226. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

14457. Subject: CTB Negotiations: UK Statement at US/UK Bilateral Meeting, January 17, 1979.

Following is the text of the opening statement presented by Ambassador John Edmonds, CTB Delegation leader, during the US/UK bilaterals held in Washington on January 17–18, 1979. Begin text:

1. On 14 September,2 during our last bilateral consultations in Washington, I set out what we saw as the important outstanding issues facing the United States and British Governments in the Comprehensive Test Ban Negotiations. They were:

A. The duration of the treaty;

B. The question of what happens after the initial duration;

C. Permitted experiments;

D. The verification arrangements, including the National Seismic Stations required for a treaty of relatively short duration.

2. For various reasons, the last round of negotiations, from 29 September to 14 December, was not very productive. There was definite progress only on the first of these four issues. The US proposal that negotiations should proceed on the basis of a three-year treaty was accepted by the Russians—and by the UK, although we stressed that our final position on duration would depend on the entire treaty package. The other three issues are still before us, and we look forward to a full discussion of them today and tomorrow.

NSS in the UK and dependent territories.

3. NSS is the subject on which there has been the greatest change since September. I think it fair to say that the Soviet proposal of 27 No[Page 554]vember3 for ten NSS in the UK and dependent territories took all concerned, British and American, by surprise. Maybe we should have realized that the Russians might interpret their principle of “equal obligations” in literal mathematical terms, without serious regard to the usefulness of NSS for monitoring British compliance with the treaty. Anyway, that is what the Russians have done, apparently after considering the whole NSS issue at a very high level.

4. I said in Geneva that we do not intend to create unnecessary difficulties over the Soviet proposals for NSS in the UK and dependent territories. I also stressed that the proposals are different in kind from those for NSS in the USA and USSR. The proposals have since been very thoroughly examined in London. Although we have looked at them positively, they present a complex series of problems—constitutional, technical, financial and logistic. I have copies for you of a working paper4 reviewing theoretically possible locations for NSS in the UK and in all our dependent territories, including those not on the Soviet list. We hope you will have time to look at this and let us have some comments before we leave Washington.

5. The position so far is that British Ministers are willing in principle to accept at least one NSS in the UK and probably one or two in dependent territories. A final British commitment to these or any other specific number or locations will be subject to clarification of the technical and financial implications.

6. However, it is the Soviet proposal for as many as nine NSS in UK dependent territories which raises the serious problems:

A. Some of the territories suggested by the Russians are politically unsuitable; two of them are independent and two others soon will be, and other objections are noted in the paper I am giving you.

B. The Soviet view of “equal obligations”—that the UK, like the US and Soviet Union, should accept ten NSS—is questionable, since the UK is not seeking independent verification rights in the Soviet Union. An equally good case could, for instance, be made for equality of obligations between east and west: i.e., ten NSS in the USSR and ten in the west divided between the US and UK. One might even turn the equality concept against the Russians by proposing that each SVA party could have the right to five NSS in the territory of each of the other two.

C. The most important difficulty is the absence of any verification case for NSS in UK dependent territories. NSS are needed to supple[Page 555]ment national technical means for monitoring the large land areas of the Soviet Union and the United States. But the total area of UK dependent territories is very small. Soviet satellites can observe these territories and seismic monitoring can be deployed close to them, so that even if testing were likely, it could readily be detected without NSS. Indeed, the Russians have admitted that they want NSS in UK and dependent territories for political, not technical, reasons.

D. We have nevertheless considered all our dependent territories as possible sites for NSS. Most of the territories are seismically entirely unsuitable: in many cases NSS would only be of use in relation to events within a few tens of kilometers. The costs of NSS could not be justified on verification grounds. And there are dangers in accepting technically useless NSS: for example degrading the criteria for selection of NSS sites in the Soviet Union and thus discrediting the value of the whole NSS system.

