234. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Clifford 1



  • Arms Control Proposals for the Ocean Bottoms (U)
(S) The USSR, at the organizational meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Committee for the Oceans, on 21 March 1968, proposed that the UN General [Page 581] Assembly adopt a principle to ban military activities as well as nuclear weapons from the seabeds beyond the boundaries of national jurisdiction.2 In appraising this Soviet initiative, the US Ambassador to the United Nations indicated that the proposal is certain to have a prominent place on the forthcoming agenda of the UN Ad Hoc Committee. He predicted that the Soviet proposal will receive broad support from nonnuclear states and asked the Secretary of State for an urgent determination as to what the United States would lose by agreeing to ban the emplacement of nuclear weapons on the ocean bottoms, provided effective control methods could be worked out. He stated that a negative US stance could have highly unfortunate effects on deliberations concerning the nonproliferation treaty.3
(S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree with the US Ambassador to the United Nations that the United States should prepare an effective counter to the Soviet proposal.4 Whatever the Soviet motive—which might well be entirely political—international acceptance of their resolution would have grave consequences for US national security interests. A demilitarization agreement according to the Soviet format could easily entail an interpretation making the US Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) illegal, with consequent severe impact on our antisubmarine warfare capability. The Soviet proposal could also prevent the development and/or deployment of future military systems which may be required for US national defense.
(S) Another consideration is that an agreement to demilitarize the seabeds could, by implication, lead to international pressure to extend controls and prohibitions to the surface and subsurface of the oceans.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff, while noting the opinion of Ambassador Goldberg that acceptance of a denuclearization proposal might serve the immediate political purpose of helping to develop a climate of opinion favorable to the nonproliferation treaty, believe that the long-range consequences of banning the emplacement of nuclear weapons on the seabeds would be detrimental to the security of the United States. If, in the future, the US nuclear capability were to depend in part on the emplacement of weapons and devices on the ocean bottoms, our option for their use would be politically foreclosed by the terms of this proposed agreement. While it is premature to decide whether the United States [Page 582] should emplace weapons on the seabeds in order to maintain the necessary strategic nuclear capacity in the future, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that such a requirement is a distinct possibility. As new technological or political factors are introduced into the strategic posture of nuclear weapons nations, new concepts are being explored to meet the changing threat. It is the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it is not a question of current programs but the risks to future US strategic nuclear programs that must be the primary consideration in appraising a seabed denuclearization proposal.
(TS) Possible future risks to the US nuclear forces include enhanced effects of nuclear weapons, such as X-rays and electromagnetic pulse, on US strategic missile systems. Another risk can be identified in terms of the advancing technology in long-range underwater surveillance systems. Therefore, there is a reasonable possibility that scientific or technological breakthroughs could make US strategic offensive and defensive missile systems vulnerable to enemy attack. To avoid this eventuality, the United States might well be required to expand its nuclear weapons deployment base to the seabeds. In this context, an arms control agreement which would restrain the United States would be detrimental to US security.
(TS) If “pindown” and submarine vulnerability were to become a reality, the geographical features of the United States and the USSR would become of great importance. The fact that the Soviet Union has a land area over twice that of the United States would give it an obvious land-deployment advantage over the United States. However, the United States has a conveniently located territorial base for the effective use and control of a wide range of deep seabed areas in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, whereas Soviet access to the deep oceans is relatively restricted and environmentally difficult. Its coastal control of sea bottom nuclear sites and its range or site deployment would be significantly inferior to that of the United States. Clearly, it would be advantageous to the USSR if it could offset these geographical handicaps with an international arms control measure.
(S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff do not oppose the consideration of arms control measures, including those affecting the ocean environment, if an effective control system is established and provided such measures will not have the effect of weakening the relative strategic posture of the United States. The United States does not have a verification capability now, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not believe that any nation has now or will obtain such a capability in the foreseeable future. In the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an effective control system for either a seabed “demilitarization” or a seabed “denuclearization” agreement could not be developed satisfactorily. In sharp contrast, the United States, the Soviet Union, and other nations have the present technology to emplace [Page 583] weapons of mass destruction and other military devices on the ocean bottoms with virtually no risk of detection. For example, the United States has been able to plant extensive SOSUS networks from surface ships, despite difficulties in avoiding and deceiving Soviet surveillance ships. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that no demilitarization (including denuclearization) agreement could be verified effectively.
(S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the establishment of a Johnson specialized agency to encourage international cooperation in oceanography is in US interests. It is their opinion that discussion and/or negotiations concerning the undersea environment should be limited at this time to such matters as scientific research, exploration and exploitation of resources, and establishment of marine parks and preserves. Although future marine research and exploration may well indicate that there are arms control measures which, if verifiable, would be in the national interest, US support for arms control measures on the seabeds or in the ocean space would not be in the national interest at this time and, in fact, would bear a potential for grave harm.
(U) The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that their views on arms control in the seabed be forwarded to the President.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Harold K. Johnson
Acting Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 383, Central Policy Files: FRC 86 A 5, Folder 3566. Top Secret; Sensitive. The source text was sent under cover of a April 18 memorandum from Clifford to President Johnson forwarding the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on possible proposals on arms control on the seabed. Clifford further related he had just received from ACDA a proposal on arms control on the seabed which was under review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by his staff. Clifford proposed that a Committee of Principals meeting be held to discuss the ACDA proposal, after which their views on the proposal would be forwarded to President Johnson.
  2. Specific reference to Malik’s proposal delivered on March 21 has not been further identified; however, Malik addressed the same U.N. Committee on March 20 and delivered a statement advocating such a proposal. For a summary of his March 20 statement, see Documents on Disarmament, 1968, pp. 194-196.
  3. Ambassador Goldberg’s statement in response to the Soviet initiative has not been further identified.
  4. Presumably a reference to the ACDA proposal cited in footnote 4, Document 233.