294. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
  • Meeting of Committee of Principals


  • See attached list1

Secretary Rusk opened the meeting by asking Mr. Foster to suggest the points to be discussed. Mr. Foster summarized the last meeting.2 He indicated that the issue of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes had been left open and that Secretary McNamara had requested another meeting to discuss the treaty generally.

Mr. Foster also said that the negotiating situation had changed considerably since the last meeting. A mission to Moscow was now planned. He thought that the treaty should be available for use on that mission if necessary. The draft was generally agreed to among agencies except for the peaceful uses annex.3

Secretary Rusk said that the Harriman mission was not based on indications that the Soviets were prepared to move toward the kind of treaty we wanted. Khrushchev has recently reiterated that national systems are adequate and that inspection is a form of espionage. The President feels the mission should be made because this may be our last chance to avoid a larger and more difficult arms race. In 10 or 20 years it will be important that the U.S. made as great an effort as possible to achieve a test ban. Secretary Rusk said that failure of the mission would be unfortunate but that it would also be wrong not to make the effort. He was under no illusions as to the prospects. He said that the mission should go prepared to move on the test ban treaty which we could in good faith accept. The Soviets were worried by bloc problems and there was some possibility of change in their position. Our mission should have a treaty in hand for use if necessary.

[Page 720]

Secretary McNamara said he had mixed feelings about achieving a firm Government position on the draft treaty. He said that if we had a fixed position before Congress and the people, we might develop arguments which would restrict negotiations on alternatives. He pointed out that the Joint Chiefs would testify before the Stennis Committee in the latter part of this month. He hoped that their testimony would not have to be related to a specific treaty draft. If the draft treaty became an approved Government position, the Chiefs would have to testify against that position. If the draft treaty was left as one alternative, they might be able to say that they supported a test ban provided it was effective in detecting clandestine violations.

General Taylor summarized the Joint Chiefs’ comments on the May 24 draft test ban treaty as follows: (1) the Soviets could conduct clandestine tests if the treaty were adopted; (2) the draft treaty did not provide adequate opportunity to fix responsibility for evasion; and (3) the treaty as now drafted was not in the national security interest of the United States.

General Taylor said that the Chiefs did not look forward to appearing before the Stennis Committee because that would bring out the conflict within the Government. He thought that Secretary McNamara’s alternative would be better than approving the draft treaty as written.

Secretary McNamara said that the Chiefs saw two major defects in the draft treaty: (1) testing could be conducted below a threshold without detection; and (2) testing might be conducted above the threshold without detection or without the fixing of responsibility for the tests. The Chiefs, he said, believe that the tactical and strategic balance of power might be shifted in favor of the Soviet Union if the present draft treaty were adopted. Secretary McNamara felt it would take a long series of technical discussions before these issues could be resolved. He would hate to see the draft treaty approved before it was really necessary to do so.

Secretary Rusk asked whether the Chiefs had ever expressed themselves on a ban on atmospheric tests. General Taylor said they had not done so formally. However, he thought such a ban would be better than an inadequate comprehensive test ban treaty.

Mr. Foster said that the test ban position had been discussed for months and agreed factual and Governmental positions reached last summer and again in February.4 Secretary McNamara replied that the issues really hadn’t been joined; the technical groups had not reached [Page 721] agreement; the tactical and strategic considerations had not been agreed upon. Mr. Foster felt that the kind of review suggested by Secretary McNamara would cause considerable undue delay. Secretary McNamara said that a great deal of progress had been made in the technical meetings preparing testimony for the Stennis Committee hearings. He had been trying to find out why people take the positions they do and, if they were wrong on their facts, to destroy their positions. Mr. Fisher said that the April 1 US-UK memorandum5 given to the Soviet Union reflected a Governmental position approved by the President. It followed a White House meeting on February 186 and a cable of instructions to Geneva dated February 19.7 The treaty was simply an elaboration of these positions. He asked what was in the draft treaty that had not been covered by the April 1 memorandum which, he pointed out, had been approved by the Department of Defense. Secretary McNamara said he fully supported the draft treaty in its present form but other segments of the Government disagreed. Mr. McCone said he had never heard the Joint Chiefs take a position on the treaty at the Committee of Principals meetings.8 He pointed out that the Stennis Committee would pin them down as to their position on the treaty. Mr. Chayes agreed with Mr. McCone. The staff of the Committee has a draft of the treaty he pointed out. In presentations to the Committee we have attempted to de-emphasize the details of the treaty. However, they have the April 1 memorandum. They will ask every witness what he thinks of the present U.S. position, and whether he thinks 7, 6 or 5 annual inspections are adequate.

