189. Telegram From the Mission in Geneva to the Department of State1

4351. USCTB. Pass to DOE. Subject: CTB Negotiations: Assessment of Session Held January 23 to March 22, 1978.

CTB Message No. 187

1. Summary: With trilateral negotiations entering brief recess, most significant development in recent weeks has been emergence of verification, rather than peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs), as chief Soviet preoccupation and as the key issue on which prospects for early achievement of a CTB treaty depend. It has become clear that our proposals on internal seismic installations (ISIs) and on-site inspections (OSIs) have struck sensitive nerves in the Soviet government and have encountered strong resistance within certain quarters on the basis of traditional Russian concerns about sovereignty and security. While the Soviets continue to state agreement in principle to the idea of authenticated ISIs and preagreed OSI rights and functions, and have accepted a number of specific elements of our approach, their overall response to our proposals—as reflected in the draft separate agreement they tabled on March 152—has been minimal and inadequate. They have, in particular, proposed leaving decisions on key verification requirements to a joint consultative commission after the treaty enters into force.

2. However, the Soviets have stressed informally that, if verification difficulties can be resolved, duration and PNE linkage would no longer be problems. Soviet Rep (Morokhov) has privately told both us and the British that he would recommend Soviet government acceptance of idea that weapons test ban treaty should be permitted to extend without French and Chinese adherence and that, in the absence of mutually acceptable means of carrying out PNEs, the PNE moratorium should continue as long as the treaty. And, despite objections concerning U.S. verification proposals, leaders of Soviet Delegation have given every indication that Soviet government wants to conclude a CTB treaty at an early date. End summary.

3. Much of the work of the round beginning on January 23 consisted of detailed U.S. presentations on verification. Including the introduction of illustrative language for the separate verification agreement, the presentation of technical justifications for our proposals, and re [Page 455] sponses to Soviet questions. The Soviet reaction to our verification package evolved gradually. At first, our proposals evoked considerable interest and even a few positive signals. As the round progressed, however, reactions became more negative, culminating in the Soviet plenary statements of March 3 and 10,3 where Morokhov labeled U.S. proposals on ISIs and OSIs unacceptable.

4. The basis for this hardening Soviet attitude on verification is what appears to be an acute concern, at least within certain parts of the Soviet Delegation, that our verification proposals would involve unwarranted intrusion on Soviet sovereignty and would jeopardize Soviet security by making available intelligence information unrelated to the CTB treaty. The more they have studied the details of our proposals, the more they have expressed opposition. They have claimed, for example, that the high quality seismometers we propose would detect missile launches and tank movements within the USSR, that U.S. ISI site selection, installation, and maintenance teams would have unwarranted opportunities to roam around vast areas and engage in unauthorized activities, and that U.S. procedures for exempting certain sites from on-site inspection areas would enable us to conduct an intelligence mapping operation of the Soviet Union.

5. It is apparent that verification has become a controversial and divisive issue within the Soviet Delegation, presumably reflecting sharp bureaucratic differences in Moscow. At more than one plenary meeting, Morokhov has staked out extreme positions on matters of Soviet sovereignty and security, only to contradict himself a few minutes later at the restricted heads of Delegation meeting. He has acknowledged that he is under certain constraints when his whole Delegation is present, and has encouraged us to take him more seriously when he speaks in the private sessions. At working group meetings, we have seen representatives of different Soviet agencies openly contradict one another.

6. Of course, Soviet concerns about the effects of our verification proposals on Soviet sovereignty and security are either highly exaggerated or without any technical foundation. But these issues are probably being considered by the Soviet government only partially on their merits. Our proposals clearly cut against the doctrinal grain, and we would expect that they have stimulated the attention and the hostility of the Soviet security apparatus, if not other influential segments of the Soviet bureaucracy as well. With such high stakes, we can anticipate [Page 456] great difficulty in getting the Soviets to go along with our proposals on verification.

