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


  • Duration of a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB)

Our trilateral talks with the USSR and UK on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are continuing to proceed well.2 A good number of the formal treaty provisions have been agreed and the Soviet Delegation is talking seriously on the issues of the way in which on-site inspections would be conducted and the characteristics of the national seismic stations that would be established in the Soviet Union and the U.S.

The question of the initial duration of the treaty is, however, impeding the final development of on-site inspection procedures and, even more seriously, Soviet consideration of the number, timing and specific characteristics of the national seismic stations. Accordingly, substantial further progress will require that we state soon our final position on treaty duration.

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It is, however, also clear that a final decision that moves from a five year treaty to a three year treaty will interfere seriously with our ability to negotiate any extensive and effective network in the USSR. This could make our ratification problems more severe. There are also indications that moving to a three year term could adversely affect prospects for gaining adherence by key-nuclear states, and thus reduce a CTB’s non-proliferation value.

Verification. Our discussions with the Soviet CTB Delegation suggest strongly that, for a five-year treaty, the Soviets would be prepared to come quite close to meeting our proposals on national seismic stations, including our proposal that they accept a substantial number of stations. After press accounts alerted them to a possible U.S. move to three years, however, they have taken a much more reserved position. The head of the Soviet Delegation has made it clear that his government would accept substantially less in terms of verification, particularly seismic stations, for a three-year treaty than for a five-year one. He maintains that, for a three-year duration, it is virtually impossible to justify a seismic network that would take over two years to install, would require considerable effort and expense, and would involve advanced equipment that has not yet even been fully developed or tested.

In addition, we are told by members of the Soviet Delegation that our far-reaching seismic station proposals have encountered strong resistance in the Soviet bureaucracy because of their unprecedented intrusiveness. While the Soviet government appears reluctantly prepared to accept most of our proposals in the context of a relatively durable CTB, it can be expected to have much greater difficulty swallowing what they probably regard as a serious compromise of Soviet doctrine for the sake of a treaty that could lapse after only three years.

We believe, therefore, that a U.S. shift to three years would result in a significant weakening of the verification package we could hope to negotiate. It is unlikely, for example, that we could obtain more than a few stations on Soviet territory, and even then the Soviets would be very reluctant to agree in advance or in any detail to the sophisticated technical features we are proposing.

The implications of having to settle for less could be quite serious. Clearly, verification will be a key factor in the ratification debate, and the type of seismic network that seems attainable for a five-year treaty could be a major asset. It would have substantial appeal both in the Senate and with the American public as a breakthrough in terms of Soviet acceptance of intrusive verification measures and as an important precedent for future arms control measures, such as SALT. Our shift to three years could undercut this opportunity.

Effect on India and other key states. Foreign Secretary Mehta recently told our Ambassador that the Indian Government was troubled by a [Page 534] New York Times story3 indicating that we had decided to permit certain kinds of nuclear testing under a CTB and to shift to a three-year treaty. Ambassador Goheen reported that Mehta seemed to be saying that India would not become party to so limited a CTB.

The Indians are probably more concerned by the prospect of movement away from a comprehensive ban than they are by a possible shift to three years—and they may well be prepared to go along with the shorter duration provided that the treaty is comprehensive. Nonetheless, they would almost certainly find the five-year approach easier to support.

We would expect other key non-nuclear states also to favor a longer treaty, and in some cases this preference could be a decisive factor in whether they choose to adhere. A number of these states may interpret the three-year approach as lack of a true commitment on our part to a CTB and as a clear indication of our intention to resume testing, and they may decide that, rather than join from the start, they should wait and see whether the nuclear powers are serious enough about a test ban to continue it after the three-year moratorium.

Negotiating Leverage. Because the Soviets earlier proposed a form of three-year treaty, we had assumed that, by moving to three years, we could seek to obtain corresponding Soviet movement on other issues. However, not only have the Soviets signaled clearly that they could accept a five-year treaty, but the Soviet Delegation leader has told us that he prefers five to three. If anything, our move to three would give the Soviets additional leverage on us. The Deputy Chairman of the Soviet Delegation recently expressed to the UK Deputy his disappointment that with the three year duration we would end up with only “a brief self-imposed moratorium.” He complained about the influence of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and said that he regretted now that the Soviet side had failed to accept the idea of unlimited duration.

United Kingdom Position. The British have repeatedly emphasized to us their strong view that five years is the minimum term which should be negotiated. Their Delegation head informed me that Prime Minister Callaghan planned to mention this to you in Bonn.4 Although the UK would probably go along with a three year term if we urge it, they will do so reluctantly.

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Stockpile Reliability Implications. No technical basis has been adduced for questioning our ability, without nuclear testing, to maintain high confidence in the reliability of our stockpile for a substantial period of time, and certainly for five years. Any expressions of preference for a three year period seem to derive more from an eagerness to resume testing than from any serious contention that the problems of maintaining stockpile reliability for five years are significantly greater than those for a three year period.

Indeed, a three year treaty might be insufficient time to provide experience in maintaining the stockpile without testing to enable us to make a sound judgment on whether a test ban can be continued.

These various circumstances tend strongly to support a five year treaty duration. The longer term would permit negotiation of more effective and more domestically attractive verification measures and would elicit greater support among key non-nuclear countries. The three year period would, as a practical matter, foreclose the installation of a significant seismic network in the Soviet Union and could be regarded by other countries as, in the words of the Soviet Deputy, just “a brief self-imposed moratorium”. Indeed, if other considerations lead you to modify your earlier decision in favor of a five year treaty, I would suggest that a four year treaty would much more adequately advance our CTB objectives than one of three years.

In short, the costs to our negotiating position and to our non-proliferation objectives resulting from the reduction of the CTB term would be heavier than I believed when we first discussed this possibility. I wonder whether the gains in quieting CTB opponents would be sufficient to offset these costs.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 383, Records of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Office of the Director, Paul C. Warnke Files, December 1974–July 1979, Accession #383–98–0154, Box 1, Memoranda to the President Regarding SALT, Cruise Missiles, CTB, NPT, and Indian Ocean Arms Control, January–October 1978. Secret.
  2. The trilateral CTB negotiations resumed on May 4 in Geneva and continued into August.
  3. Telegram 178021 to Geneva, July 14, reported that the Indian Government was “troubled” by a July 1 story in the New York Times that said “US military and nuclear experts have forced a change in our position so that certain kinds of testing will be permitted and the duration of the CTB will be reduced to 3 years.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780289–0851)
  4. Not found.