the prospects for a ban relying on unilateral verification. After further study by the NSAM 156 Committee, the Committee of Principals on September 19 agreed on a declaratory ban monitored by national technical means, which would be put forward in the U.N. General Assembly. (Ibid., Central Files, 600.0012/9-1962) This position was incorporated in NSAM No. 192, October 2. (Ibid., S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM 192)

Meanwhile, the NSC and State and Defense Departments cooperated in a separate initiative, which consisted of making authoritative administration public statements denying U.S. intentions to place any weapons of mass destruction in outer space. They hoped these statements would encourage the Soviet Union to take a similar position and contribute to an eventual agreement. Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell L. Gilpatric led off on September 5 with an address, “Research and Development as a Factor in Defense Procurement,” which he gave to business and university leaders in South Bend, Indiana. A major theme of Gilpatric’s speech was the problem of nuclear weapons in outer space: “The United States believes that it is highly desirable for its own security and for the security of the world that the arms race should not be extended into outer space, and we are seeking in every feasible way to achieve that purpose.”

Gilpatric continued: “We have no program to place any weapons of mass destruction into orbit. An arms race in space will not contribute to our security. I can think of no greater stimulus for a Soviet thermonuclear arms effort in space than a U.S. commitment to such a program. This we will not do.” (Congressional Record, Eighty-seventh Congress, Second Session, September 21, 1962, Appendix, page A7008)

Documentation on U.S. initiatives on outer space both privately with the Soviet Union and in the United Nations is scheduled for publication in volume XXV. See also Documents on International Aspects of the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, 1954-1962, Staff Report Prepared for the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, United States Senate, Eighty-eighth Congress, First Session, Document No. 18 (Washington, 1963); and Raymond L. Garthoff, “Banning the Bomb in Outer Space,” International Security, volume V (Winter 1980/81), pages 25-40. Garthoff, a Foreign Service officer and Executive Secretary of the NSAM [Page 565] 156 Committee, was intimately involved in the development of U.S. space policy during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.