7. Internal seismic installations. Among the verification issues, the most sensitive to the Soviets, and the most important to us, is ISIs. The Soviets have, at least in principle, accepted important elements of our approach, especially the need for agreed technical characteristics of the equipment, agreed authentication measures, agreed procedures to ensure the integrity of the authentication device, agreed station locations, and agreed communications channels. But critical problems remain. The most generalized defect of the Soviet approach to ISIs, as presented in their March 15 draft, is that practically all agreed requirements for the seismic installations would be determined by the joint consultative commission after entry into force of the treaty, rather than provided for in the separate agreement. Privately, Morokhov has argued that it would be easier to work out characteristics satisfactory to us in the JCC than in the separate agreement itself, since these issues will have greater political visibility and sensitivity during the treaty negotiations. We have taken the position that controversial issues can best be resolved in these negotiations. A possible basic difference of principle may also exist on the nature and volume of the data to be exchanged. The Soviets have discussed, but not yet formally proposed, an approach under which data from the ISIs would be provided only upon request for the purpose of clarifying the character of events that had been detected by national technical means. In addition, pointing out that the equipment proposed by us will probably not be ready for deployment when the treaty enters into force, the Soviets have called for the use of existing equipment and have not been clear on whether they envisage upgrading later.

8. The present Soviet position on ISIs is clearly inadequate, and we have told them so. We have stressed that we could not enter into a CTB without first having nailed down our essential verification requirements in the separate agreement, including the requirement for receiving all data recorded at the ISIs, not just specially requested data. It is currently difficult to predict how much detail, in terms of ISI characteristics, the Soviets will be prepared to accept in the separate agreement. While claiming that he has already gone beyond his instructions in the March 15 draft, Morokhov has hinted that the Soviets would be prepared to consider more detailed formulations. He talked of finding the “golden mean” between the Soviet draft and the “excessive detail” of the U.S. proposal. However, Morokhov has also said that he is not in a position to put forward modifications of the Soviet draft and has urged us to propose additions and modifications of our own.

9. On-site inspections. Relative to ISIs, remaining difficulties on OSIs seem less acute and more easily resolvable. On the question of [Page 457] procedures for initiating OSIs, the stated Soviet objective has been to ensure that OSIs would not be used for harassment or for purposes unrelated to CTB compliance. They have accordingly tried to delineate clearly the limited type of event that could trigger an OSI request and also to limit the type of evidence that could be used in making such a request. Throughout the round, Soviet Delegation members have given us confusing and most often troublesome signals on this question. However, from recent remarks by Morokhov and his deputy, Timerbaev, it seems that there may now be a reasonably good possibility of finding language that meets the Soviet need for specificity in describing the type of event that could trigger an OSI, without establishing criteria (e.g., requirement for seismic evidence) that could serve as a barrier to U.S. OSI requests. In addition, we have continued to stress that our proposed agreed understanding on the consequences of arbitrary behavior in rejecting OSIs is an essential element of our voluntary approach to OSI. While the Soviets have not formally responded to our proposal, Timerbaev has indicated that they may be prepared to work with us on such an understanding.

10. On OSI rights and functions, the Soviets have continued to agree in principle that these should be agreed in advance and specified in the separate agreement. In practice, however, their draft deals only with rights, in general terms, contains nothing on functions and defers certain key elements (e.g., types of equipment, number of personnel, duration of OSI) to ad hoc determination by the joint consultative commission. U.S. Delegation believes that Soviets will eventually agree to a more complete and explicit treatment of the rights and functions in the separate agreement, along the lines we have proposed. However, this may well prove difficult and time-consuming, and we would still have the job of getting the Soviets to accept the details of our proposal.

11. International seismic data exchange (ISDE). The verification issue on which the most progress was made in terms of working out agreement language was ISDE. In the course of several sub-group sessions, a bracketed composite text was developed of the treaty annex containing the guidelines for the ISDE. The present text includes only a few bracketed formulations, reflecting disagreements on relatively minor issues. The only factor preventing elimination of virtually all of the brackets (with the exception of those containing alternate formulations on the nature of the implementation body) was the inability of the Soviet Delegation, even on this relatively simple and uncontroversial issue, to coordinate its position effectively. Soviet sub-group representatives came to several meetings without instructions, and were simply unprepared to negotiate.

12. Duration and peaceful nuclear explosions. Throughout the round, the U.S. and UK Delegations kept the pressure on the Soviets to [Page 458] abandon their existing positions on duration of the weapons test ban treaty and linkage between the duration of the treaty and that of the PNE moratorium. While Soviet Delegation members indicated informally, almost from the start of the round, that they were prepared to consider alternatives to their present position on treaty duration, they were unwilling, and remain unwilling, to make a formal proposal until there is a greater measure of agreement on verification. Until recently, we had speculated that the Soviet tactic might be to wait until verification is resolved, and then offer to permit the weapons test ban to continue without French and Chinese adherence in exchange for our acceptance of a deadline for the PNE moratorium. However, Morokhov on March 9 told us that he was convinced that the duration and PNE issues would pose no difficulty once verification was solved. He said that he would recommend Soviet acceptance of the idea that the treaty should be permitted to continue and that, in the absence of trilateral agreement on procedures for carrying out PNEs, the PNE moratorium should remain in force as long as the weapons test ban.

