63. Study Prepared by the Ad Hoc Group for National Security Study Memorandum 1621


U.S. Position on the Soviet UN Proposals for Non-Use of Force and Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons

[Omitted here are the table of contents and sections 1 through 7.]

8. Options

The evaluation of various options which follows is intended to facilitate a decision on the posture which the United States should adopt now toward the Soviet draft resolution.2 That posture must be subject to further review as the Assembly debate unfolds for a number of reasons.

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The Soviets are probably not willing to accommodate the Chinese but might perhaps be willing to amend their resolution to gain the support of the U.S. and others.3 They might, for example, be willing to make clear that the use of nuclear weapons is included in the prohibition of the use of force and delete the language regarding a “decision” by the Security Council. On the other hand, they might be pressed by some LDC’s to include objectionable language reflecting the position that assistance to national liberation groups is not covered by the resolution.

Also, it is not yet clear what positions other countries will be adopting toward the resolution, i.e., whether the resolution is seriously or lightly regarded, whether it is seen as involving essentially a USSRPRC confrontation and, if so, whether there is a general disposition to stand back from it. It is not even clear at this stage that the Soviets will press their resolution to a vote if it receives scanty support. The unfolding of these variables could not only redefine the language and interpretation of the resolution but will also determine whether it is a matter of greater or lesser political significance.

The Ad Hoc Group has considered and discarded a completely “neutral” posture. Although it may be possible for the U.S. to hide behind others to some extent in relation to the proposal, it will not be possible to remain completely non-committal because of past U.S. positions on non-use of force and because a complete failure to express U.S. reservations would be immediately misunderstood by others as leaning in the Soviet direction. The delegation could, however, regardless of what final position the U.S. might take on the substance of the matter, adopt a position of relative inactivity. This could govern our initial posture in deciding whether to speak in the debate, whether to seek amendments either directly or through others, and whether to seek or encourage the introduction of competing resolutions. Whatever position is adopted by the U.S., close consultation with our Allies is essential.

A. Support Resolution in its Present Form

In seeking our support the Soviets have sought to interpret their resolution as ruling out all use of force, conventional and nuclear, but as permitting use of all means (including nuclear) by a country that is attacked. This, of course, is essentially our position with regard to the defense of Western Europe, and the Soviets may have some hope that [Page 221] we will associate ourselves with their initiative or at least go along with it. Conceivably we could do so, explaining to the PRC that this is our traditional position and that our support of it in the UNGA is not intended to have any special significance relative to USSRPRC relations. It seems highly unlikely that the PRC would accept any such explanation. The Chinese would almost certainly treat our position as a deliberate and direct association with the USSR on the most sensitive and important security issue between it and the USSR.

As for our European allies, we could also attempt to persuade them that we were only reiterating the fundamental position which validated our nuclear deterrent in Europe, but they would almost certainly be dismayed at what they would regard as a radical change in the U.S. position. They would point out that the interpretation we were attributing to the Soviet resolution could hardly be derived from a direct reading of its text. They would undoubtedly see our position as a departure from our traditional insistence on the invalidity of unenforceable “prohibitions of the use of nuclear weapons” and would regard that reversal as casting new and fundamental doubts on our political will to make the nuclear deterrent effective.


—Would contribute to possibility that Soviets might be willing to be more forthcoming toward us in other contexts.

—Puts US on affirmative side of so-called “peace initiative.”


—Would raise serious doubts among our Allies about the reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

—Would clearly be regarded by the PRC as U.S. taking sides with the Soviets against them.

—Would attribute a more serious nature to Soviet proposal than most other countries now seem inclined to give it.

—Would acquiesce in a most undesirable precedent affirming Security Council competence to revise Charter treaty obligations and establish general rules of conduct binding on members.

—Would be inconsistent with our traditional position that reiteration of UN Charter principles is unnecessary and can detract from the Charter.

B. Support or Accept Resolution if Suitably Amended

Within this option we could seek amendments which would make the resolution acceptable to us, either submitting these ourselves or urging friendly countries to do so. Alternatively, we could be prepared only when asked to tell the Soviets and others what changes would [Page 222] permit us reluctantly to go along with the resolution if it were then generally acceptable in the GA.

