Table of Contents:

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  • Foreword
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(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991 (22 USC 4351, et seq.). Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

The documents in this volume are drawn primarily from the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, pertinent decentralized lot files from the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State, and records of the Department of Defense and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency presently stored at the Washington National Records Center, Suitland, Maryland. A distinctive feature of this Foreign Relations volume is that it is the first one to utilize the tape recordings of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s telephone conversations. Following access by Department of State historians to these telephone conversations at the Johnson Library in early 1995, Department historians have listened to hundreds of these taped conversations, and transcripts have been prepared of important conversations to supplement the documentary record. While only seven extracts from the telephone conversations are published in editorial notes and footnotes in this volume, they help to document more fully the President’s active involvement in the serious discussions about and decisions on arms control matters. They also presage the inclusion of transcripts of other tape recordings of the President’s telephone conversations on a wide range of foreign policy subjects in forthcoming Foreign Relations volumes covering the Johnson presidency.

Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The former Division of Historical Documents Review of the Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents.

The following is a summary of the most important of the issues covered. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.


Following the Kennedy administration’s successful negotiation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which entered into force in the fall of 1963, the Johnson administration developed a series of “new proposals” on arms control and disarmament. (2) Its major initiatives were in the areas of the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and the limitation of strategic missiles, but the administration also developed proposals on banning nuclear weapons from outer space, the cutoff of fissionable materials for the production of nuclear weapons, international safeguards on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, and arms control of the seabed. The most visible achievements of the Johnson presidency on arms control were the conclusion of the Outer Space Treaty (1967) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968), but its significant progress in the other areas presaged agreements completed in subsequent administrations.

The Committee of Principals, established in 1958, continued to serve as the main interagency vehicle for developing arms control proposals. Its first effort in the Johnson administration was the preparation of initiatives for the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) in Geneva. The principals developed a statement for inclusion in the President’s budget message for a cutback in the production of enriched uranium (U-235) by 25 percent and the closing of four plutonium reactors. (1) President Johnson included this initiative in a message to the ENDC two weeks later and urged the Soviet Union to reciprocate. His message also called for a verified freeze on strategic nuclear offensive and defensive delivery vehicles, establishment of observation posts to reduce the chance of war by miscalculation, and measures to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (4, 5) Initiating exchanges with Chairman Khrushchev on the cutoff proposal, the President urged the Soviet Union to join the United States and the United Kingdom in announcing further reductions.

Khrushchev finally agreed to simultaneous announcements on April 20 of additional cutbacks in the production of fissionable materials in the United States and the Soviet Union, and the British Government, which received assurances from the United States on its long-range nuclear needs, acquiesced in these announcements. (10, 11, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25) In a message to Khrushchev, President Johnson expressed his “great satisfaction with our success” in this initiative and his “hope that we shall continue to make more progress of this kind” on disarmament. Khrushchev responded that he would be “equally dynamic and equally flexible in searching out ways to promote peace.” (26, 31)

The U.S. decisions to reduce the production of fissionable materials avoided the question of verification, but the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) soon developed a proposal. After complicated bureaucratic bargaining with the other concerned agencies, ACDA obtained agreement for a policy initiative calling for declared production facilities to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while undeclared facilities would be subject to a limited number of inspections on an adversary basis. (32, 33) The President approved this proposal, which was shortly introduced in the ENDC. (35)

Little movement was made in discussions with the Soviets on the mutual destruction of obsolescent bomber aircraft, parallel reductions in military budgets, or the establishment of control posts (5, 13, 14, 16, 38, 42, 43, 54, 61), and bilateral talks gradually shifted to other issues. Among these was an initiative calling for a verified freeze on the numbers and characteristics of specific categories of strategic delivery vehicles, which the administration approved in April 1964 after considerable internal debate. (2, 14, 19, 21) The verification provisions were at first rather general but were soon refined in a series of interagency discussions and unveiled in the ENDC in August 1964. (28, 30, 36, 37)

In the last half of 1964, the Johnson administration began intensive discussion of the problem of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (36, 37, 46, 47, 50, 52, 55) To coordinate this effort, Secretary Rusk created an interagency Committee on Nuclear Weapons Capabilities. Known as the Thompson Committee after its chairman, Ambassador at Large Llewellyn Thompson, the interagency group studied many dimensions of the problem, including non-proliferation initiatives in the ENDC and the role of the IAEA. (45, 48) Moreover, heightened concerns about proliferation following the People Republic of China’s explosion of an atomic bomb in October prompted President Johnson to create a separate Task Force on Nuclear Proliferation. (49, 51) Often referred to as the Gilpatric Committee after its chairman, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, this group completed its recommendations in January 1965. (56, 59, 60, 63, 64)

