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166. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance and the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Warnke) to President Carter 1


  • Proposed Strategy for CTB Negotiations

General Approach

The strategy suggested in this memorandum has two basic purposes:

Accelerating the shift to concrete negotiation of practical solutions with the Soviets;

Increasing Soviet receptivity to sound solutions which will be advantageous over the long haul.

We believe we can now foresee the general shape of desirable, and possibly negotiable, outcomes on the three major issues—peaceful nuclear explosions, verification, and participation by France and China. Moreover, we can credibly portray these solutions as genuinely taking into account the viewpoints of both sides. To give these approaches the maximum weight possible, and to ensure that they are given serious high-level consideration in Moscow, we recommend that you approve our giving the attached draft memorandum (Tab A)2 to Dobrynin, for transmission to senior levels in Moscow, as an authoritative statement of U.S. views and proposals.

Realistically, such a memorandum may not persuade the Soviets to see all the issues our way because, in fact, we are addressing problems of great complexity and sensitivity. But the prospects of it bringing the two sides closer together quickly are great enough, in our judgment, to warrant the effort. Moreover, such an initiative would, in the broadest perspective, be consistent with our basic strategy of stimulating productive negotiations with the Soviets on an important arms [Page 391]control subject—particularly since more time may be required for meaningful progress on SALT.

Where We Stand

A report on the last round of consultations is attached (TAB B).3 We would add the following comments regarding the present situation:

We are now at an important moment of opportunity. Neither side has locked itself into unbudgeable positions. Even on PNEs, the Soviets are groping for ideas to make their approach workable.

But much depends on us. The Soviets, in our judgment, have not thought through the issues as well as we have. Well-reasoned and fair proposals given to the Soviets soon could make a crucial difference in whether we drift into stalemate or whether we lead the negotiations towards early concrete progress.

The senior political levels on the Soviet side should now be engaged. We have had good exploratory discussions with the Soviets. But these have been somewhat unusual in being dominated by a head of Delegation who is primarily a technical official and—as the head of the Soviet Government’s PNE program—one who has an understandably strong personal interest in this particular issue. This could result in undue emphasis on preserving PNEs, and also, conceivably, failure to convey to us fully Soviet feelings on such sensitive political issues as the Chinese participation problem.

The timing for the next round is favorable for U.S. leadership efforts. If we can get the major lines of our approach to the Soviets soon, they will have several weeks to think through the problems. They will naturally already have before them an account of the arguments we presented during the last round. If we waited until October to begin suggesting approaches for reconciling our differences, we might find the Soviets arriving in Geneva with little flexibility. An early presentation at a high level could have maximum impact in getting the two sides lined up in the same general direction on key issues. And this, of course, is a necessary precondition to meaningful negotiation of precise language on key issues. The deputy Soviet representative told us at the end of the last round that he hoped “political decisions” might be made before October.

Nature of Proposed Memorandum for Dobrynin

In preparing the proposed draft, we have kept several basic considerations in mind:

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—We have concentrated on the individual merits of each of the three main issues—portraying our approach in each case in terms of a middle ground or a solution which serves both sides’ basic purposes. We want to avoid a situation of appearing merely to request three things from the Soviets so that, if they give us something on one of the issues, they can claim that we owe them on the others.

—We have framed the arguments so that we would be mainly exploring and advocating key purposes and approaches, rather than presenting detailed formulae. This will permit flexibility and room for maneuver if the Soviets should develop variants or alternatives that have some merit.

—Finally, we have framed the positions in the memorandum having in mind that these should be reasonable and attractive enough to stick with for some time if the Soviets do not come around sufficiently. We will, of course, always retain the privilege of reassessing any specific elements whenever circumstances seem to warrant.

Peaceful Nuclear Explosions

It seems to us important that we do our best now to get the Soviets away from insistence on permitting peaceful nuclear explosions. On the merits, we believe our position of seeking to halt all nuclear explosions is right, and we should do everything reasonable to see that our arguments are considered at a high political level. But, as we indicated, given the personal stake of the Soviet Delegation head in his country’s PNE program, we cannot be certain that our arguments have been fairly reported up the line in the Soviet bureaucracy.