13. U.S. Delegation considers it unlikely, in light of the importance of the issues involved, that Morokhov would talk that way if the Soviet Delegation did not already have authority to move along those lines or if Morokhov was not confident that he could get that authority. If this is correct, the Soviets are prepared to move much more decisively and much more quickly from their Nov 2 position (i.e., fixed deadline for PNE moratorium)4 than we had expected. Indeed, such a move would constitute total acceptance of our position on PNE linkage.

14. Of course, even if Morokhov’s remarks can be depended upon fully, we would not expect it to be easy to find mutually acceptable formulations on duration and PNE questions. The Soviets may well back away from their November 2 positions gradually, in small and initially inadequate steps. In any event, it is very doubtful that they would accept our December 7 proposal concerning a special right of withdrawal,5 since that formulation, in their view, places too heavy a responsibility on the individual state deciding to exercise its right. Instead, they will probably insist on some formula that incorporates the principle of “unity of action” among the three nuclear powers which, to the Soviets, probably means trilateral consultations prior to a decision on extending the treaty and either simultaneous release from their CTB [Page 459] obligations or a joint determination to extend the treaty. The duration formula recently proposed by the UK includes that principle, while meeting our key objective of permitting the treaty regime to continue without French and Chinese adherence. Moreover, as the UK Delegation suggested, it could provide an opportunity to terminate CTB obligations and resume testing if serious stockpile reliability problems developed. U.S. Delegation believes that UK proposal could well be desirable option to pursue and feels that it should be given careful consideration during the recess.

15. Conclusion. Despite their cautious and inadequate position on verification, we have no reason to think that the Soviets are interested in relaxing the pace of the negotiations. In fact, by providing us a preview of their position on duration and PNE linkage and by giving us their draft separate agreement immediately before the recess, Morokhov has conveyed the impression that at least the leadership of the Soviet Delegation is determined to move ahead and even accelerate the pace.

16. Morokhov has told us privately several times that, if verification can be solved, the other issues will fall into place easily and quickly. We question how easily and quickly that might be. But at the present time, we can agree with his assessment that verification, especially the question of internal seismic installations, holds the key to prospects for achieving a treaty at an early date.

17. A caveat is necessary, however, on the permitted nuclear experiments issue. In accordance with instructions, we have not raised the issue with the Soviets. Early in the round, the Soviet deputy mentioned to U.S. Alt Rep that the issue could cause difficulties for our two countries. In the course of an informal conversation March 9 on the detection capabilities of ISIs, Morokhov said that the USSR “would not do nuclear experiments” under what he believed to be the current detection threshold using NTM (one-half of a kiloton). Recently, Timerbaev asked UK Dep Rep Edmonds when we would get to the issue raised in the first paragraph of the U.S. December 7 working paper (i.e., definitions). He said that the three Delegations should be able to handle that matter the way we did at the NPT Review Conference (when a certain type of laser fusion research was interpreted as not falling within the scope of the NPT).6

18. It is quite possible that the Soviets have simply not figured that the permitted experiments might not be confined to activities like laser fusion research. In fact, we have no idea of how the Soviets would react to the range of options that we have considered in the course of the re [Page 460] view. Therefore, when we say that verification is the principal remaining stumbling block, this necessarily leaves out of account the permitted experiments question. We currently have no way to predict whether this question, depending on the option chosen, will become a serious complicating and delaying factor in the negotiations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780125–1235. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Priority to London and Moscow.
  2. The draft agreement is in telegram 4069 from the Mission in Geneva, March 16; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780117–0507.
  3. The Soviet plenary statements are in telegram 3421 from the Mission in Geneva, March 4; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780099–0598 and telegram 3854 from the Mission in Geneva, March 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780109–0775.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 176.
  5. Telegram 11707 from the Mission in Geneva, December 7, 1977, contains the text of the December proposal, which specified that “after three years have elapsed since the entry force of the treaty, any party could give one year notice and, at the end of that year, withdraw from the treaty if it determined that conditions arising from the conduct of nuclear explosions by any non-party required its withdrawal for reasons of national security.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770454–1524)
  6. No further information was found.