U.S. and Soviet senior officials simultaneously began to explore prospects for a non-proliferation agreement. These talks included a meeting between President Johnson and Foreign Minister Gromyko and an exchange of messages between the President and Chairman Kosygin, Khrushchev’s successor. (53, 54, 61, 68)

Conclusion of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty increasingly preoccupied U.S. arms control negotiators. They succeeded ostensibly in uniting the Western nations in the ENDC by persuading the British to accept the U.S. draft non-proliferation treaty as the basis for negotiation and to refrain from introducing their draft non-proliferation treaty there. The United States also had to deal with Germany, which had forsworn production of nuclear weapons, but wanted establishment of a multilateral force. However, the British insisted on veto power over use of nuclear weapons in any future Atlantic nuclear force (92), and the United States could not legally relinquish control over its nuclear weapons. Moreover, a multilateral force including Germany was anathema to the Soviet Union. (86, 100) These conditions inhibited negotiations on the possibility of forming a multilateral force, but they also made possible the negotiation of a non-proliferation treaty.

On August 17, 1965, the United States introduced its draft treaty at the ENDC in Geneva. With the incorporation of contributions from Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom, the U.S. draft essentially compromised the original U.S. position. For example, the original article on application of IAEA safeguards to peaceful nuclear activities was diluted despite the opposition of Glenn Seaborg, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who tried unsuccessfully to get mandatory safeguards restored to the text.

The issue of the possible establishment of a multilateral force and a German role therein held up progress toward conclusion of a non-proliferation treaty. U.S. negotiators repeatedly tried to convince the Soviet Union that the United States could not legally relinquish control over its nuclear weapons, and that consultation within NATO on nuclear matters did not constitute nuclear proliferation. By October 1966 the Soviet Union apparently accepted the validity of this U.S. position, opening the way for conclusion of a non-proliferation treaty.

No progress was made toward a comprehensive test ban treaty because of the U.S. insistence on monitoring such an agreement with on-site verification, a condition to which the Soviet Union refused to agree. (74, 87, 94) The 1963 limited test ban treaty allowed for underground testing, which the United States and the Soviet Union did throughout this period. (81) Each nation complained that tests of the other vented radioactive materials outside its territorial borders in violation of one of the provisions of the 1963 treaty. (62, 65, 66, 67, 69, 75, 81) The administration apparently tried to conform to the test ban treaty by avoiding nuclear testing of a size and type that vented radioactive materials outside U.S. borders. (76) It confined testing to the Nevada Test Site, although it approved initial development of an adjacent test site in Nevada at Nellis Gunnery Range. It rejected the Atomic Energy Commission’s proposal to negotiate for higher yield test sites in central Australia or on Christmas Island, but it authorized an initial survey of possible sites for higher yield tests in Alaska, subject to prior clearance of the survey by the Governor and the Congressional delegation of Alaska. (142)

On May 7, 1966, the President proposed an outer space treaty and outlined its essential elements. The arms control provisions of the treaty consisted of prohibitions on emplacement of weapons of mass destruction and fortifications and other military activities in outer space and on celestial bodies. On May 30, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko made similar proposals to U.N. Secretary-General U Thant. On June 16, both nations presented draft outer space treaties to the United Nations. Negotiation of an outer space treaty began in the Legal Subcommittee of the Outer Space Committee in Geneva in July 1966. By August 1966, agreement had been reached on a number of provisions of the draft treaty, leaving potentially contentious issues to be resolved in negotiations in New York. (127, 128, 143, 145, 151)

By the end of 1966 negotiations concluded on the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, which was more commonly called the Outer Space Treaty. Confirming on December 8 that an agreement had been reached, President Johnson called it “the most important arms control development since the limited test ban treaty of 1963.” On December 19 the U.N. General Assembly approved the treaty and requested the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union to open it for signature. Opened for signature at Washington, London, and Moscow on January 27, 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was immediately signed by the United States and over 60 other countries. (167, 177)

By late 1966 and into early 1967, officials in the Johnson administration discussed plans to engage the Soviet Union in bilateral talks on strategic arms, which they hoped would lead to an agreement to refrain from deploying anti-ballistic missile systems. Secretary of Defense McNamara and the President believed that such an agreement would spare both powers important financial outlays while leaving intact the existing arrangement under which the security of each nation was based essentially on the mutual deterrence of their offensive weapons. (173, 174, 175, 176) In this pursuit President Johnson wrote Chairman Kosygin formally requesting that the United States and the Soviet Union initiate talks to “reach an understanding between us which would curb the strategic arms race.” (178) While waiting for a response, in mid-February the administration further defined its position by instructing the Ambassador to the Soviet Union Llewellyn Thompson to inform Chairman Kosygin that the United States was prepared to consider talks on strategic offensive missiles as well as defensive anti-missile systems. (181, 182) Finally, in late February the Soviet Union responded somewhat favorably with two letters of its own. (185, 186) Despite these initial exchanges and further internal U.S. discussions (187, 192, 195), little was accomplished in the following several months; neither the guidelines for such talks nor their time or place, for example, were agreed upon.

