238. Record of Meeting of the Committee of Principals1


  • See Attached List2


  • Memorandum for the Members of the Committee of Principals dated April 12, 1968, from William C. Foster, Director, ACDA, Subject: Arms Control on the Seabed (U)3

Summary of Action

The Committee of Principals discussed an ACDA proposal to prohibit the fixing of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction on the seabed beyond 12 miles from the coast of a party and up to the coast of other countries. It was concluded that the Deputies to the Committee of Principals should meet promptly to prepare an agreed analysis of particular issues to serve as the basis for recommendations by the Principals to the President. Since a U.S. position will be needed by June 17, the Deputies were directed to prepare such an analysis in time for Principals’ consideration by June 5.

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Secretary Rusk put a broad policy question before the Principals: Should the U.S. support international action to prohibit the stationing of nuclear weapons in the deep ocean? Putting aside for the moment what the exact boundaries should be, is it advisable to create a nuclear free environment in the deep oceans like that in the Antarctic4 and outer space?5

Secretary Nitze said that, to answer this question, one should ask another question: What kind of an area would the U.S. want as a platform for its strategic nuclear delivery vehicles? Would we want it to be small, limited and closer to cities? He thought the answer to this question was negative. The Soviet Union has a larger land mass than the United States. The U.S. has better access to the sea than does the Soviet Union. The sea was, therefore, a better place for the U.S. to put nuclear weapons than for the Soviet Union. General Wheeler added that the Principals should consider what the problems might be in 20 years. There were now developments in Soviet weapons which give us difficulty. In the future, with further developments on the Soviet side, ocean bottoms could be a desirable deployment area for U.S. strategic weapons.

Dr. Wenk pointed out that the ACDA proposal was limited to fixed emplacements. He asked whether it would embrace the anchoring of Polaris submarines. Mr. Foster replied that the ACDA proposal would not affect anchoring incidental to the purpose of navigation or perhaps for other reasons. Secretary Rusk said that if there were fixed anchoring, the submarine would be in trouble under the proposal.

Mr. Foster then asked General Wheeler exactly what kinds of systems the DOD was considering for the bottom of the sea. General Wheeler listed the “ULM” (a submarine mobile platform carrying ICBMs), the “Turtle” (a bottom crawler or sitter), the “Sinbad” (a three-section submersible, the midsection remains on station and the end sections provide transportation and support), and tunnels for encapsulated missiles (“Rocksite”). He added that none of these devices were in today’s 5-year program for DOD developments. However, they are under consideration, and there might come a time when they would be desirable.

Mr. Foster pointed out that it was U.S. policy to move toward halting the nuclear arms race in all environments, and that non-armament was [Page 594] usually much easier than disarmament to accomplish. He added that the proposals of the Soviet Union and many other countries went much further than did ACDA’s proposal. The UN debates had considered complete demilitarization of the seabed and reserving it for peaceful uses only, whereas the ACDA proposal dealt only with weapons of mass destruction. He thought the best defense against other proposals was a good offensive, namely, a good proposal of our own. He listed the political advantages of the proposal and added that he thought it would contribute to U.S. security. Dr. Hornig pointed out that whenever a new class of weapons was discussed there was a fundamental dilemma: Was there greater risk in limiting such an expansion of the nuclear arms race and foreclosing future military options than there was in developing and deploying the new weapons?

