229. Memorandum for the Record of the 584th Meeting of the National Security Council1

[Here follows discussion of Vietnam.]

The President thanked General Abrams and asked Amb. William Foster to discuss the status of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Amb. Foster reported that two weeks previously the US and Soviet Union had jointly submitted to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) in Geneva identical drafts of a complete NPT.2 They had also agreed upon a draft resolution on security assurances for the UN Security Council. The US, USSR, and the UK had also agreed on essentially identical declarations that they would each make in connection with the Security Council resolution.3 He emphasized that the security assurances did not constitute a new commitment for the United States but rather gave promise of action by reaffirming our existing commitments [Page 559] under the UN Charter. He reported that the ENDC had now submitted to the UN its report forwarding the draft text of the treaty and Security Council resolution.4 A Special Session of the UNGA on the NPT will begin sometime between April 17 and 24. He noted that we still had problems and that India and Brazil had indicated their reservations about the treaty. He stated that we shared with the Soviet Union a desire to convey the feeling that the present draft was the text of the NPT and not simply a proposal subject to general amendments. At the same time, however, we did not wish to join the Soviet Union in an attempt to railroad the treaty through the Special Session of the UNGA. He believed that it was important to give everyone an opportunity to talk the issue out completely. If the treaty did not run into serious problems in the Special Session, it could then be opened for signature later this spring. He reported that Ambassadors Goldberg and Malik were working out the tactics for the Special Session, and that we were working on India, Brazil, the FRG, etc., through regular diplomatic channels in an attempt to overcome their reservations. There is no question that there would be an effort by some countries to delay action on the NPT in the Special Session by attempting to amend it, to return it to the ENDC for further consideration, or to defer it to the next session of the UNGA. He noted that if the Special Session goes well, we sign, and the Senate approves, we will then have to decide, on the basis of the existing situation, whether to ratify and deposit the treaty immediately or to defer this action. He noted that, even if we have problems in the UNGA, we could still open the treaty for signature since there would in any case be very large support for it.

Amb. Foster then raised the question as to what would happen after the NPT since it calls on the nuclear weapons states to negotiate “in good faith” toward nuclear disarmament. He noted that we had already made several major proposals—the comprehensive test ban; cut-off of production of nuclear materials for weapons; and the freeze on offensive-defensive strategic weapons systems. A new proposal is now being considered within the Government concerning the control of the seabed. In this connection, the Soviet Union the previous week had formally made a proposal to prohibit use of the seabed for military purposes beyond the 12-mile limit.5 He thought therefore that we should quickly develop a forthcoming position on this issue. He noted that our policy was to support a comprehensive test ban provided there was adequate on-site inspection and that we had a forthcoming position on the nuclear [Page 560] cut-off. As for the freeze on offensive-defensive strategic systems, we were still waiting for a Soviet response.

In response to the President’s question as to his views on the status of the NPT, Under Secretary Katzenbach stated that he had nothing specific to add except the thought that bad things happen quickly and good things happen much more slowly. He thought that, while the prospects for the NPT were favorable, there were still many problems ahead.

Amb. Goldberg stated that the NPT would be the most momentous achievement for peace since the Limited Test Ban Treaty.6 The President and Amb. Foster deserve the most credit for this accomplishment. The full significance and effect of the treaty had not yet fully sunk in with the public. With regard to the scenario, he stated that it now looked as though the Special Session would begin on April 24 although we had originally wanted to meet earlier. He would be conferring with the Soviets on tactics during the next few days. In general, it appeared we believed in a softer sell than the Soviets. There were clearly problem spots such as Italy; however, he thought these problems could be resolved. He thought the biggest problem would be the effort by opponents to delay action on the treaty until after the caucus of the non-nuclear states in August so that the debate could be resumed in the next session of the UNGA next September. With regard to the location of the signing, he favored independent signing in the three capitals—Washington, London, and Moscow. With regard to follow-on measures, he noted that the seabed problem was a very complex, sensitive subject. He would propose to send it back to the ENDC for full debate to avoid any premature commitments in the Special Session of the UNGA. He stated that while he was not as optimistic about the outcome of the NPT as Amb. Foster, he thought it could be accomplished but emphasized that this would require hard work. He estimated that the Special Session would last about five weeks. If the treaty were then opened for signature, there would still be time to permit its submission to the Senate before adjournment.

The President asked what the status of the seabed proposal actually was.

Amb. Foster replied that ACDA was now circulating a specific proposal at the working level and that a final version would shortly be sent to the Committee of Principals.7 He agreed that the ENDC was the right forum. He observed that the introduction of this new proposal would take some of the pressure off of us on the comprehensive test ban issue.

The President asked about India’s position on the NPT.

Amb. Foster replied that the measure was now before the Indian Cabinet and had not yet been decided. In the end, however, he believed [Page 561] that India may well sign. He noted that arrangements had been made for Dr. Jerome Wiesner to meet in Geneva with Dr. Sarabhai, head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, who has emerged as the principal Indian opponent of the NPT, in order to try to persuade him to modify his views.

Amb. Goldberg said he thought the Indian problem would be more difficult than this and he had encountered outright opposition from their representatives in New York.

The President asked what other countries presented problems.

Amb. Foster replied that Italy had been quite difficult. However, the Italian Parliament was definitely in favor of the NPT and it would be difficult for the Italian government to oppose it. Brazil opposed the treaty on the grounds that it wants to be able to develop independently nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes in order to help its economy. He stated, however, that such an exception would completely undermine the treaty since peaceful nuclear explosives suitable for peaceful purposes were equivalent to the most advanced nuclear weapons. He noted that Brazil’s position might change since some strong counterforces were developing there on this issue. With regard to the FRG, he was very hopeful that they would support the treaty. He noted that in the course of the long negotiations with our allies the FRG had written half of the treaty.

The President expressed his pleasure with the success that had been achieved so far on the NPT and congratulated Ambassadors Foster and Fisher for their accomplishments. He then adjourned the meeting.

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Council File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 5, Tab 66, 3/27/68, Draft Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Secret.
  2. On March 11, Foster and Roshchin introduced to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee a joint U.S.-Soviet draft on the NPT as a revision of the January 18 draft (see footnote 2, Document 225). For text of the March 11 draft, see Documents on Disarmament, 1968, pp. 162-166. For statements by Roshchin and Foster to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee on this draft, see ibid., pp. 172-174, and pp. 174-177, respectively.
  3. For text of the Tripartite Security Assurances Proposal, March 7, submitted by the United States, Soviet Union, and United Kingdom to the U.N. Security Council, see ibid., pp. 156-158. On June 19, the Security Council approved the resolution by a vote of 10 to 0, with 5 abstentions. Canada, China, Denmark, Ethiopia, Hungary, Paraguay, Senegal, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the United States voted in favor of the resolution; Algeria, Brazil, France, India, and Pakistan abstained.
  4. For the report, March 14, 1968, submitted to the ENDC, and for cross references to revised texts of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to the draft U.N. Security Council resolution, see Documents on Disarmament, 1968, pp. 192-193.
  5. Presumably a reference to the statement delivered on March 20, 1968, by Soviet Representative Malik to the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the National Jurisdiction; see ibid., pp 194-196.
  6. See Document 3.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 233.