Because of Soviet reluctance to commit itself to these strategic missile discussions as well as growing Congressional demands for an anti-missile system, Secretary McNamara began to feel that the United States had no choice but to deploy an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system of its own. He maintained that a full-scale anti-missile defense would cost far more than it was worth and that the best way to counterbalance a Soviet defensive system was to build more and better offensive missiles, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not want to stake the nation’s security on this reasoning. (176) ACDA Director William C. Foster and others in the administration expressed a different opinion, arguing vigorously against an ABM deployment on the grounds that it could damage negotiations on the non-proliferation treaty. (203, 204) Although this debate swiftly escalated, a compromise was reached and announced by Secretary McNamara in a speech at San Francisco in September 1967. (207, 209, 210) Additional documentation on the debate within the Johnson administration over whether to develop an ABM system is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume X, National Security Policy.

Parallel with these developments was the intensive effort undertaken by U.S. negotiators at the ENDC in Geneva in early 1967 to reach an agreement on Article III of a non-proliferation treaty. Article III, more commonly referred to as the “safeguards” or “control” article, provided that non-nuclear weapon states would negotiate agreements with the IAEA in Vienna, either individually or together with other states, for safeguards on all source and special fissionable materials used in their peaceful nuclear activities. The safeguards would be applied exclusively for the purpose of verifying fulfillment of treaty obligations and in a manner designed to avoid hampering peaceful nuclear activities. (183, 188, 189, 190)

International inspection and control were major sticking points, and they presented such a difficult problem in the early stages of the treaty negotiations that the original joint U.S.-Soviet draft submitted to the ENDC on August 24, 1966, left this article blank. The difficulty lay in the relationship between IAEA and such regional organizations as the European Atomic Energy Commission (Euratom), which had its own safeguards system. The United States regarded Euratom safeguards as equivalent to IAEA safeguards, but the Soviet Union objected that the Euratom system was only inspection among allies. For their part, the Euratom countries feared that application of IAEA safeguards to their nuclear industry might hamper their peaceful nuclear power programs and also endanger Euratom, which they regarded as an essential element of progress toward European unity. (172, 180, 182, 196)

A second round of intensive negotiations took place at the ENDC from May to December 1967, during which Foster, the U.S. representative, consulted with the U.S. NATO allies and the Soviet Union to try to reach a compromise on Article III. (196, 198) Meanwhile, following the Glassboro Summit in June 1967 at which President Johnson and Chairman Kosygin met to discuss a number of issues including the non-proliferation treaty, Rusk and Gromyko continued discussions on arms control subjects while in New York where they attended a special session of the U.N. General Assembly on the Middle East. (198, 199) Between late August and November, the Soviets showed interest in a compromise to accommodate Euratom, although they insisted that Article III specifically mention only IAEA safeguards. The Soviet draft of September 1 reflected this accommodation. (200, 205, 206, 208, 212, 218)

By early December 1967, U.S. efforts to reach an agreement on the September 1 draft of the non-proliferation treaty submitted by the Soviet Union and a November 2 formulation submitted by the United States came to a head. (219, 220) At the last co-chairmen’s meeting of the ENDC session, Foster informed his Soviet counterpart Alexey A. Roshchin that the United States believed that the road to a solution was through the November 2 formula. (223, 224) However, when the two sides realized that negotiations would not be resolved before the end of the year, they agreed to meet again during the next ENDC session from January to March 1968. (225)

Meanwhile, the Johnson administration also considered Protocol II of the Latin American Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty, which called upon nuclear-weapon states to agree to respect the obligations set forth in the treaty and to promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the contracting parties to the treaty. In mid-February 1968, Foster and other principals recommended that the United States sign Protocol II. (226) Vice President Humphrey signed Protocol II on behalf of the United States at Mexico City on April 1, 1968.

In March the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to introduce a joint draft non-proliferation treaty which incorporated suggestions by Sweden and the United Kingdom. Thereafter, administration officials became more hopeful that the negotiations would soon come to a successful end. (229)

As final details of the non-proliferation treaty wound down in the spring of 1968, the Johnson administration began to consider a new initiative—an arms control agreement for the seabed. At a Committee of Principals meeting in April, ACDA proposed that “the United States attempt to negotiate in the ENDC a treaty, or the relevant provisions for a more general treaty, in which each state undertakes not to station or fix nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction on, within, beneath or to the seabed beyond 12 nautical miles from its coast and up to the coast of any other state.” (233) Dissent quickly came, however, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff who argued that the United States should retain the option to emplace nuclear weapons on the seabed for possible future use, and that it would be difficult to detect violations of any such treaty. (234, 236) A series of further meetings and exchanges of memoranda followed, which served to clarify the issues and parameters of what might be feasible and promising initiatives in this area. (238, 242, 244, 246)