E. Finally, many dependent territories are remote and lack facilities. I shall return to this aspect in a moment.

7. We have identified several possible British responses to the Soviet proposals. Some would be suitable for use when the negotiations resume, one objective being to probe how serious the Russians really are in proposing so many NSS in UK dependent territories and to discover their minimum position. Some other options may be more appropriate as fall back positions for a later stage.

Each option has advantages and disadvantages, some of which I shall mention. We have not yet decided which options are best. On the basis of our discussions here, Ministers will be consulted as soon as we return to London. The options are:

A. To challenge the Soviet interpretation of “equality”, on lines I have already indicated.

B. To say that we have no objection in principle to NSS in UK and dependent territories, but that we have only identified about three locations which, as well as being constitutionally appropriate, have any verification value. Subject to Soviet reactions, we could later say that we are willing to discuss without commitment other constitutionally appropriate locations where we so far have seen no verification value.

C. The same as option B, but with the UK undertaking a purely nominal “obligation” to accept up to ten NSS, although not all would actually be installed.

D. To offer a number of NSS including some in independent commonwealth countries, subject to their agreement. Two possibilities for consideration might be Australia (where the UK has conducted nuclear tests) and Canada; these countries offer much better seismic sites than could be found in UK dependent territories. Under this arrangement it [Page 556] would be particularly appropriate for data to be made available to the International Seismic Data Exchange, thereby enhancing its role and reducing criticism of the exclusiveness of the SVA.

E. To offer less than ten NSS but including some stations with arrays of seismometers, and therefore superior performance to simple NSS, as compensation for the reduced number.

F. To offer NSS at sites of our choosing in UK and dependent territories. The paper I am giving you about all the possible locations suggests that we could offer ten without unacceptable political or security consequences. The big disadvantage of this option is that there is no verification case for the very considerable effort and cost.

8. We are concerned about costs. Since many of the possible locations in UK dependent territories are isolated and lack the most basic facilities, NSS would be particularly expensive to install and operate. Costs might be divided in various ways under the SVA. The possibilities include:

A. Each party pays all the costs of those NSS which it requires on the territory of others. We should prefer this solution but the Russians could be expected to resist it strongly, since they are seeking 20 NSS in the west against ten in the Soviet Union.

B. Each side pays all the costs for NSS on its own territory. If the UK agreed to accept an equal number of NSS, this course would be unfavorable to the UK because of the higher cost of installing NSS in remote places with bad communications and other facilities.

C. Each side pays one third of the total cost of all NSS. But all parties might be unwilling to share in costs they could not control.

D. Some split arrangement, for instance—each party pays the real estate cost of NSS on its territory plus maintenance and manning, and the other two parties share the costs of the seismic equipment, its installation and data retrieval.

9. It would be helpful to have your estimate of the capital costs of the equipment itself and its installation at a typical site in the United States. This would help us to estimate how much more expenditure would be required because of the remoteness and lack of facilities of some of the sites in UK dependent territories.

10. We look forward to discussing the negotiating options and the general principles underlying NSS in the UK and dependent territories with you before our experts examine the technical issues involved. One of the points on which we would welcome your views is how we should keep up the pressure on the Russians to reveal more of their position on the technical characteristics and timetable for installation of NSS, while discussion continues on numbers and locations in all three countries.

[Page 557]

What happens after three years?

11. I described here on 14 September the British Government’s continued belief that we should leave all our options open. Since then we have regularly advocated early tabling of fresh language for the review conference, and the Russians have repeatedly asked for it. We very much hope that you can very soon propose to us a formula which leaves all the options open and is likely to be negotiable with the Russians.

12. I should also like to recall the British Government’s close interest in any statement about US intentions to resume testing at the end of a three-year comprehensive test ban. We still believe that such a statement could undermine the effectiveness of the treaty and deter a number of non-nuclear weapon states from adhering. We hope that, if the US Government feels it necessary to make a statement about resumption of testing, this will be sufficiently qualified to minimize the disadvantages.

Permitted experiments.