General Taylor said the Chiefs had been asked by the Stennis Committee the following questions: (1) The extent to which the Chiefs were consulted by ACDA and DOD on test ban problems; (2) The extent to which the Chiefs’ views were reflected in the U.S. position on the test ban; (3) The judgment of the Chiefs on the military consequences of specific proposals; and (4) The military implications of a test ban treaty.

Secretary McNamara asked again that a head-on collision be avoided if at all possible. He said he supported the draft treaty because he felt the U.S. was ahead of the Soviets and that continued testing would produce equality. The Chiefs, however, disagree. The facts are very technical. It is essential that the experts supporting the conflicting views sit down together in the same room and reach, if possible, an agreed position. [Page 722] He pointed out that the AEC lab directors had made statements concerning the technical facts which made it impossible for the Chiefs to take opposing views since they relied heavily on the lab directors. Secretary Rusk agreed that we should avoid a controversy if possible. He didn’t quite understand the Chiefs’ position however. He said he would not feel free to take a foreign policy position that disagreed from that of the President. Secretary McNamara replied that there was a clause in the law which said the Chiefs had the right to appear before Congress to give their own views. He indicated that this law had been interpreted by the Congress as meaning that the Chiefs are required to give their personal opinions when asked.

General Taylor said he would be happy if the President said that the Chiefs’ views were privileged because the Chiefs were his personal advisers. General Taylor felt that this was not practical however. Mr. Fisher referred again to the April 1 memorandum and to the agreed positions taken then and earlier. Secretary McNamara felt that we had to deal with today and tomorrow, and with our position before Congress, and not with positions agreed to in the past. Dr. Wiesner agreed. He also pointed out that the laboratory directors are not in a position to judge the overall policy considerations.

Mr. Fisher asked whether we were going to withdraw the positions we had taken at Geneva and elsewhere. Mr. McCone said he saw no purpose in discussing the draft treaty and that he hadn’t realized that this was the purpose of the meeting. General Taylor asked whether it was possible to reopen past positions in view of the Harriman mission. He said he would hate to see the newspapers reporting that the Chiefs opposed a test ban treaty while Governor Harriman was in Moscow. Dr. Wiesner indicated that Harriman had to be able to have a maximum of flexibility.

Secretary Rusk doubted that further discussion could resolve these issues. He thought that the technical people would never come to agreement. Mr. Nitze said that a great deal of progress had been made in the four committees preparing testimony for the Stennis Committee. Secretary McNamara said he did not want to be faced again with statements from the laboratory directors saying our warheads could not penetrate Soviet targets unless further tests could be conducted to ascertain and correct defects. He referred to statements by Mr. Henderson of Sandia and Dr. Foster of Livermore. Since the Chiefs relied on them for technical advice, it was difficult to expect the Chiefs to take a different position. General Taylor indicated that one of the AEC laboratories had said that 80% of the testing which would be desirable for the Soviet Union to conduct could be done clandestinely without detection by us. Mr. Nitze felt that some of these statements were true.

[Page 723]

Secretary McNamara referred to the Twining Report9 which had been requested by Senator Symington. Teller, John Foster, Twining, Doolittle and others had signed the report which was full of this kind of technical argument. Secretary Rusk said that he didn’t think Teller was talking as a technical man when he talked about the test ban.

General Taylor said that the Chiefs were conscientious men who were sincerely concerned about our national security. He would welcome Mr. Foster and his experts to a meeting with the Chiefs and to tell them why they were wrong. Mr. Foster accepted the invitation.10

Secretary McNamara said again that a great many things had to be thrashed out and he hoped we could avoid recertifying this draft. Secretary Rusk asked whether there was anything in the draft which had not been approved in substance by the President except for the Plowshare Annex. Mr. Fisher said there was nothing and he referred again to the February 18 meeting and the April 1 memorandum. Secretary McNamara said there was no question about the President’s position or the support of the Department of Defense but the JCS did have reservations. Secretary Rusk felt that the basic position on the test ban had been approved by the President and that Governor Harriman could enter into talks on the basis of this position. If this position was to be changed, the initiative to seek such a change had better be taken by those who wanted the change. Secretary McNamara replied that he hoped that Harriman could avoid taking the treaty to Moscow for tabling.

Secretary Rusk said the treaty simply reflects the present U.S. position. Unless this position is changed by the President, it would be the position taken by Harriman. He thought it consistent with all the interests of the United States, including the national security interest. In his view, it was not a question of having an approved position. The question being discussed was how best to handle discussions with the Congress on the U.S. position.