Secretary Nitze thought that the problems involving arms control of the deep ocean bed had not been thought through to the same degree as had been the problems involved in the test ban. He pointed to two specific problems: (1) What was the relationship of the ACDA proposal to the Law of the Sea?6 He added that we have disagreements with the Soviet Union on where the baseline is from which to measure the breadth of the territorial sea. We are now working on developing a position concerning a new Law of the Sea treaty. The relationship of the Law of the Sea problems to the ACDA proposal must be thought through. (2) The most significant arms control measure to be discussed with the Soviet Union was a freeze on offensive and defensive missiles. For that discussion, it had been decided to exclude mobile land-based intercontinental missiles because the verification problem was difficult. In Secretary Nitze’s view, the verification problems involved in the deep oceans were far greater. Under these circumstances, Secretary Nitze questioned whether we should be considering arms control for the deep oceans. He added that the ACDA paper was more polemical than analytical. He thought that a subcommittee of the Principals should work out an agreed analysis to form the basis of the US position. Dr. Seaborg stated that precise definitions of what was prohibited and what was permitted were necessary. Mr. Foster agreed that the strategic missile freeze was a more important measure but pointed out that it could only be discussed bilaterally with the Soviet Union at the present time. The seabed proposal was already being discussed at the UN on a multilateral basis, and the U.S. needed to have a position. He thought the ACDA proposal would not interfere with the Law of the Sea negotiations. Secretary Rusk added that, in any event, countries favoring the 3-mile limit were a disappearing breed. He [Page 595] didn’t think differences over the breadth of the territorial sea should be conclusive of the Government’s decision on the ACDA proposal.

Secretary Rusk then spoke of the need to prevent further diversion of scarce national resources to the development and deployment of more sophisticated nuclear weaponry. He pointed out that both sides already had enough weapons to destroy the US, Soviet Union and Europe, and he doubted that our large stockpiles had increased the security of the American people. He hoped, if possible, to avoid pursuit of a higher plateau in the nuclear arms race which would not increase our security. If the Soviet Union deployed nuclear weapons on the bottom of the sea, he said, their target would be U.S. cities. We could not transfer the Soviet target for these or other ballistic missiles to the ocean by our deploying nuclear weapons on the ocean bottom. He asked why the same considerations which have resulted in placing Antarctica and outer space off limits should not apply to the seabed. He thought that such deployments would be a futile exercise and very expensive. Unless the human race found a way to limit the arms race and prevent further massive diversion of resources to weapons, we were in deep trouble.

Dr. Seaborg suggested a fast staff study for the Principals. Mr. Foster said the Deputies to the Principals could handle such a study. Secretary Rusk thought they should consider such problems as (1) whether the baseline should be that set forth in earlier Law of the Sea treaties, or simply the low water mark, (2) whether the proposal should deal with “emplacing” nuclear weapons on the seabed and (3) whether the proposal could be simplified for further discussion. Dr. Seaborg added that the problem of how long a submarine could sit on the bottom should be dealt with by the Deputies.

Secretary Rusk asked how accessible the deep ocean bed was now. Secretary Nitze said that by 1969 we would be able to go down 4,000 feet deep in the ocean. Dr. Wenk said that this was with one small, experimental submarine designed in 1960. He added that there was a long way to go and a lot of money involved before deployment of a strategic weapons system would be possible. The small research submarine had cost $60 million. Effective nuclear weapons systems would be enormously more costly.

Dr. Hornig pointed out that the deep ocean was not an attractive prospect for strategic weapons deployment now. He didn’t see how one could really study the possibility in great detail since so little was known. Dr. Seaborg suggested that the tops of under water mountains might be attractive locations for deployment. Dr. Hornig replied that they might be and that the Bering Sea might also be attractive, but a very major deployment expense was involved in either case for either side.

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Dr. Wenk pointed to the recent Presidential statements concerning the peaceful uses of the sea.7 He added that the Principals needed to keep in mind that the ad hoc UN committee chairman had pointed out two proposals which the UN should consider in the near future: (1) the U.S. proposal for a decade of international development of the sea, and (2) the Soviet proposal for demilitarization of the seabed.8 Dr. Wenk referred to a Navy paper which contained a spectrum of the arms control possibilities for the seabed.9 The ACDA proposal was the least restrictive of any of the arms control measures listed in the Navy’s paper.

