229. Editorial Note

The United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom (UK) continued to meet in Geneva over the next 2 months to discuss a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB), but they made little progress, in particular on the issue of on-site inspection of testing sites. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sent UK Foreign Secretary David Owen a letter noting that a “deadlock” had developed because the UK government had approved the construction of only one National Seismic Station (NSS) on British soil. Vance acknowledged that the United States sympathized “with the problems that your government faces on the NSS question. But it seems quite clear now that this stalemate could go on indefinitely” since the Soviets had agreed to allow ten stations on their soil, which Vance described as “the most intrusive verification arrangement in any arms control agreement to date.” Vance also instructed the U.S. Ambassador to the UK, Kingman Brewster, to tell the UK government that “we believe it would probably require a British proposal to move more than halfway toward the Soviet position if we are to have any hope of getting the Soviets to be more flexible on this issue.” (Telegram 100316 to London, April 21; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790182–1031)

CTB discussions also took a back seat in overall arms control negotiations as Washington and Moscow spent much of the spring finalizing the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II treaty. For more on these discussions, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980, Documents 235238.

Meanwhile, the political position of the ruling Labour Government in the United Kingdom had become precarious after Prime Minister James Callaghan lost a vote of no confidence on March 28, 1979, [Page 566] which forced him to call a general election for early May. On April 23, Brewster said that if Labour won the election, the administration could expect the UK “to move ahead on the CTB.” If the Conservatives won, however, Brewster predicted “we cannot expect an early UK move on NSS, and should not, in my view, expend too much of our influence trying to elicit one. Important as progress toward a CTB is, there will be other more immediately pressing issues on which we will want to bring the new British government along, such as Southern Africa and SALT. I believe that we have a chance to secure Conservative government cooperation on these issues, and on CTB.”

Brewster warned, however, that the Conservatives “will want to take a fundamental look at the CTB. Their first and preeminent concern will be that such a ban not inhibit Britain’s future as a nuclear power, nor foreclose any of the options which a Conservative government will be examining in its early months for the maintenance of such a British role through the end of the century.” The last thing the United States should do, Brewster stressed, was “have them learn that the US had sought, only a few days before a change in government, to modify the UK position, apparently siding with the Soviet Union” on the issue of NSS. He recommended that he delay delivery of the message contained in telegram 100316 to London until after the election. (Telegram 7959 from London, April 23; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790186–0104) Vance agreed with Brewster, and on April 26 instructed the Ambassador to deliver a note on NSS to “the Senior Career Level of the FCO” rather than the Foreign Secretary. (Telegram 104658 to London, April 26; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790190–0244)

On May 4, the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher won the general election and assumed power. A week later, President Jimmy Carter wrote a congratulatory letter to the new Prime Minister and, while he did not directly raise the CTB issue, he promised to “work closely with all the NATO allies” on SALT, other arms control issues, and “future nuclear cooperation.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Materials, Brzezinski Office File, Box 15, Great Britain: 9/78–5/79)