For the resolution to be acceptable to us, it would have to make clear that the prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons is not a separate matter but is included in the general prohibition of the use of force, the language regarding the Security Council would have to be removed, and the resolution would have to be entirely consistent with the UN Charter. The Ad Hoc Group believes the U.S. should not accept any exceptions to the prohibition on non-use of force for national liberation groups.

If the Soviet Union were prepared to move to a resolution acceptable to us, the PRC might find itself isolated. In this situation, the PRC could either support directly, abstain, oppose, or suggest a procedure such as acceptance of the resolution by the UNGA by acclamation (thus avoiding a vote). This latter procedure was used, for example, in relation to last year’s World Disarmament Conference resolution when the PRC apparently wanted to avoid having to have its vote recorded.4


—Might afford better chance of resolution ultimately acceptable to our friends, especially in NATO.

—Might possibly reduce friction between PRC and Soviets on this issue and reduce the possibility of the U.S. being caught in the middle.

—Would still put the U.S. in a relatively affirmative posture toward so-called “peace initiative.”

—Would be consistent with U.S. view that prohibition of nuclear force is included within and subject to Charter’s general rule on non-use of force.

—Would appear consistent with U.S. willingness in other contexts (e.g., US/USSR Declaration of Principles) to support adoption of non-use of force principles if properly formulated.

—Might be regarded by the Soviets as helpful if they are otherwise faced with defeat of their resolution.


—Might still carry negative implications, particularly for some of our allies, regarding the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent—unless the amendments were to result in a text completely acceptable to us and all our allies.

—Collaboration with Soviets would have political overtones for our allies regardless of substance of our consultations.

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—Might still be considered by the PRC as favoring a Soviet initiative at their expense, especially because of the implication that nuclear weapons would be treated as any other weapons.

—Might be viewed by the Soviets as vitiating their initiative and hence contrary to our obligation to work with them toward détente.

—Could lend credence in the eyes of LDCs to the PRC charge of “superpower collusion.”

—Would be inconsistent with our traditional position that reiteration of UN Charter Principles is not necessary and can detract from the Charter.

—Would attribute a more serious nature to Soviet proposal than most other countries now seem inclined to give it.

C. Support If Amended as in Preceding Option But With Addition of an Assurance by Nuclear States Regarding Non-Nuclear States

This Option would add a provision that nuclear states intend to refrain from the use of nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapons state that is not engaged in an aggression assisted by a nuclear weapons state. This formula is very close to one advanced privately to the USSR in February 1968 (described at page 5 above.)5 The statement of intention by the nuclear weapons states would be included in the resolution itself or could be requested by the GA for action in the Security Council. In 1968, the Soviets found the U.S. proposal “completely unacceptable” since the USSR was unwilling to give the same guarantee to countries with nuclear weapons on their territory as to those without such weapons. President Johnson withdrew authorization to use the earlier formula in April 1968.

It is unlikely that the Soviets are now willing to consider such a provision.

The U.S. delegation could either advance the proposal itself or get it advanced by a friendly country. It could be put up as a trial balloon or, alternatively, be promoted vigorously. Full advance consultation with our allies would be necessary.


—Could advance our policy of non-dissemination of nuclear weapons by reassuring non-nuclear weapon states that in certain types [Page 224] of conflicts nuclear weapons would not be used against them, thus creating a disincentive to obtaining nuclear weapons for themselves or seeking the assistance of a nuclear weapon state in an armed conflict.

—Could give the U.S. a measure of credit for leadership on a significant arms control matter.

—Would move non-use of force discussions to a more serious plane.


—Would likely to be unacceptable to the Soviets, as it was in 1968.

—Might be interpreted by Soviets as an effort to destroy their initiative and, hence, contrary to our obligation to work together toward détente.

—Might not receive appreciable support because it would not apply to certain types of conflicts.

—Might lead the Soviets to issue a competing proposal protecting non-nuclear states. Such a proposal would be more attractive than our own.

—Could stimulate reopening of the issue of whether non-nuclear signatories of the NPT should receive increased security compensation for their adherence to the NPT.

—Might not be sufficient time available to consult adequately with our allies regarding a U.S. initiative of this importance.

