Posted June 16, 2010
Edited by William Burr
For more information contact: 202/994-7000
Washington, D.C., June 16, 2010 - U.S. presidents long before President Obama have sought an international fissile material cutoff off treaty but the reasons they have failed remain with us today, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive. The proposed treaty would cut off the worldwide production of fissile material--plutonium and highly-enriched uranium--for nuclear weapons. (Note 1) According to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first president to propose a cutoff, "we have always said it is not technically feasible to ban the bomb now but we have actively urged the cutoff as a first step." President Obama echoed Eisenhower's argument in his speech in Prague at Hradcany Square on April 5, 2009, where he endorsed a cutoff treaty, along with a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and as part of his long-term nuclear abolition commitment.
The documents suggest that the fissile material production cutoff was integral to Cold War propaganda and diplomatic campaigns, which helps explain why it failed during the 1960s. (Note 2) During the 1950s and 1960s, when superpower tensions, massive production of nuclear weapons, and atmospheric nuclear tests stoked fear of nuclear war worldwide, both U.S. and Soviet heads of state tried to reduce fears with disarmament proposals, but they never let diplomacy trump their military postures. Even the strength of U.S. support for the cutoff depended on shifting military perceptions of the U.S.-Soviet balance of fissile materials stockpiles. Under such circumstances, the nuclear disarmament proposals that Moscow and Washington offered were largely nonnegotiable, whatever their merits may have been.
On the U.S. side, proposals to cut off fissile material production faced high-powered domestic opposition. In 1960, when Eisenhower decided to submit a proposal at disarmament talks, he did it over the objections of Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates. The President and Secretary of State Christian Herter argued that the cutoff would preserve Washington's nuclear edge, check nuclear proliferation, and provide an intelligence bonus. According to Eisenhower, verifying the cutoff would give Washington "broad access all through the Soviet Union," thus undercutting Soviet secrecy. With a huge expansion of capacity to produce HEU and plutonium accomplished during the 1950s, the United States was far ahead of the Soviet Union and a cutoff would give it an edge. (Note 3)
During the 1960s, the Soviet Union was the cutoff's chief international opponent. Worried that its fissile material stockpile lagged behind the U.S.'s, Moscow rejected a cutoff until it had caught up. Its counterproposal -- destruction of all nuclear weapons -- was no more acceptable to Washington. Today Pakistan dissents from the cutoff for reasons similar to the former Soviet Union's, its fear that it lags behind India's stockpile.
The documents published today provide a close look at how the cutoff proposal developed during the 1950s and 1960s, how policymakers debated and discussed it, and why it left the U.S. arms control agenda during the 1970s, although returning during the 1990s. Some of the highlights are:
Most of the documents published in this collection are from archival sources, either presidential libraries or the U.S. National Archives. A number of documents on historical cutoff proposals from the late 1950s and early 1960s remain classified in the records of the White House Office of Science and Technology held at the National Archives, where they are the subject of a mandatory declassification review request.
The Cutoff after the Cold War
U.S. interest in the cutoff faded during the late 1960s, but as the cold war ended, Moscow and Washington, as well as other nuclear powers, became more interested in cutting fissile material production. During the late 1980s, antinuclear organizations lobbied for the International Plutonium Control Act and supported the "Plutonium Declaration" (moratorium on plutonium production), both of which the George H. W. Bush administration opposed. (Note 4) Nevertheless on 13 July 1992, President Bush announced that the United States would no longer produce fissile material for nuclear weapons (although plutonium production had already stopped in 1988, mainly for environmental reasons). During the 1990s, other major nuclear states, France, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia, followed suit by announcing or beginning to observe a moratorium of fissile material production for weapons. The idea of a treaty won the support of the Clinton administration and in 1995 the United Nations Conference on Disarmament organized a committee to discuss it. The 2000 NPT Review Conference called for the negotiation of a cutoff treaty within five years, but the Bush administration did not submit a draft until 2006. Departing from precedents set by earlier Republican and Democratic administrations the Bush draft included no provisions for verification and only required the support of the five nuclear weapons states that had signed the NPT to go into force. (Note 5)
To explore the technical bases for strengthening controls over, and reducing, military and civilian stockpiles of fissile material, in January 2006, senior physicists Frank von Hippel (Princeton University) and R. Rajaraman (Jawaharlal Nehru University), among other nuclear experts, organized the International Panel on Fissile Materials with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Panel's Web site includes an indispensable series of reports on the issues surrounding a cutoff, such as analysis of global stocks of fissile material, the verification requirements of a treaty, and the history and status of breeder reactors. A 2008 report by the Panel on verification issues makes the case for a treaty that complements a cutoff with requirements for signatories to declare and safeguard pre-existing civilian stocks of fissile material, fissile material already declared excess for military uses, and HEU stocks used for military non-weapons purposes (submarine propulsion, etc.). In this way, the international community could be more certain that such stocks were not surreptitiously diverted into weapons programs.
