123. Memorandum From Spurgeon Keeny of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Proposed Exchange with the Soviets on the Control of Nuclear Weapons

I think you should be aware of the proposal discussed in the attached correspondence for reciprocal exchange with the Soviets of information on procedures for insuring control of nuclear weapons. Although I think that it will be submitted to the White House routinely for clearance if State decides to go ahead with it, Secretary Rusk might bring up the matter at some future Tuesday luncheon.

The proposal was originally made by Ambassador Thompson in a letter to John McNaughton (attached—Tab A),2 and Bob McNamara has approved a draft note and statement (attached—Tab B).3 The JCS oppose the proposed exchange for reasons summarized in paragraph 7 of their statement (attached—Tab C).4

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In principle, I think this proposal is a good idea. In practice, however, I am afraid that, unless it is handled extremely carefully, it could create some real problems that would be counterproductive. The points in paragraph 7 of the Chiefs’ paper are illustrative of the kinds of problems that might be involved in such an exchange.

The most serious problem is that such a dialogue would naturally lead to questions about the nature of Presidential control and our arrangements with our allies. While one obviously could refuse to discuss the subject or give only very general replies, this could have the effect of creating additional suspicions rather than reassuring the Soviets. If it became known to Congress that such an exchange had taken place, this might lead to renewed interest on the part of various Congressional committees such as the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy as to the details of Presidential authority for the release of nuclear weapons. This is a subject on which the President is very sensitive for obvious political reasons and about which the less said the better.

At the same time, I think there may be merit in the idea of reassuring the Soviets about our control procedures and informing them of some of the specific equipment, such as Permissive Action Links (PALs), that we might wish to encourage them to incorporate in their own weapons. If we decide to go ahead with this project, I would recommend that we simply give the Soviets the specific information that we think they should have, rather than instituting a dialogue or exchange on this subject. In transmitting the information, we could indicate that we would of course be interested in a similar reassurance on their own procedures but not make this a precondition or part of a dialogue on the subject.

I have discussed the problem along the above lines with Ambassador Thompson and called to his attention the special area of Presidential interest in the proposal. He indicated that he wants to give the matter further thought to decide whether it should be pursued at all at this time. I have also asked Ben Read to make sure that any action State decides to take on this proposal be cleared with the White House.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Subject File, Nuclear Weapons, USSR, Vol. I, Box 34. Secret.
  2. Document 113.
  3. Letter from McNaughton to Thompson, April 19; not printed.
  4. Identified as a February 26 memorandum from the JCS to McNamara; not found.