Eager to resume the stalled discussions on limiting strategic defensive and offensive missiles, and with the non-proliferation treaty set for final U.N. General Assembly debate in May, Rusk and Foster recommended to President Johnson that the United States propose to the Soviet Union early in the debate a joint announcement to begin talks on strategic missiles. (235) Endorsing this initiative, President Johnson proposed to Kosygin that the United States and the Soviet Union announce their willingness “to begin bilateral negotiations on an agreement to limit strategic offensive and defensive missiles.” (237, 257, 248) In a letter in late June, Kosygin informed President Johnson that the Soviet Union accepted this suggestion. (249)

Although the Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed on July 1, 1968, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August and domestic preoccupation with the presidential campaign delayed Senate action on the agreement until after the Nixon administration took office. (250, 293)

Meanwhile, the Johnson administration began to push for the opening of strategic missile talks with the Soviet Union. At the White House signing ceremony for the Non-Proliferation Treaty, President Johnson announced agreement with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom to begin negotiations on the control of offensive and defensive strategic missile systems. (250) An interagency working group was formed to develop proposals for consideration of the Committee of Principals in preparation for these talks. (251, 253) The principals in turn produced several drafts of position papers (264, 266, 268) and finally, in mid-August 1968, forwarded to President Johnson a position paper that they unanimously endorsed. (269, 273) President Johnson and Chairman Kosygin also exchanged messages confirming the vital significance of these talks for future U.S.-Soviet relations. (261, 263) The Soviets even proposed that President Johnson meet with Soviet leaders in Leningrad in early October and that the strategic missile talks open in Geneva on September 30. (275)

The Johnson administration was prepared to announce on August 21 that the President would attend the forthcoming summit, but on the previous evening Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia. The invasion forced postponement of the summit announcement as well as opening of the missile negotiations (275), but both initiatives were soon revived in the final months of the Johnson administration. (294, 295, 297, 299) In late August President Johnson tentatively approved papers detailing the initial presentation of the U.S. position and instructions to the U.S. delegation. (277) For its own internal reasons and also perhaps to deflect attention away from the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Government also seemed genuinely interested in hosting a summit and in starting the missile talks. (262, 280, 292, 293, 296) Taking a proposed U.S. statement on the principles governing the talks (281), Soviet officials reworked it into a proposed joint statement. (287) Responding positively, U.S. policymakers soon completed a draft joint statement of principles for the missile talks. (300, 301, 302)

These efforts were in vain, however. Secretary Rusk hesitated to promote these initiatives at the end of the administration without consultation with the NATO allies. More important, President Johnson seemed to be of two minds. On the one hand, he wondered, given the shortness of time, whether a summit would be worthwhile. (293, 299) On the other hand, he noted on a memorandum summarizing prospects for a summit meeting, “I’m ready. Are they?” (297), and a few days later, on a Rostow memorandum that noted that leaving a summit on missiles to President-elect Nixon might be “a decision we shall regret more than any other in the years ahead,” Johnson wrote, “I agree.” (299) In any event, the Soviet leaders also seemed to lose interest. The joint statement was never issued, and no summit meeting took place in the last months of the Johnson presidency.

The Johnson administration simultaneously considered other arms control matters. In preparation for a meeting of the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee on the Seabed in Rio de Janeiro in August, the Departments of Defense and State agreed to support a resolution declaring that the ocean floor should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and proposing negotiations in the ENDC. (270) The U.S. delegation won endorsement for these principles at the Rio meeting and with other Western nations developed a statement of legal principles on the exploration and use of the seabed that would serve as a starting point for future U.N. discussions. (279)

ACDA also pushed once again for a cutoff in the production of fissionable material for nuclear weapons under IAEA safeguards. (250) The Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed a cutoff, however, arguing that U.S. intelligence could not detect with assurance all Soviet facilities that might be making fissionable material for nuclear weapons, and they were successful in calling for further refinement of the proposal. (276, 297) In consequence, no U.S. position had been realized by the end of the Johnson presidency. Similarly, interagency divisions prevented any substantive changes in the U.S. position on a comprehensive test ban. (255, 256)

Administration officials also responded to concerns of non-nuclear powers to the arms race. Initially worried that a U.N.-sponsored Non-Nuclear Conference in August and September might receive U.N. General Assembly endorsement to continue as a permanent entity, U.S. officials in Washington and New York, with strong Soviet support, opposed this effort, arguing that it would complicate and delay acceptance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (283, 284, 286) The United States promoted a counter-resolution, and the resulting “compromise” resolution generally supported the U.S. position. (302) By the end of 1968, most of the non-nuclear powers appeared at least temporarily appeased on the questions of security assurances and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.