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


  • SSOD Speech and the Cut-off Proposal

With regard to the proposed speech to the UN Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD), I strongly endorse Cy Vance’s recommendation that you deliver the speech yourself. Failure to do so would be widely interpreted as a downgrading of your commitment to arms control, especially since the session will be addressed by numerous heads of state including Callaghan, Giscard, Schmidt, Trudeau, and Desai.

One item that I believe should be included in the speech is a renewal of the U.S. proposal for an adequately verified worldwide cut-off of fissionable material production for nuclear weapons. This proposal has been an essential element of U.S. disarmament policy for more than thirty years, and has been advanced in one form or another by five Presidents. In this context, I am particularly concerned by the suggestion that we not only refrain from advancing this proposal but actively oppose it when it comes up for discussion at the SSOD. There is no question but that this will be a major proposal (supported by the non-aligned and major allies such as Canada and Japan) in the program of [Page 1210] action of the SSOD. I believe it would be far better for you to present this proposal on our own terms, rather than for the U.S. to appear to have abandoned it—and eventually to have to respond to other nations’ proposals less acceptable to us.

I am confident that such a proposal, particularly in a SALT/CTB regime, would be fully consistent with our national security interests and that such an agreement can be adequately verified. The proposal would be formulated to protect continued tritium production and fuel for nuclear propulsion.

Our offer to negotiate on the cut-off would contribute significantly to our non proliferation policy by rectifying the widely resented discriminatory situation where the nuclear powers continue to expand their nuclear arsenals and are not themselves subject to the inspection procedures we are pressing on non-nuclear weapon states. Conversely, a repudiation (explicit or implicit) of the long standing policy on cut-off would contribute to an international environment clearly counter-productive to our overall non-proliferation strategy. As you know, this point has been clearly articulated by Desai and other leaders of the non-nuclear weapons states. More fundamentally, failure to reaffirm this policy at some point during the SSOD would undercut the credibility of your call for worldwide reduction in nuclear forces. Finally, if we stand silent on this issue, we leave the initiative to the Soviets. They are expected to advance major proposals, foreshadowed by Brezhnev’s proposed ban on the production of nuclear weapons,2 which, although attractive internationally, would not be acceptable to the U.S.

While I recognize there are differences in the government on the impact of such a proposal on U.S. and Soviet forces, there is no question that it would presently constrain the USSR more than the U.S. and I believe on balance would clearly be in our national security interest, particularly in the context of SALT and CTB agreements. At present, we are producing no highly enriched uranium and relatively little plutonium for weapons, [8½ lines not declassified] For the U.S. to expand its stockpiles would require shifting capacity from low enriched production for power to high enriched material for weapons production (of which there has been none since 1964) and to reactivate, at substantial cost and high visibility, plutonium production reactors now mothballed. These actions, which would have to be launched almost immediately in view of long lead times, would be politically difficult, destabilizing, and would undercut your disarmament objectives in a dramatic fashion.

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The principal weakness of this proposal is that it almost certainly will not lead to early negotiations in view of long standing Soviet sensitivities about the relatively intrusive verification required. Moreover, if the proposal should lead to negotiations, they will clearly be protracted in view of the complex verification problems requiring, in addition to national technical means, at least IAEA-type safeguards on all permitted nuclear activities. In these circumstances, I find it difficult to understand arguments against a forthcoming position on this subject which has a substantial symbolic and tactical significance in the upcoming special session.

I recommend therefore that you include in your speech an appropriately qualified statement in support of a cut-off in the context of progress on SALT and CTB, along the lines of TAB A.3 The detailed nature and timing of our negotiating position on this subject could then be developed on the basis of further interagency review.

Paul C. Warnke
  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. Copies were sent to Vance and Christopher. Warnke hand-wrote an undated cover letter to the memorandum that reads “Dear Mr. President, I have discussed this with Cy Vance who agrees we should reaffirm—not disavow—our long-standing cut-off proposal. PCW.” (Ibid.) Warnke also forwarded the memorandum and the hand-written note to Vance on May 15. (Ibid.)
  2. See footnote 3, Document 482.
  3. Tab A is attached but not printed.