83. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy0


  • U.S. Position for the General Assembly on the Nuclear Test Ban

The Committee of Principals reviewed the present state of the nuclear test ban issue,1 in the light of the imminent discussion of this subject at the UN General Assembly.

At the United Nations, we are certain to be confronted with an Indian resolution calling for an uninspected ban on all forms of testing.2 [Page 203]The British and we are sponsoring another resolution calling on the parties to the Geneva talks to bring to a conclusion negotiations for a test ban treaty with relevant controls and arrangements for inspection.3 (There will also be other minor resolutions in this field, including an Irish one against transfer of control over nuclear devices to countries that do not now have them,4 and a Canadian proposal to criticize all fall-out tests and declare that no country has the right to test in the atmosphere.5)

We have considered various ways in which we could improve the prospects for our resolution and reduce the almost unanimous support for the uninspected ban being pushed by the Indians. We conclude that, even though our position will clearly be a minority one, our responsibilities as a great power dictate a policy that is simple, honest and clear. Our position is stated on the enclosed page.



1. The Basic Position

The proper road to a nuclear test ban is through a treaty among the countries that can test nuclear devices.
We have negotiated in Geneva for three years in good faith for such a treaty. We will sign the present draft treaty today or at any other time that the Soviets are willing to sign it or will continue to negotiate for a mutually acceptable treaty.
We will stop all kinds of tests as soon as there is a treaty.

2. Atmospheric Test Ban

It is the judgment of the Department of Defense that, despite the test series in which the Soviets are now engaged, a balance of advantage would still lie with us if both sides were now to agree not to conduct atmospheric tests.

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We would therefore be prepared to sign an agreement not to undertake nuclear tests in the sensible atmosphere, provided this were done during the period of the current General Assembly, but with these three important provisions:

We will not initiate an offer for such an agreement, in view of the Soviet refusal to consider the U.S.-U.K. offer of September 3, and in the event approaches are made to us, we will suggest that an approach be made to the Soviet Union first.
We would insist on making such an atmospheric test ban a treaty obligation and would not agree to a moratorium while such a treaty was being negotiated.
We would state frankly and publicly that in view of Soviet duplicity in the Geneva talks, we feel compelled to make preparations for atmospheric tests so as to be ready in case it is felt necessary to conduct them. (We would say that in our kind of society such preparations cannot be secret, and we are therefore announcing in advance our intention to make them. When and if, in the absence of a test ban agreement, we conduct atmospheric tests, we will do so out loud.)

3. Moratorium

We do not favor and will not vote for any general uninspected ban or moratorium on nuclear tests. We will make clear that the United States will consider itself free to conduct any and all tests which it considers necessary for its security in the absence of an agreed treaty prohibition.

Your approval is requested for this line of policy, as a basis for instructions to the United States Delegation to the General Assembly. Mr. William C. Foster has participated in these discussions and is in full agreement with these recommendations. The Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency concur.6

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Nuclear Testing 10/11-15/61. Confidential. A typed note on another copy indicates that Rusk signed the memorandum on October 10 and gave it to Cleveland to deliver to the White House. (Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/10-1061)
  2. See Document 82.
  3. The Indian resolution was passed on November 6 as Resolution 1648 (XVI) by a vote of 71-20-8; for text, see Documents on Disarmament, 1961, p. 568; see also pp. 539, 560. The resolution was opposed by, among others, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, the Western nuclear powers, and the Republic of China.
  4. The U.S.-U.K. resolution was passed on November 8 as Resolution 1649 (XVI) by a vote of 71-11-15; for text, see ibid., pp. 578-579. The Warsaw Pact countries and Cuba opposed the resolution; France was among those abstaining.
  5. Resolution 1665 (XVI) passed unanimously on December 4; see ibid., p. 694.
  6. This proposal did not come to a vote.
  7. The covering memorandum bears a note: “JFK approved Oct 13.” Instructions based on it went to USUN in telegram 918, October 13. (Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/10-1361) In an October 12 memorandum to Kennedy, Stevenson did not oppose Rusk’s proposals but suggested in addition a public statement offering to negotiate a test ban treaty within 30 days, to be made by himself or the President. Kennedy approved but directed that the statement be made by Stevenson or the Department. (Attachment to memorandum from Ball to Kennedy, October 12; ibid., 700.5611/10-1261) See the Supplement. For text of the statement as delivered by Stevenson before the First Committee on October 19, see Documents on Disarmament, 1961, pp. 537-542.