The main points we should continue to stress are these:

—A PNE program requires an infrastructure of test-experienced nuclear explosive designers, manufacturing and testing facilities, and the opportunity for testing which would support reliability estimates of the weapons stockpile. We believe there is no way to exclude these significant military benefits from such a program. Therefore, if PNEs were permitted now under a CTB, whatever the effort at inspection, we would almost certainly find ourselves and the Soviets competing with PNE programs in which both of us, sooner or later, would be trying to derive as much military benefit as possible. It would simply be imprudent for either of us not to do so if the other side was conducting PNEs. Others would recognize what was taking place. Much of the value of a CTB would be lost.4

—Permitting PNEs under a CTB would, overall, have a negative impact on our current non-proliferation efforts. It would perpetuate the [Page 393]rationalization that there is a valid reason for others to develop their own nuclear explosive devices. Incidentally, an encouraging report has recently come in from Joe Nye’s consultations in India:5 senior Indian officials indicated their opinion that it would be helpful to the Prime Minister if the U.S. and the USSR agreed to forego PNEs in a CTB.6

To make our presentation as effective as possible, we are suggesting that we include in the memorandum a significant new element which can credibly be portrayed as responding to Soviet concerns. This is the suggestion that the treaty, instead of banning PNEs outright and forever, could reflect that the parties would keep under continuing review whether the military benefits of PNEs can be eliminated. However, PNEs would not be allowed unless and until mutually acceptable agreement were worked out. This approach could be a significant face-saving device for the Soviets, particularly if the preamble reflected that the treaty did not preclude forever such possible economic benefits from PNEs as might be realized. This formulation would avoid making the past Soviet investment in its PNE program look like a complete waste. As a possible further inducement to the Soviets, we could offer to discuss with them our experience in developing large-scale conventional engineering techniques which have made PNE possibilities look even less attractive than earlier.7

By suggesting deferral as a way out, we would also be meeting one Soviet point which may have some validity; it is probably true, as the Soviets argue, that a fair number of non-nuclear countries would take some comfort in the idea that we were keeping open a possibility of using PNE technology for everyone’s benefit, even if that were a distant and uncertain prospect.

One final point—if we are looking for an acceleration of productive negotiations, it would not be promising to pursue the Soviet position of permitting PNEs with inspection. Wholly aside from the fact that such inspection would not eliminate military benefits, it would precipitate an extremely difficult and time-consuming negotiation. The inspection procedures would undoubtedly be highly contentious, requiring agreement on technical definitions and detailed provisions regarding such factors as access, sampling, device design and emplacement. This task, involving negotiation of inspection procedures to try to minimize military benefits, would be far more demanding than was [Page 394]the negotiation of inspection provisions for the PNE Treaty of 1976 which involved only procedures to confirm that individual explosions did not exceed the 150-kiloton threshold. Even so, negotiation of the inspection provisions for the PNE Treaty required most of two years.

For all these reasons, we believe we can best serve our interest in moving rapidly toward negotiations and the prospect of sound results by pressing the Soviets at the highest level to forego a PNE exception in the CTB treaty, while offering them a significant face-saving element—deferral rather than permanent prohibition of PNEs. One possible straw in the wind: a Soviet military official commented to one of our Delegation officers in Geneva that the PNE issue might be like the XVIII Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—drinking was banned but later permitted by further amendment.8


The elements of a reasonable verification package might also now be pressed on the Soviets. We could pick up their willingness to have on-site inspections whenever there is mutual agreement to permit one. But we could reasonably insist that there also be agreement on the rights that inspectors would need to perform their mission effectively. Similar agreement was elicited from the Soviets in the PNE Treaty.

In addition, we could ask for agreement on a relatively small number of automatic and secure seismic stations in each of our countries. The Soviets may not ultimately accept this; but they have not yet been firmly negative, and it seems worth a try. If we did succeed, it would be a breakthrough, valuable in and of itself, and also helpful domestically.9 You will have before you shortly an interagency study on the value of different numbers of automatic seismic stations, and this should permit you to decide more precisely on what we should ask for. We would not, however, have to specify the exact number in the memorandum for Dobrynin. That could be decided later.

With the Soviets, we could make the pitch that we are meeting them halfway in not insisting on mandatory on-site inspections—an historic shift for us. Actually, from our standpoint, it is arguable that the difference between “mandatory” and cooperatively-arranged inspections is largely illusory.10 A provision for cooperatively-arranged [Page 395]on-sites is likely to accomplish about all that any on-site inspection provision is capable of. In fact, no on-site inspections, mandatory or otherwise, will accomplish a whole lot if there is not cooperation of the host government. For example, in remote mountainous terrains of the Soviet Union, it is hard to imagine how any foreign team could operate effectively over a large area and for a sustained period if the Soviets were bent on throwing up harrassing obstacles.

