211. Memorandum From the President’s Adviser for Science and Technology (Press) and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Nuclear Testing Assistance to China

This is in response to your request2 for an analysis of the possibility of furnishing technical assistance to the Chinese to enable them to cease [Page 790] atmospheric nuclear testing at an earlier date than could otherwise be possible. It is clear that we could help the Chinese greatly in this area, but it is equally clear that there could be very damaging legal and political issues involved. Following is a brief assessment of the issues involved in such cooperation along with our recommendations.

In two previous instances, we have provided such assistance but only to our closest allies, the UK and France. The UK cooperation, which you recently agreed to extend, was explicitly sanctioned by Congress in recognition of our unique historical relationship with the UK in nuclear weapons development. It extends to most phases of weapons development including sharing of nuclear material, exchange of weapons design information and carrying out underground tests for the UK at the Nevada Test Site.

[1 paragraph (7 lines) not declassified]

There is considerable information of an unclassified nature on soil mechanics and excavation technology which we could share with the Chinese. In addition there is a large body of PNE information, much of which we have exchanged with the Soviets, which would also be helpful to them. This includes data on formation and collapse of craters and on avoiding venting of radioactive debris into the atmosphere. The Chinese would also probably request assistance in the more sensitive area of technology for getting diagnostic information from underground explosions, but it is unlikely that this would need to extend to weapons design information.

The area in which the Chinese are most likely to request our assistance is in furnishing modern large bore drilling equipment. The Chinese have been moving slowly towards underground testing but have been limited by their obsolete Soviet-supplied drilling equipment. [7 lines not declassified]

They have obtained some oil-drilling equipment [less than 1 line not declassified] including large drill rigs which could be helpful for this purpose. However, they would need bigger drill rigs with large (6 to 8 foot) boring equipment for high yield shots with extensive down hole diagnostic gear. Although it does not require an export license, this is costly, special order equipment that is difficult to obtain on a timely basis. [1½ lines not declassified]

Thus, there is a considerable amount of information and technology of a relatively non-sensitive nature that could be shared with the Chinese. However, there are major political problems associated with even this limited form of cooperation. Congressional sensitivities would be much greater to sharing information with China than with either the UK or France. We would probably have to make a full disclosure to Congress together with your approval and determination that cooperation would “promote and not constitute an unreasonable risk [Page 791] to the common defense and security” in accordance with the requirement of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

Even without Congressional disclosure, it is unlikely that we could successfully carry out the assistance without it becoming a matter of public record—in fact the Chinese might find it in their interest to have the fact of the cooperation made known to the Soviets. This would greatly heighten Soviet sensitivities surrounding our relationship with the Chinese and could seriously undermine prospects for the SALT and CTB negotiations. We could explain to the Soviets that the cooperation was very limited in scope and intended solely to accelerate Chinese abandonment of atmospheric tests but it is unlikely that this would alleviate their concerns.

A CTB treaty would pose a unique problem in that in addition to prohibiting testing by the parties, it would also prohibit furnishing assistance to other states in conjunction with their testing. [1 line not declassified] This problem could be avoided by having a crash program during the year or so that might be available prior to completion of a CTB. However, this would give it greater visibility and would only intensify the Congressional and Soviet concerns discussed above.

Consequently, we recommend that we defer further action for the next few months, until after your summit with Brezhnev and Senate consideration of the SALT treaty. If the Chinese wish to pursue this issue in the interim we can proceed very cautiously to implement a modest program of cooperation, limited to assistance in obtaining drilling equipment applicable to oil or mining and furnishing unclassified PNE-related reports.3

Alternatively, if you disapprove the above recommendation, Frank could work with Harold and Jim Schlesinger to develop a more forthcoming program for your review consisting of furnishing more sensitive information and technology, and providing assistance in obtaining large bore drills and other equipment such as cables and casing material needed for underground nuclear testing.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 25, Brown (Harold) 1/80 Trip: 8–9/79. Top Secret. A handwritten “C” at the top of the page indicates that Carter saw the memorandum.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Carter checked the Approve option under this recommendation and initialed “J.”
  4. Carter left the second option blank. The Harold to whom the memorandum refers is Harold Brown.