Secretary McNamara expressed again the hope that the Committee of Principals would not be asked again to recertify the treaty at this time. Mr. Foster said that it might well be advantageous to have an approved treaty draft for Governor Harriman’s use. Secretary McNamara asked whether there was any intention to table the draft treaty before July 15, [Page 724] to which Mr. Foster replied in the negative. Secretary McNamara hoped the Committee could leave it at that. Next week, he said, he would like to see the lab directors, the White House experts, and the other experts in the Government all get together in the same room to resolve issues and bring the past agreed positions up to date.

Mr. Kaysen felt that Secretary McNamara was raising a tactical question: Is it necessary to table a draft now? In view of the Congressional problem, Secretary McNamara felt that it was better not to do so. Mr. Kaysen concluded that discussion with the Congress of the basis for the Harriman negotiations should be avoided if possible.

Mr. Foster said that, in an attempt to put off the hearings, he had told Senator Stennis that no treaty had been agreed to with the Soviets and that if one was, the issue before the Senate would be quite different. Senator Stennis had said that it was, nevertheless, impossible to stop the hearings but that he would try to slow down the pace.11 Mr. Nitze stated that an argument in support of the test ban treaty on national security grounds alone was very difficult to sustain. However, there were good foreign policy grounds to support the treaty. Secretary Rusk replied that the Members of the Committee had all agreed, he thought, that the risks to national security from an unlimited arms race outweighed the risks inherent in a test ban treaty. Dr. Wiesner suggested that this general discussion be followed up next week and thereafter with technical discussions.

Secretary Rusk opened the discussion of the Peaceful Uses Annex by asking whether the choice was not between a test ban and Plowshare, assuming a treaty could be secured. He did not see how you could do both peaceful uses explosions and have a significant test ban treaty. He wondered whether it would be practical to have the Soviets conduct our Plowshare experiments while we conducted theirs.

Chairman Seaborg said that if Plowshare experiments could only be conducted by revelation of the device then few experiments would be carried out. He thought, however, that it was possible to devise ways of doing both.

[Page 725]

Secretary McNamara asked whether the AEC proposal was unacceptable to the Soviets or to the United States. Secretary Rusk asked how much information could be gotten about weapons tests from debris. Chairman Seaborg said not as much as with disclosure of device. Dr. Wiesner said not as much but enough. Chairman Seaborg agreed you could learn something about weapons from debris. Dr. Wiesner indicated that the AEC proposal would permit the testing of any kind of weapon. Mr. Fisher answered Secretary McNamara’s earlier question by saying that the AEC proposal was unacceptable to both the U.S. and the Soviets.

Dr. Wiesner pointed out that there was no clearcut distinction between experiments leading to better weapons and experiments leading to better explosives for peaceful uses. Mr. Nitze thought the risk to the United States was not greater from the AEC proposal than from existing U.S. position. Secretary Rusk asked how much testing was necessary before Plowshare explosives could be developed. Chairman Seaborg said some tests would be necessary to develop these clean weapons.

Secretary Rusk asked whether it was possible to use a new clean device developed just for Plowshare. Chairman Seaborg replied that the clean device needed for Plowshare would have in it much of the weapons information that the weaponeers didn’t want to reveal. Secretary McNamara pointed out that under the AEC proposal we would be informed of each Plowshare test. However, he said, we don’t know about clandestine cheating by the Soviets. Dr. Wiesner pointed out that the AEC proposal was really an acceptance of Congressman Hosmer’s suggestion that 12 free tests be permitted on each side each year. Mr. Fisher thought it would be equally as difficult to negotiate the AEC proposal as the Hosmer suggestion.

Mr. Nitze said that the main purpose of a test ban treaty was as a first step in inhibiting the diffusion of nuclear weapons to other countries. If the test ban treaty had the AEC proposal in it, there would be good reason to have it coupled with a non-diffusion agreement.

Mr. Keeny asked whether the small AEC quota and limit on yield would allow full Plowshare development. Chairman Seaborg indicated that these limits would slow the program down but, nevertheless, permit its continued growth. He felt that it might be possible to put Plowshare devices in a central depository in five years but it was not possible to do so now.

Secretary Rusk asked whether the Plowshare program was based on the proposition that certain tasks could be done more cheaply by nuclear explosions. Chairman Seaborg replied that this was so but in some cases the cost was so high without nuclear explosives as to be prohibitive. Secretary Rusk said that if Plowshare was the only obstacle to a test ban treaty, the cost would probably be negligible in comparison with [Page 726] the millions which would otherwise go into the competitive arms race. Chairman Seaborg said that if this was the one thing that prevented the treaty, he might agree with Secretary Rusk.