13. I turn now to permitted experiments. We have been considering further the position you reached last May that experiments at minimum yield levels should be permitted under a CTB. We have since been told that the yield limit will be 100 pounds. I can confirm that the UK supports your general position. British Ministers have not yet taken a decision regarding any British program of experiments. We should now like to discuss various aspects of the subject, including its relevance to the adherence of non-nuclear weapon states to the treaty.

14. In particular, we should be interested to hear whether your studies on this subject cover both civil and military experiments; and whether you have reached any views on the conditions and locations for conducting permitted experiments.

15. In the negotiations, the Russians have been pressing for clarification of the statement about permitted experiments in your working paper of 7 December 1977. We cannot therefore avoid returning to the subject in Geneva. In our view, permitted experiments should not be mentioned in the treaty. Moreover we think the Russians have no interest even in an informal understanding. If they expressly dissented from a US statement that small experiments would continue to be permitted, this might weaken the legal case for conducting the experiments. It might therefore be best to go for a low-key unilateral statement in the negotiations, which would be designed to pass without contradiction by the Soviet Union.

16. We take it that the US program of permitted experiments is certain to become public knowledge as an element in your package of safeguards. The intention that such experiments should continue under a CTB is certain to be criticized by some non-nuclear weapon states. [Page 558] Some may use it to justify a refusal to adhere to a short term treaty. We will need, with both the NNWS and the public, to insist that permitted experiments under 100 pounds yield are not nuclear tests in the accepted sense of the term and anyway cannot be monitored. We should explain that the CTB is not intended to restrain research except where that involves nuclear weapon test explosions or peaceful nuclear explosions. We should seek to convince any critics that permitted experiments will not serve the development of new designs for nuclear warheads. But these arguments may be challenged by the well-informed; we should be interested in how you propose to deal with this.


17. We are ready to discuss with you other current issues in the negotiations as well. These include technical aspects of on-site inspection; the question of an agreed understanding about on-site inspection requests; chemical explosions; and the multilateral handling of the CTB treaty after the tripartite negotiations.

18. When we return to Geneva we should aim quickly to get to grips with the Russians on the difficult problems of NSS and the role of the review conference. We want to try to negotiate on more than one problem at a time in the next round, in order to move forward as quickly as we can. We shall need to re-emphasize to the Russians our determination to achieve a comprehensive test ban without undue delay. As long as they have any reason to doubt our resolve, there is less incentive for them to be flexible especially on verification.

19. I should like to sum up as far as possible in terms of action.

A. We are here to seek your views on our response to the Soviet proposals for NSS in the UK and dependent territories. We shall then prepare a position for putting to the Russians early in the coming round of negotiations.

B. We believe that the UK and US should persuade the Russians to negotiate on all other NSS issues, concurrently with the consideration of NSS in the UK and dependent territories.

C. We believe that the US and UK should propose revised language for the review conference early in the next round. We look forward to your proposals for this.

D. We believe that it will be desirable to say something to the Russians about permitted experiments in the course of this next round. Again, we look forward to your views on this.

E. Finally, we should also like to hear your latest thinking on the desirable timetable for the CTB negotiations. End text.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790026–1078. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Sent for information to the Mission in Geneva and Moscow. Drafted by Barbara Schrage (ACDA/MA); cleared by Joseph Hulings (S/S); and approved by Thomas Davies (ACDA/MA).
  2. Telegram 234612 to London, September 15, reported the UK Government’s position on the CTB negotiations. Edmonds said his government had four objectives: to “curb the development of new types of nuclear warheads by the nuclear weapon states without adversely affecting Western security;” to “contribute to the improvement of East/West relations;” to “show the world that 3 nuclear weapon states are capable of giving practical effect to their long-standing commitment to genuine measures of arms control;” and to “make a worthwhile contribution to our non-proliferation objectives by attracting the support and adherence of important non-nuclear weapon states, especially those who are not parties to the NPT.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780376–0747)
  3. The Soviet proposal is in telegram 18185 from Geneva, November 27, 1978. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780488–0912)
  4. Not found.