116. Letter From President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin 1

My dear Mr. Chairman:

I should like, first of all, to congratulate you upon your role in bringing together the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan at Tashkent and upon the agreement achieved there.2 As you know, we encouraged both India and Pakistan to adopt a constructive attitude at these discussions. I am sure you share my view that the agreement leaves many difficult problems between these two countries unresolved, but progress toward peace anywhere is to be welcomed.

I regret that I am unable to report even a modest step toward peace in Vietnam as we have had no significant response from the other side. I am, of course, aware of the position of your Government in this matter and I refer to it only to express my disappointment that the efforts of the United States to stimulate the first moves toward peace in that unhappy area have been met merely by a public repetition of rigid positions which are known to be impossible for us to consider.

I have read with care your letter on the question of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons delivered by Ambassador Dobrynin on January 11, 1966.3 I appreciate the forthright statement of your views and welcome this opportunity to respond frankly to some of the points on which our views differ.

You have emphasized the great significance which your Government attaches to the problem of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The long-standing concern of the United States with this problem [Page 298]has been amply shown by the major initiatives we have taken, beginning with the U.S. draft non-proliferation declaration which was given to Ambassador Dobrynin by Secretary Rusk in April 1963.4 The latest U.S. proposal was the draft non-proliferation treaty presented at the disarmament talks in Geneva on August 17 last year.5 We welcome the fact that the Soviet Union has also presented a draft treaty at this last session of the General Assembly.6

In order for us to approach a meeting of the minds on this question, I think we must first agree on the meaning of the concept of “proliferation.” We believe that “proliferation” results when a non-nuclear nation acquires its own national capability or the right or ability to fire nuclear weapons without the explicit concurrent decision of an existing nuclear nation. This is the reasonable meaning of the term. It seems to us that we are much more likely to reach an understanding by agreeing to a precise definition of “proliferation” such as this than by attempting to discuss the question in terms of such a loose concept as “access.”

If you agree to the above definition, you will, I believe, recognize that the United States has shown its willingness to enter into an agreement that would effectively forbid proliferation.

Our willingness is based on the strong conviction that it would be contrary to the interests of the United States if any presently non-nuclear nation were to acquire such a right or ability to fire nuclear weapons. In this respect, I believe that your interests and ours coincide. Since you have concentrated your comment on the Federal Republic of Germany, let me make it clear that this position applies to the Federal Republic of Germany as to all non-nuclear powers, and is so understood by the Federal Republic of Germany.

At the same time, I must also make clear that we are not prepared to enter into any agreement that would deny our allies the possibility of participating in their own defense through arrangements that would not constitute proliferation.

The situation would be different if the European member states of NATO were not presently threatened by nuclear weapons. But the unhappy fact is that the Soviet Union has many hundreds of missiles with nuclear warheads aimed at the territories of these nations. Under those circumstances our allies have a vital and just interest in participating with us in their defense. That is the purpose of NATO and that purpose is steadfast. None of the defense arrangements under discussion between the United States and its NATO allies would involve relinquishment of nuclear weapons to the national control of a non-nuclear country, [Page 299]now or at any time in the future. They are entirely consistent with, and indeed reinforce, the principle of non-proliferation. To deny the possibility of such arrangements might only promote proliferation by encouraging states to develop national nuclear forces for their own protection.

Moreover, if because of unwarranted Soviet concern over possible NATO defense arrangements our two governments failed to act together to meet the real threat of proliferation which looms in other regions, that threat might spread even to Europe. Our two governments would bear a heavy responsibility.

Some of the comments in your letter show a misunderstanding about the effectiveness of the control that the United States maintains over its nuclear weapons. Our physical and legal arrangements are and will remain such as to insure beyond doubt that these weapons will not be used without the consent of the United States Government. I can assure you that the concerns you express on this point are groundless. It would be helpful to me to have a similar assurance with respect to the arrangements you may have with any of your allies as to which you have not provided us with any information.

