386. Memorandum From the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Earle) to Special Coordination Committee Principals1


  • NPT Review Conference

As its end-of-the-week adjournment nears, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in Geneva is in serious disarray. There is a real possibility of a divisive outcome that would be portrayed by many as demonstrating that the NPT has not served the interests of its non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) parties. The non-aligned participants led by a few militants and supported to some degree by neutrals such as Sweden are pressing very hard for acceptance of contentious wording on several important issues for inclusion in a final conference declaration. Because of repercussions that a highly-publicized “failure” of this major conference could have, I believe it warrants our urgent attention.

The goal of the conference has been a consensus document that would review all aspects of the NPT’s implementation. Negotiation of this text, especially the portion concerning nuclear arms control negoti [Page 987] ations (Article VI), has proved extremely difficult. Some of the principal points on which agreement is still being sought relate to criticism of South Africa and Israel for allegedly developing a nuclear capability and blocking agreement on nuclear free zones in their regions, a call for the parties to SALT II to act in the interim period prior to its ratification as though the treaty were in force, a call for a moratorium on nuclear testing, and establishment early next year by the Committee on Disarmament (CD) of a working group to discuss a comprehensive test ban (CTB). These and other issues are still under negotiation, and it is hoped that ways will be found to deal satisfactorily with most of them in a final document.

In the absence of a consensus the probable alternative would be a communiqué stating simply that the conference had taken place and noting several other facts about the meeting and indicating that another review conference would be held in five years. We would anticipate, however, that the non-aligned would independently issue and seek maximum publicity for its version of what the final document should have stated and be highly critical of those, mainly the U.S., that it would hold responsible for failure to reach agreement. We and others would, of course, also make our views known.

A third alternative, which we have not, however, explored as a possibility with the delegation in Geneva and which may be non-negotiable, could be a short declaration in support of the NPT as a sound treaty, on the functioning of which, however, there are differing views. The latter might be attached or issued separately by the concerned delegations. This would have the advantage of putting all parties on record in support of the NPT regime, but we cannot now assess whether such an outcome would be negotiable.

While it is still too early to be sure, the leaders of our delegation in Geneva believe that U.S. acceptance of a CD working group on a CTB may be pivotal in achieving a consensus on a final document. In light of this possibility, I believe we should discuss whether it is desirable to give Ambassadors Van Doren and Flowerree contingent authority to agree, if it appears this would lead to a consensus, to language calling for the CD to set up a CTB working group with an appropriate mandate. The timing and precise tactics with which this authority would be used would have to be left to the delegation, as it would have to act in an extremely fast-moving negotiating situation. It would be understood that the authority would not be employed unless the delegation was satisfied that it was necessary to achieve a consensus and that a consensus would result.

Attached are a number of arguments for and against U.S. acceptance of a CD working group on CTB under the above circumstances.

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Paper Prepared in the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency2

Factors to Consider in Determining U.S. Position on CD Working Group on a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB)

—If a consensus cannot be achieved at the NPT Review Conference because of U.S. unwillingness to accept a CD working group on CTB, many nations, especially from the third world but also including some western countries, would blame the U.S. for “wrecking” the review conference by its inflexibility, and undermining one of the Administration’s own major arms control objectives—a strengthened non-proliferation regime. This criticism would be echoed in future multilateral fora, including the UN General Assembly this fall.

—We would risk a serious blow to the NPT regime, and lose the positive effects that a final conference document would have, including encouragement of further adherence to the treaty and increased technical cooperation, advancement of full-scope safeguards and increased support for IAEA safeguards, and discouragement of action by non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) to assist other NNWS to acquire nuclear weapons or explosive devices.

—We would face a generally more hostile attitude in multilateral arms control efforts across the board, on which we need the cooperation and support of others to achieve our objectives. Resentment could spill over into other security-related issues.

—Actual establishment of a working group would be subject to consensus agreement in the CD in February, where its precise terms of reference would have to be negotiated, a process that would take many weeks or even months and in which we could exercise considerable influence. We could expect substantial differences of view on the working group’s mandate. Given the time required for negotiation of the mandate, the working group would be unlikely to be able to start substantive discussions before the end of the CD’s first 1981 session (May) or sometime during its second (June–August) session.

—In addition to influencing the working group’s mandate, we would also have some opportunity in the working group itself to restrict the scope of its activity. We could seek to have the group at least [Page 989] initially, for example, carry forward the discussions already held by CD experts on exchange of international seismic data to monitor a test ban.

—A working group would provide an opportunity for the Soviets, if they were so inclined, to exploit third world pressures on issues such as verification, where our position is considered by many to be unnecessarily demanding. Progress in the trilateral talks might actually be hindered by a working group if the result were increased Soviet resistance to acceptance of our position on key issues or, alternatively, might result in a weakened verification regime and would jeopardize Senate ratification of a CTB Treaty.

—Some of the U.S. positions in the trilateral talks (e.g., on duration of the treaty), could be exposed in the working group discussions and be subject to severe criticism. We would come under pressure to modify them, probably from domestic, as well as foreign critics.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 45, NPT: Revcon. Confidential.
  2. Confidential.