Mr. Keeny pointed out that the Soviets had in the past been adamant against any other position than disclosure of the device. Mr. Foster referred to the Soviet agreement to the present U.S. position calling for such disclosure which was reflected in the April 18, 1961 draft treaty. Mr. Keeny said that the U.S. had proposed limits on instrumentations in the past but the Soviet had not agreed. Dr. Wiesner thought it would be very disturbing to the negotiations to take a new position on this problem.

Chairman Seaborg believed that this would not become an issue in the negotiations for some time. Secretary Rusk asked whether there weren’t explosive devices which could be used for Plowshare and which could be revealed without danger to our security. Chairman Seaborg said no. Dr. Long12 indicated that four years ago there were thought to be such devices. Chairman Seaborg said this was not true today. The fallout, the cost, and a more realistic and careful look had changed his views of the matter.

Secretary Rusk asked again how much additional testing would be necessary before the Plowshare program could begin carrying out the tasks for which it was intended. Chairman Seaborg said that there was a four-year program to develop devices to build a new canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Mr. Kelly thought these devices would be ready in two years. Mr. Keeny thought that building a Panama Canal, which would require dozens or hundreds of shots, would be wholly inconsistent with a test ban treaty if one were in effect then. Chairman Seaborg thought that perhaps even the Soviets would not object if the development goes as the AEC hopes.

Mr. Foster thought that the Committee would not gain much by further discussion on this point at this time.13

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, ACDA, Committee of Principals 3/61-11/63. Secret. Drafted by George Bunn, General Counsel of ACDA.
  2. The list of 24 participants is not printed.
  3. See Documents 277 and 278.
  4. At the time of this meeting, the current U.S. working draft test ban treaty was dated May 24. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, ACDA, Disarmament, General, 2/15-5/31/63) A covering note states that in accordance with decisions reached at the April 17 Principals’ meeting, the May 24 draft included revisions of the articles on privileges and immunities and explosions for peaceful purposes, but lacked the annex on peaceful explosions. (Ibid.)
  5. According to a memorandum of this meeting prepared by McCone, a “sharp exchange” occurred at this point when Foster claimed that the Chiefs had “in effect approved the treaty in February and March meetings.” (Memorandum for the record by McCone, June 17; Central Intelligence Agency, EA/DCI Chron, 2/1/62-12/31/62)
  6. For text, see Documents on Disarmament, 1963, pp. 141-145.
  7. See Document 264.
  8. Instructions were sent in Todis 806, February 18. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 18-3 SWITZ (GE))
  9. According to McCone’s memorandum for the record, he stated at this point that “he felt that Foster was wrong, he had attended a number of Meetings of Principals since he had returned to Government, and he had observed that the Chiefs had always opposed the treaty and had never endorsed the treaty as asserted by Foster.”
  10. Reference is to “Military Implications of U.S. and Soviet Nuclear Testing,” prepared by a Committee headed by former JCS Chairman General Nathan Twining and submitted to General LeMay on March 4. It implied that the United States no longer led the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons technology. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Nuclear Weapons, Second Twining Report) In a memorandum addressed to McNamara, McCone, Seaborg, and McGeorge Bundy, May 13, Scoville reported reasons the Twining Report had not caused the 205 Panel to alter its conclusions. (Ibid.) Regarding the 205 Panel’s Report, see Document 250. The final report has not been found.
  11. No memorandum of this meeting, which took place on July 2, has been found.
  12. On June 26, Admiral Anderson and General LeMay presented to the Stennis Committee statements setting forth the reasons for JCS opposition to the draft comprehensive test ban treaty. See Military Aspects and Implications of Nuclear Test Ban Proposals and Related Matters: Hearings Before the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, Eighty-Eighth Congress, First Session, Part 1 (Washington, 1964), pp. 302-390. A draft version of the statement dated June 20 includes portions deleted in the published hearings. (Enclosure to memorandum from JCS to McNamara, June 22; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban I, T-368-69) Additional information on the rationale for the JCS position is in memorandum SAACM-183-63, June 22, from General Dale O. Smith, Special Assistant to the JCS for Arms Control, to Taylor. (Ibid.)
  13. Dr. Franklin Long, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Science and Technology, ACDA.
  14. The summary of actions taken at this meeting states that the Committee did not resolve differences among the members on explosions for peaceful purposes, outlines the JCS objections to the treaty, and records McNamara’s request that the Committee not give final approval to the draft treaty at the meeting. “It was agreed the text of the draft treaty was not needed for tabling before July 15th at the earliest. Secretary Rusk and Mr. Foster expressed the view that the text might be necessary for the Harriman mission.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, ACDA, Committee of Principals 3/61-11/63)