I have noted your comments with regard to the Federal Republic of Germany. I must take strong exception to your unwarranted use of the epithet “West German revanchists” in relation to the Bonn Government. The Federal Republic of Germany has undertaken a treaty commitment never to use force to achieve reunification or modification of its present boundaries, and to resolve by peaceful means any disputes in which it may become involved.7 The Federal Republic of Germany is the only nation in the world that has renounced the production of atomic, bacteriological, and chemical weapons on its territory.8 Chancellor Erhard has stated as recently as last month that the Federal Republic of Germany neither intends nor desires to acquire national control over nuclear weapons. As stated in the communique following his visit here in December, Chancellor Erhard and I firmly believe in the principle of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.9 There is no conflict between this principle and the understanding that we reached during his recent visit that there should be continued discussion between our countries and with [Page 300]other interested allies to work out arrangements to assure NATO members an appropriate share in nuclear defense.

There can be no question of priority between arrangements for such defense and a non-proliferation agreement since they are not in conflict with one another. I can assure you that any arrangements we may conclude within NATO will not result in proliferation. You can satisfy any concerns you may have on this score by joining with us in a treaty that would prohibit all forms of proliferation of nuclear weapons. The United States stands ready to sign such a treaty now.

To expedite the working out of an appropriate draft treaty, I accept your proposal that representatives of our two governments exchange views during the forthcoming session of the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee in Geneva. The U.S. Representative will be authorized, in his capacity as Co-Chairman, to conduct such an exchange of views with the Soviet Co-Chairman. It is my hope that the opportunity thus afforded will be fully utilized to remove any further misunderstandings that may hinder the achievement of a mutually acceptable draft non-proliferation treaty. My Government will make every effort toward that end.

I would also hope that, while giving urgent consideration to working out a non-proliferation treaty, the Co-Chairmen will also renew their consideration of other measures that could contribute to halting or limiting the nuclear arms race.

For if the treaty we seek is to receive the widest adherence, we must take account of the view expressed by a number of non-nuclear countries. They have made clear that their renunciation of nuclear weapons would be facilitated by evidence that the nuclear powers are themselves prepared to halt the nuclear arms race.

Our Governments have a strong mutual interest in acting together to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and in achieving a closer understanding on other means to curb the nuclear arms race. I want to assure you of my earnest intention to make the exchange of views that is about to take place in Geneva a fruitful one and to contribute to the successful outcome I am certain both of us deeply desire.10

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Subject File, Disarmament, Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, Vol. II, Box 13. No classification marking. A January 24 cover memorandum to another copy from Benjamin H. Read to McGeorge Bundy states that “this is the message to Mr. Kosygin as delivered by Ambassador Thompson at 3:00 p.m. today.” (Ibid., National Security File, Head of State Correspondence File, Pen Pal Correspondence, Kosygin, Box 13) A January 23 memorandum from Bundy to President Johnson, transmitting the draft of this letter, reads in part as follows: “This letter now has the agreement of Rusk, Ball, McNamara, Foster and myself. We have managed to find language which gives a little more reassurance to the Soviet Government on nonproliferation than we have managed before now, while at the same time it fully protects our interest in nuclear arrangements that will keep the Germans with us. The major contribution is George Ball’s definition of proliferation in the fifth paragraph. That definition is a shade more binding than the language we have used before now, but it is entirely consistent with everything we have said to the Germans.” (Ibid., National Security File, Subject File, Disarmament, Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, Vol. II, Box 13)
  2. Reference is to the Agreement between India and Pakistan for a Withdrawal of Troops in Kashmir and Normalization of Diplomatic Relations, signed at Tashkent, U.S.S.R., on January 10. Text in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 681-682.
  3. Document 108.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 85.
  5. See Document 92.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 98.
  7. Reference is to the Declaration by Chancellor Adenauer, recorded in the Final Act of the Nine-Power Conference, London, October 3, 1954; text in Documents on Germany, 1944-1985, p. 422.
  8. Reference is to Protocol III on the Control of Armaments, signed at Paris by the Foreign Ministers of the Western European Union (including the Federal Republic of Germany), October 23, 1954, to the Brussels Treaty of March 17, 1948; entered into force May 6, 1955. Text in American Foreign Policy, 1950-1955: Basic Documents, vol. I, pp. 979-984.
  9. See the joint statement issued on December 21, following discussions between Chancellor Erhard and President Johnson; text in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book II, pp. 1165-1167.
  10. Printed from an unsigned copy.