140. Editorial Note

During the 1976 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party included a comprehensive test ban in its party platform. (“Widely Differing Platforms Offer Voters a Clear Choice,” Washington Post, August 18, 1976) In a September 25 speech in San Diego, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate, said if elected he “would urge the Soviet Union to join the United States in agreeing to a ‘total ban’ on all nuclear explosions, including so-called peaceful devices, for five years.” Carter “further said he would ‘follow through’ on his belief that a ‘comprehensive’ test ban treaty should be negotiated, which presumably would include the underground tests now permitted by [the 1963 Limited Test Ban] Treaty.” (“Carter Vows a Curb on Nuclear Exports to Bar Arms Spread,” New York Times, September 26, 1976)

The United Nations General Assembly also called for a test ban. A December 10 Resolution condemned “all nuclear weapons tests, in whatever environment they may be conducted;” declared “its profound concern that substantive negotiations towards a comprehensive test ban agreement have not yet begun and reemphasizes the urgency of concluding a comprehensive and effective agreement;” called for “all nuclear-weapon States to suspend the testing of nuclear weapons by agreement, subject to review after a specified period, as an interim step towards the conclusion of a formal and comprehensive test ban agreement;” and noted “the particular responsibility of the nuclear-weapon States which are parties to international agreements in which they have declared their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race.” (“General Assembly Resolution 31/66: Urgent Need for Cessation of Nuclear and Thermonuclear Tests and Conclusion of a Treaty to Achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban,” December 10, 1976, Documents on Disarmament, 1977, pp. 910–912)

On January 23, 1977, during a press interview with selected reporters, President Jimmy Carter discussed a number of arms control issues. In response to a question about the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), he said “I would like to proceed quickly and aggressively with a comprehensive test ban treaty. I am in favor of eliminating the testing of all nuclear devices, instantly and completely.” Asked if this included underground tests, Carter replied “Yes. And whether or not the Soviets will agree to do that, I don’t know yet. They have sent an en[Page 308]couraging message back, but the exact caveats might not yet be in view. I can’t answer that question.” (“Press Interview of President Carter [Extract],” January 23, 1977, Documents on Disarmament, 1977, pp. 20–22)

A day later, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, according to a Los Angeles Times story, “tersely and unequivocally denied that there had been any ‘response from the Soviet Union on this particular issue’.” Later that day, the Department of State issued a statement that “clarified” Carter’s remark. “There has not been any official Soviet message on the subject,” according to the statement. Rather, the President had actually referred to “a series of public and private signals since last fall that the Soviet leadership is interested in a wide variety of arms control initiatives,” particularly Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko’s call for a comprehensive test ban during a speech at the United Nations in September 1976. (“Carter Proposes Halt to All Nuclear Testing,” Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1977)