Moreover, we are really not likely to ever request an on-site inspection, “mandatory” or voluntary, just for a fishing expedition—the risk of coming up with an embarrassing absence of evidence would be too great—but only when we are confident there has been a violation and that we could find the evidence if we arrived at precisely the right place. But, if such a situation were to occur, the Soviets would not be likely to let us get there, whatever the wording of the treaty. So, in the end, the right to ask for an inspection would mainly be useful as a further inhibition against violations because it would strengthen our hand in demonstrating—by their refusal to permit an inspection—that the Soviets had something to hide. (This, of course, is very different from consulting with the Soviets through private diplomatic channels to try to resolve an ambiguous situation.)

Entry Into Force

The present Soviet position is that the treaty would come into force only when all nuclear powers have ratified. The Soviets suggest, however, that there might be a USUKUSSR moratorium for 18–24 months once the negotiations have been completed—with the freedom to resume testing thereafter if all nuclear powers have not accepted the treaty. A high-level presentation would stress to the Soviets that their position would inevitably boomerang. The Chinese (and the French) would reject such crude pressure. There would, therefore, only be a brief and temporary halt in our own testing; and there would be no opportunity for important non-nuclear-weapon states to accept formal treaty constraints.

We can present our alternative as one which meets the objectives we both share. If the treaty entered into force for a specified period, parties could decide at the end of that period whether it was necessary for them to withdraw. (Although we are prepared to agree to a period as short as about three years, it would be advantageous at this stage to speak in terms of roughly five years.)11 After the treaty was in force, and with the accession of a number of other states, there would almost certainly be increasing though subtle pressure, over time, on France [Page 396]and China. As a result, even if they did not adhere in this period, their rate of testing might sag even below its already quite slow pace.

Despite the obvious logic of our position, this issue is still worth a high-level presentation because it is one of extreme sensitivity for the Soviets and, unless we succeed in bringing the Soviets around, we may have little to show for our efforts. We could not, of course, join with the Soviets in their solution involving, as it does, only a testing pause and creation of a propaganda stick which the Soviets would use against the Chinese.

Conclusions and Recommendations

In conclusion, we recommend that you authorize us to provide the attached draft memorandum to Dobrynin for transmission to Moscow because we believe this could significantly increase the chances of moving more rapidly toward concrete negotiations, and toward a better agreement. We are, of course, quite conscious of the desirability of not painting ourselves into a corner. We do not believe arguments along the lines of those in the attached draft would do so.12 And it is possible that our high-level presentation could open some important doors for us.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Agency File, Box 1, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency: 8/77–2/78. Secret; Nodis. The memorandum was attached to a September 15 covering memorandum from Brzezinski to Harold Brown and Fri which asked for their comments by September 20. In the upper right-hand corner of Brzezinski’s memorandum, Brown wrote “9/16. MSH—I think it improper that we are given 2 days to comment on a memo 10 days old. Perhaps this is [illegible] one I should [illegible] to ZB’s attention. (perhaps [illegible] a cover [illegible]). HB.” Next to Brzezinski’s signature, Brown also wrote “Walt—I have read the memo for President, only scanned Tab A. This seems to [illegible] one of the better efforts. What does Gerry [illegible] think? HB.”
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Not attached.
  4. Brown wrote a check mark to the right of this paragraph.
  5. In telegram 1848 from Bombay, August 2, the Consul reported that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi “needed strong justification for giving up his freedom of action” on the issue of PNEs “and said that an agreement between the US and the USSR to give up PNEs under the CTB would help.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770276–0753)
  6. Brown wrote a check mark to the right of this paragraph.
  7. Brown wrote a check mark to the right of this paragraph.
  8. Brown lined through the sentence “One possible straw in the wind: a Soviet military official commented to one of our Delegation officers in Geneva that the PNE issue might be like the XVIII Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—drinking was banned but later permitted by further amendment.” In the right margin he wrote an arrow and said “I agree fully with the position proposed by US, but not with the Sov officer’s analogy.” In the left margin he wrote “take out.”
  9. Brown wrote “I agree” to the right of this sentence.
  10. Brown wrote a check mark to the right of this sentence.
  11. Brown wrote a check mark to the right of the sentence in parentheses.
  12. Brown wrote a check mark to the right of this sentence.