161. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Underground Nuclear Weapon Test Program for the Second Half of FY 1977 (FULCRUM II)

ERDA has requested approval of its nuclear weapons test program for the second half of FY 1977 (FULCRUM II).

As proposed, FULCRUM II includes tests related to the development of warheads for new strategic and tactical bombs, the M–X, cruise missile, and improved eight-inch artillery shell and other tactical systems, together with several related advanced development tests for R&D purposes. (An ERDA summary of FULCRUM II is at Tab A.)2 This program was not designed to implement an accelerated test schedule, and it is recognized that it might have to be modified or terminated depending on your decisions regarding cessation of testing and negotiation of a CTB agreement. All agencies agree that FULCRUM II should be approved, subject to resolution of three disputed issues:

Proximity of Test Yields to the 150 Kiloton Threshold. The design yields of two tests in FULCRUM II are at or near the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) limit, and State and ACDA have recommended that you defer approval of these two tests pending completion of a review of our policy regarding tests near the 150 kt limit. Harold Brown objects to deferral of these tests, arguing that our current testing policy is consistent with our TTBT obligations. He notes that this policy provides for further interagency review, as warranted, of each test near the threshold prior to granting final detonation authority.

This matter was exhaustively reviewed on an interagency basis under the previous administration, and a testing policy was adopted which permits ERDA to test at design yields up to 150 kt by establishing stringent review procedures in order to reduce the probability of actual yields in excess of this limit. (Additional details are provided at Tab B.)3 We have reviewed this policy and feel that it reduces this risk to an acceptably low level while ensuring against asymmetries with regard to the Soviet testing program. This issue is peculiar to a [Page 376] partial test ban, and we see no purpose in reopening it at a time when our agencies should be concentrating on negotiating a complete prohibition on testing. Consequently, we recommend that you approve these tests.4

Standard Missile-2 (SM–2). Two tests, BEAFORT and DANBO, are related to development of a nuclear warhead for the SM–2, a naval air defense system included in a counter to possible Soviet cruise missile threats to our fleet. Originally, however, SM–2 was a tactical ABM, and for this reason these tests are opposed by ACDA and State—as an unfortunate precedent undermining the ABM Treaty.

Harold Brown is in a bind. He feels the SM–2 (designed in the mid 1960’s) is obsolete and has indicated that he is not convinced that “the military value of the SM–2 is worth the costs—financial, doctrinal and political.” He feels that the high altitude cruise missile threat can be met quite well by other systems. However, because of Navy pressure, he has gone along with ERDA’s request for the tests to keep options open should new studies change his mind. OMB objects on programatic grounds and believes DOD should decide what it wants before testing warheads.

Since the option to proceed with SM–2 will remain even without the tests, and given the other considerations, we recommend deletion of the BEAFORT and DANBO tests from FULCRUM II.5

Insertable Nuclear Warheads. The final issue concerns ACDA’s recommendation for deferral of a test, KNIGHTHEAD, which is related to development of insertable nuclear components for naval weapons. Defense opposes deferral of this test, noting that it is of great interest for possible future warhead options and could enhance nuclear safety and warhead security with a reduction in operational costs. This concept would permit storage of the nuclear components in a single area of a ship and could effectively increase its conventional firepower since it would permit conventional use of firing positions and magazine storage currently reserved for nuclear weapons use. However, this development would also make many conventional weapons into potentially nuclear ones. This could have serious arms control implications since it would complicate verification of any future limitations on nuclear weapons for naval systems. As a result, ACDA has recommended that you defer approval of KNIGHTHEAD pending an interagency study of the military utility and arms control implications of developing insertable nuclear components. We recommend that you ap[Page 377]prove the test but require the study ACDA has requested prior to eventual decision on production of such components.6

[5 lines not declassified] They have made it clear, however, that they strongly support your objectives and are prepared to do without this test, if necessary. We recommend that you approve this test subject to the conditions (treaty conformity, safety, press arrangements, etc.) which have been agreed in our previous tests of their devices.7

Neutron Weapons. As a final point you should be aware that FULCRUM II includes proof tests of enhanced radiation warheads for LANCE and a new eight-inch artillery shell. I recommend that you permit ERDA to complete these tests in order to maintain flexibility for your decisions on production and deployment of these weapons in the context of a review of our theater nuclear strategy.8

Subject to your decisions, I will prepare an appropriate memorandum to the agencies concerned.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 145, Folder 4, JEC IFG [2] 7702109–7702951. Secret. Sent for action. Carter initialed the top of the memorandum.
  2. Not attached.
  3. Not attached.
  4. Carter checked the “Approve” option and wrote “J” in the right-hand margin.
  5. Carter checked the “Approve” option and wrote “deletion” next to it. He also wrote “J” in the right-hand margin.
  6. Carter checked the “Approve” option and wrote “J” in the right-hand margin.
  7. Carter checked the “Approve” option and wrote “J” in the right-hand margin.
  8. Carter checked the “Approve” option and wrote “J” in the right-hand margin.