193. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Jones) to Secretary of Defense Brown1



  • Comprehensive Test Ban (U)

1. (S) On 1 March 1977, the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided2 their views regarding a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) and possible negotiations with the Soviet Union.3 These views have not changed. In light of the initiation of formal trilateral negotiations last October and the ongoing interagency studies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe it appropriate to address a matter of principal concern—maintenance of, and confidence in, the US nuclear deterrent posture under a CTB.

2. (S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to believe that a complete ban on all nuclear testing is not in the best interest of the United States. They believe any test ban must specifically provide for adequate nuclear testing in order to:

a. Maintain high confidence in the reliability of US nuclear weapons and hence confidence in the US nuclear deterrent.

b. Avoid undesirable asymmetries which are otherwise likely to result due to the inability of the United States to verify compliance with the test ban.

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3. (S) To assure high confidence in the nuclear deterrent, certain minimum nuclear testing requirements must be fulfilled. These requirements include:

a. Identifying and correcting reliability and potential safety problems in existing nuclear weapons.

b. Replacing nuclear weapons reaching the end of their stockpile life.

c. Adapting existing warhead designs to new delivery systems with high confidence.

d. Incorporating into existing warheads systems to enhance safety, security, and command and control.

e. [2½ lines not declassified]

These minimum requirements should be able to be fulfilled at the level of testing necessary to assure confidence in nuclear stockpile reliability.

4. (S) At the Special Coordination Committee meeting of 22 March 1978, three options were discussed which might be applied under a CTB regime.4

a. Option A—Self-Regulation. This option would ban testing without defining what activities were permitted or precluded.

b. Option B—Periodic Treaty Review. This option would also ban testing but would include explicit provision for periodic review with the understanding that serious problems with the US stockpile could prompt action to seek treaty amendments to allow limited testing.

c. Option C—Provision for Continued Testing. This option would allow some nuclear tests limited by yield, number of tests, agreed phaseout period, or date of entry into force.

The Self-Regulation and Periodic Treaty Review options, which would preclude necessary weapons testing, would contribute to long-term strategic instability because the United States would be unable to meet the criteria stated in paragraph 2 above. Further, the Periodic Treaty Review option, by deferring the question of testing, might place the United States in an unacceptable position should the need arise to seek treaty amendment. The political consequences of seeking treaty amendment, or failing that, unilateral abrogation of the treaty, are such that the United States might find itself in the position of having to accept a high military risk. The Appendix provides additional discussion of the Periodic Treaty Review option.

5. (S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff conclude that continued testing is essential to maintain the US nuclear deterrent posture. Therefore, they cannot support a test ban which:

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a. Does not specifically provide for the degree of testing necessary to maintain confidence in stockpile reliability.

b. Could lead to asymmetries because of the inability of the United States to verify compliance.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff reserve judgment on the numbers of tests and yields required pending further technical review and consideration of a Department of Energy position on these questions.

6. (U) The Joint Chiefs of Staff request that you support their views and that you also convey these views to the President prior to his decision on the negotiating position for the next round. In this connection, a decision should be reached as a matter of urgency since the level of testing could impact significantly on the US approach to verification and peaceful nuclear explosion issues.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

David C. Jones
Acting Chairman
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–81–0202, Box 53, A–400.112 TEST BAN (1 Jan–15 Mar) 1978. Secret. Brown forwarded this memorandum to Carter under cover of an April 22 memorandum. (Ibid.) To the right of the date, Brown wrote “4/20 Walt Slocombe—I think a formal transmission of these views and explicit drawing of attention to expectation JCS will not support options A or B version of CTB in ratification is needed. HB.”
  2. Reference: JCSM–52–77, 1 March 1977, “Comprehensive Test Ban Issues (U).” [Footnote is in the original.]
  3. See Document 148.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 190.