Dr. Hornig indicated that stationing nuclear weapons on the seabed would involve a host of problems such as how to protect the weapons from theft or accidental triggering. He doubted that the U.S. would want to put many nuclear weapons at remote distances from its shore. Mr. Foster added that to do so would be destabilizing. Dr. Wenk asked who would benefit by moving in this direction. The ACDA paper, he said, suggested that a nation with a few nuclear weapons might use them for crude nuclear mines. He added that with the ACDA proposal in effect, the U.S. would be in a better position to get wide political support for dealing with such a deployment. Secretary Nitze replied that countries didn’t ordinarily deploy mines in peace time. In war time, the treaty would be ineffective. Dr. Wenk thought that it was still the country with the small nuclear force which might find deployment of nuclear weapons on the seabed advantageous. He suggested that the Chinese Communists might do so and that the ACDA paper would give the U.S. a better political basis for dealing with the problem if they did.

Secretary Rusk asked when a U.S. position was needed. Mr. Foster replied that the UN ad hoc committee would meet on June 17 and that the NATO POLADs would meet on June 30.

Secretary Rusk asked whether the Soviets knew about our SOSUS system. Admiral Taylor said they did. Secretary Rusk suggested that if our proposal dealt with weapons of mass destruction and the Soviet proposal dealt with complete demilitarization, there would probably be a standoff between the two.

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Dr. Seaborg asked whether the ACDA proposal would be violated if the U.S. lost another nuclear weapon on the bottom of the sea. Mr. Foster replied there would be no violation.

Secretary Rusk asked about the problem of verification. Mr. Helms replied that this was a difficult problem because the sea was so vast. If you know where to hunt, you may well find a nuclear weapon deployed on the bottom of the sea. If there is a large-scale construction involved, you could probably detect it. On the other hand, he was not happy about verifying deployment of one or a few nuclear weapons on the seabed. But this problem was with us with or without the ACDA proposal. Secretary Rusk said that this sounded similar to the problem of verification involved in the Outer Space Treaty. Dr. Hornig pointed out that a country deploying strategic weapons system on the seabed which might threaten us would need an adequate command and control system which would probably involve a communications system which could be detectable. In addition, the country would need to move a great deal of material. Clandestine deployment would be quite difficult. Mr. Helms agreed. If there were a large deployment, he added, we would find it. If it was sneaky and small, it might escape our detection.

Secretary Nitze said he was sympathetic to the need for a U.S. position but more precise staff work was needed. Secretary Rusk added that, at a minimum, we must have speech material for the U.S. representative by June 17. He pointed to the need for giving the President sufficient time to deal with this problem and hoped we could avoid presenting it to him at the last minute. He asked for a initial paper to be submitted by the Deputies to the Principals for consideration by June 5.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 383, Central Policy File:FRC 85 A 83, Principals Meeting, May 14, 1968. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text, although Sidney Graybeal and George Bunn of ACDA are listed as reporting officers on the attached list of participants. The meeting took place in the Secretary’s office.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See Document 233.
  4. The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959, (entered into force June 23, 1961) by the United States, Soviet Union, and ten other countries in Washington to demilitarize the Antarctic continent. For text, see 12 UST 794.
  5. The Treaty on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies was signed on January 27, 1967, in Washington, London, and Moscow, and entered into force on October 10, 1967. For text, see 18 UST 2410.
  6. The Law of the Sea Treaty on fishing and conservation of living resources of the high seas was signed by 35 nations on April 29, 1958, in Geneva and entered into force on March 20, 1966. The U.S. signed the Treaty with an understanding. For text, see 17 UST 138.
  7. Presumably a reference to President Johnson’s special message to Congress on conservation, delivered on March 8, in which he proposed an “International Decade of Ocean Exploration for the 1970’s.” See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, pp. 355-370.
  8. Presumably a reference to Soviet Representative Malik’s statement to the Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Peaceful Uses of the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction, delivered on March 20, 1968; see footnote 3, Document 233, which the Soviets subsequently presented as a specific initiative in the Committee on June 20. See Documents on Disarmament, 1968, p. 445.
  9. Not further identified.