—Might be prejudicial to careful consideration of a later initiative in subsequent arms control negotiations where it might contribute more substantially to general arms control.

D. Opposition to Resolution

Within this option there is a wide range of possible activity, from vigorous opposition in urging other governments to adopt the same position to a quiet restraint in which the delegation would indicate its difficulty with resolution only if others asked. In the voting the delegation could under this option oppose or abstain, depending upon the developing situation in New York.

The U.S. delegation would refuse to suggest any amendments, saying that the resolution is so defective that it does not warrant an effort to try to improve it. It would be possible to begin with a negative position and then move to a somewhat more affirmative one if the resolution were being changed to take into consideration our objections.


—Would reassure some NATO allies.

—Would suggest to the PRC that we are not facilitating a formula which they would view as condoning a Soviet nuclear attack or pressure against them.

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—Would be consistent with our earlier position on attempts to restate Charter Principles and with our opposition to granting the Security Council power to establish geniune and binding rules of conduct.

—Would keep us detached from troublesome amendment process where solutions satisfactory to all major participants may be unattainable.

Con (All these liabilities would be greatly reduced if our opposition were of a quiet or restrained character rather than more obvious and active)

—Would be resented by the Soviets, particularly as we would appear to be aligning ourselves with the PRC against them.

—If pursued actively, our position would probably not be supported by certain NATO allies, including some of our close friends, on the grounds that less aggressive tactics could be adequate to protect alliance interests.

—Could be misunderstood as opposition to a peace initiative.

—Could be distorted as an inconsistency in view of our past willingness to support non-use declarations, e.g. in the Moscow Declaration of Principles.

—Could be interpreted as attributing a more serious nature to the Soviet proposal than most other countries now seem inclined to give it.

—Might lose some opportunities to promote favorable changes in the resolution by failing to hold out the prospect of possible U.S. support if the resolution is acceptably amended.

9. Recommendations

The Ad Hoc Group, in view of the considerations expressed above, reached the following consensus:

Our initial stance should be a relatively inactive one. We do not think it would be reasonable to support the resolution as it is. Nor should we promote amendments initially because the Soviet initiative may fail to attract much support or even interest.

We should privately and quietly point out to the delegates the problems we see in the draft, especially the role contemplated for the Security Council, the explicit and separate prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons, and in general the doubtful utility of trying to refine Charter language.

We would tell others that we could not support the resolution in its present form. (One possibility is that no resolution may be voted upon as a result of Chinese-Soviet conflict on the item.)

While we would not ourselves propose amendments, if the Soviets (or others) propose some to us we would say that we would consider them. We would not give any undertaking to press such amendments [Page 226] with others. We will, of course, keep in constant and close touch with our Allies regarding the resolution.

Depending on the nature of amendments offered by the Soviets and by others, and depending on the degree of interest generated by their draft resolution and by amendments to cure its deficiencies, we would then consider whether to take a more active posture and whether to move from “relatively inactive opposition” to acceptance of a suitably amended resolution.

[Omitted here are three annexes.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–194, NSSM 162. Secret. Eliot sent the study to Kissinger under a covering memorandum, October 17. Davis forwarded it to the Senior Review Group under a covering memorandum, October 25. (Ibid.) The group, chaired by a Department of State representative, included members from the JCS and NSC. NSSM 162 is Document 57. For the full text of this study, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 1969–1972, Document 346.
  2. See Document 52.
  3. China objected to the USSR’s proposal because it failed to distinguish between aggression and self-defense. China favored a no-first-use policy regarding nuclear weapons, which the USSR refused to accept. Thus, the Soviet proposal would have allowed the USSR to retaliate with nuclear weapons, if they were attacked first, regardless of the type of weaponry used. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1972, pp. 9–11)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 52.
  5. The referenced portion of the study reads as follows: “During the non-proliferation treaty negotiations in 1968, the U.S. proposed to the USSR a limited non-use of nuclear weapons undertaking for the benefit of potential non-nuclear parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Negotiations were not successful.” The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty seeks to limit the production of nuclear weapons. Open for signature beginning July 1, 1968, it went into force on March 5, 1970. Over 180 countries have signed the treaty. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIV, Soviet Union, Document 277.