165. Memorandum From the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Warnke) to President Carter 1


  • Report on Trilateral Consultations on a Comprehensive Test Ban

We have recently concluded two weeks (July 13–27) of consultations with the Soviets and British in Geneva on the question of a comprehensive test ban. This initial round of trilaterals, like the bilateral discussions held in Washington with the Soviets in June,2 was exploratory and somewhat tentative in nature. Nonetheless, the three delegations proceeded quickly beyond a general discussion of objectives and negotiating procedures to an intensive and highly purposeful exchange of views on the major substantive issues.

The question of peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) was clearly the dominant issue of the round, and the one which U.S. and Soviet positions diverged most sharply.3 The Soviets devoted most of their energies to making their case for a PNE exception, and were reluctant to deal with other matters in comparable detail. All three Delegations presently regard the PNE issue as, by far, the most serious obstacle to an agreement. It could also become a critical bottleneck, with the So[Page 386]viets unwilling to adjust their positions on less central matters until the PNE issue is resolved.

Despite the concentration on PNEs, the initial round gave us an opportunity to probe Soviet thinking on the other substantive matters covered in your instruction letter of July 11,4 including such verification measures as secure, internal seismic networks and on-site inspections as well as such political/legal issues as the adherence requirement for entry into force, duration, and withdrawal provisions. Although the Soviets consistently stood by the provisions of their draft CTB treaty covering these matters, the consultations gave us a better impression of where they may eventually be flexible.

The British were a positive factor in the talks, reinforcing our positions effectively on key matters while taking exception with us infrequently and only on minor issues. The Soviets see this as a two-sided negotiation which, with the convergence of U.S.–U.K. positions and close coordination between the U.S. and U.K. Delegation,5 it really is.

Both the British and the Soviets expressed reluctance to accept our suggestion that the first round of formal negotiations be held in London this Fall. They both expressed a preference for Geneva on the ground that their facilities in Geneva were more adequate for their purposes.

The three Delegations have agreed to resume the trilaterals in Geneva on October 3 and to remain in close contact during the interval preceding the next round.

The following is a summary of the major issues covered during the initial round of trilaterals.

Peaceful Nuclear Explosion

Discussions on PNEs focused on two principal questions; whether it is possible to carry out PNEs without acquiring military benefits and whether non-proliferation objectives would best be served by a PNE ban or a PNE accommodation.

On the first question, we explained in detail our position that PNEs would inevitably provide military benefits, no matter how intrusive the arrangements designed to constrain those benefits. In this connection, we pointed out that a PNE program: would (a) provide the infrastructure to the state carrying out the program to maintain personnel and facilities specialized in the design, fabrication, and use of nuclear explosives at a substantially higher level of competence and readiness than [Page 387]would be the case if all nuclear explosions were banned; (b) provide information on the effects of nuclear explosions that would assist in the design and protection of weapon systems; and (c) facilitate assessments of the reliability of a state’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, whose explosive design features could parallel or be identical to design features of the explosives used in the PNE program. In addition, we indicated that we were unaware of any reliable means of verifying that design improvements were not being introduced while conducting PNEs, but emphasized that, even if device standardization could be guaranteed, this would not eliminate the other military benefits enumerated above.

The Soviets, however, took a more narrow view of military benefits, claiming that such could be precluded by freezing explosive device design and by prohibiting diagnostic measurements of explosions and by verifying that each device used in the PNE program conformed to certain specified parameters (in this connection, mentioning as examples total yield, fission yield, and the ratios of amount of selected radioactive debris products). Morokhov, head of the Soviet Delegation, repeatedly sought to draw us into a technical examination of how device improvement could be effectively precluded. We resisted those efforts, indicating that we did not consider it promising to get involved in the technical consideration of proposals which, even if feasible and practicable, did not even purport to deal with a number of important military benefits (e.g., maintenance of nuclear explosive device “infrastructure”) that we had identified. It should be noted that their proposals as stated would not assure that some device development was not being carried out.

On non-proliferation, the Soviet side contended that a ban on all nuclear explosions would be resisted by non-nuclear weapon states wishing to receive the benefits of PNE technology and would give some of those states the excuse that only indigenous nuclear explosive development would enable them to realize those benefits. On the other hand, we maintained that non-nuclear weapon states have showed little interest in PNEs, and that a number of critical states that have not joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty would almost certainly reject a discriminatory agreement which permitted only existing nuclear powers to carry out nuclear explosions.

It is still difficult to predict how firmly the Soviets will maintain their position on PNEs. Morokhov, who represents the Soviet agency responsible for PNEs, has certainly made every effort to demonstrate inflexibility. He has claimed that all Soviet government agencies are agreed on the need to preserve PNEs, that the USSR cannot afford to give up a technology that will make a major contribution to the national economy, and that there will be no CTB treaty without PNEs. The question remains, however, whether the Soviet political leadership will [Page 388]permit the alleged potential benefits of PNEs to stand in the way of an objective to which the Soviets have long been committed and which could have important effects on U.S.-Soviet relations as well as global non-proliferation efforts. Interestingly, the Soviet military Delegate volunteered to our military Delegate informally that military benefits would accrue from PNEs, albeit he minimized their importance. It is also interesting that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives on the Soviet Delegation, when asked this question, do not attempt to defend the Soviet PNE position, but rather say that the issue will have to be resolved at the highest levels.

Our overall impression is that the Soviet government has not made the political decision to press ahead with PNEs at the cost of abandoning a CTB. However, it is clear to us that it will be futile to try to resolve the issue of PNEs solely in the context of the trilateral negotiations. Our case will have to be presented at a higher political level. Cy Vance’s meeting with Gromyko in early September would provide a good opportunity to demonstrate our firmness on the issue and to appeal to U.S.-Soviet interests that transcend the possible economic value of PNEs.


Our presentations on verification were devoted mainly to outlining, and seeking Soviet reactions to, our ideas on the installation of secure seismic stations on U.S. and Soviet territory, and to calling for a stronger position on on-site inspections than the one contained in the Soviet draft treaty. On the question of internal seismic stations, the Soviet side expressed the view that such supplementary verification was unnecessary in view of the adequacy of national technical means. This response, however, was tentative and far from a categorical rejection. They maintained, for example, that the U.S. side had failed so far to submit sufficiently convincing technical arguments for internal stations. They did, however, exhibit a good bit of interest in the technical details we presented. The Delegation has the impression that the Soviets ultimately will be prepared to accept some number of secure stations on their territory—although we would not expect them to show flexibility on this point until the PNE issue is resolved.

With respect to on-site inspections, we pressed the Soviets to go along with the idea that, once an inspection visit is authorized, the rights and functions of observers should not be left to ad hoc determination, but should instead be explicitly agreed upon in advance in an annex or protocol to the treaty. Although the Soviet Delegation was not prepared to say so formally, we received informal indications that such a detailed annex or protocol would ultimately be acceptable. However, the Soviets continued to emphasize the importance they place on the “principle of voluntariness,” which, as contained in the Soviet draft [Page 389]treaty, provides for on-site inspection only if the party suspected of a violation agrees on the need for an inspection.

Entry into Force and Withdrawal

The Soviets continued to support the provisions in their draft treaty which requires adherence by all nuclear powers before entry into force. They also reiterated their suggestion that, upon signature of a CTB treaty with such an entry into force provision, the U.S., U.K., and U.S.S.R. should suspend testing for 18–24 months. If by the end of that period the requirement for entry into force of the treaty was not met, the three would be free to resume testing.

We pointed out that the Soviet idea was counter-productive in terms of the objective of encouraging all nuclear powers to join a CTB, that the scheme would at best result in a short hiatus in USUKUSSR testing, and that it would not as effectively constrain non-nuclear weapons states not party to NPT from developing an indigenous nuclear explosive capability. We suggested instead a treaty that would enter into force without adherence by all nuclear powers, but would provide for the right to withdraw after about five years. From several discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives on the Soviet Delegation, we have the clear impression that the Soviets will eventually be able to accept something along the lines of our proposal.


As instructed in your July 11 letter, I followed up on the exploratory question I had raised with Morokhov during the June bilateral meetings about the desirability of suspending nuclear explosions at an early stage of the negotiations. In a meeting of the heads of the two Delegations, he again maintained that such a moratorium would serve no useful purpose, but might instead remove incentives for completing the negotiations and could thus delay their conclusion. He went on, however, to state somewhat cryptically that others might decide on a moratorium “unconnected with the treaty.” I would suggest that we hold off on the question of a moratorium at the Delegation level until such time as we have reached trilateral agreement on the key elements of a CTB treaty. At that time, the Soviets are likely to see the matter in a different perspective.

Paul C. Warnke
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Agency File, Box 1, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency: 8/77–2/78. Secret.
  2. See Document 159.
  3. The Soviet position is discussed in telegram 6401 from Geneva, July 28; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770271–0123.
  4. See Tab A, Document 163.
  5. The U.S.–UK discussions held before the trilateral talks are reported in telegram 172338 to London, July 22; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770263–1012.