At the recent Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington on 12-13 April 2010, the participating governments pledged action to strengthen security arrangements for fissile material, but the pledges are nonbinding, with no assurance that they will follow through. By contrast, the proposed cutoff treaty would stop production of weapons-grade material world-wide and include verification procedures to ensure the establishment of safeguards to prevent signatories from diverting fissile material from nonmilitary production.
The recent Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference urged the UN Committee on Disarmament (CD) -- the venue for the cutoff treaty talks--to "begin work without delay," but so far Pakistan has actively obstructed the negotiations. Seeking to gain time to build up its fissile material stockpile and catch up with India, Pakistan's position evokes the Soviet stance during the 1960s. Some analysts suggest that China is also cool toward the cutoff negotiations and is "hiding behind" Pakistan on this issue. Whether the Obama administration is willing to press Pakistan on this point-- when the bilateral agenda is already crowded with issues relating to the Taliban and Afghanistan-- remains to be seen. Moreover, if negotiations begin, the United States and the other major nuclear states, which so far support a cutoff only, may have to accommodate the nonnuclear majority that see provisions for declaring and safeguarding pre-existing civilian stocks as integral to the nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament agendas. (Note 6)
Read the Documents
Document 1: "Some Other Way Must Be Found"
"Memorandum of a Conversation, White House, September 11, 1956"
Source: U.S. State Department, Foreign Relations of the United States 1955-1957 Volume XX (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1990), 423-427.
The idea of controlling fissile material production had been discussed since the Baruch Plan, but a key moment in the history of the cutoff took place on 11 September 1956 (Note 7) when President Eisenhower considered a proposal by disarmament adviser Harold Stassen for international inspection of fissile material production with future production to be "used or stockpiled exclusively for non-weapons purposes under international supervision." Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Arthur Radford objected on the grounds that "we would have to revise all our war plans if we stopped atomic stockpiling," but Eisenhower disagreed: "[Some] other way must be found." Besides his enduring concern about the economic impact of high levels of federal spending and his interest in implementing his 1953 "Atoms for Peace" proposal, Eisenhower was worried about "the spread of nuclear weapons into the hands of many nations." "[If] nations once decided to build nuclear weapons, it would be extremely difficult to stop them." Eisenhower understood that with world opinion so troubled over nuclear weapons and radioactive fall-out, the nuclear powers had to limit or stop nuclear tests and to limit the production of fissile material as long as "effective, reciprocal inspection and detection systems were in place." He believed, as did others at the meeting, that if the fissile material proposal were implemented it would leave the United States with a "very substantial nuclear capability."
A few months later, on 21 November 1956 Eisenhower and his advisers agreed on a number of disarmament positions, including the Stassen proposal on future production of fissile material, which would go into effect "one month after the establishment of a satisfactorily functioning inspections system."
Document 2: Before Soviet Production Reached A "Dangerous Peak"
E. A. Gullion, Executive Office of the President Disarmament Staff, "Position Paper on Future Production of Fissionable Materials," Draft, 5 December 1956, Top Secret
Location of Original: National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records (hereinafter RG 59), Records of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Records Relating to Atomic Energy Matters, 1944-1963, box 226, 12.A. 212 Disarmament Policy Position Paper on Future Production of Fissile Material
With the cutoff on the way to becoming a negotiating proposal, the disarmament bureaucracy began to turn out position papers. This one, by career diplomat Edmund Gullion, maintained that a cutoff of nuclear weapons production was in the U.S. security interest because it would check Soviet weapons development before it reached a "dangerous peak" and would also prevent the "proliferation of nuclear weapons in unpredictable circumstances." Nevertheless, Washington would have to coordinate its position with key allies, especially the British whose approval was essential and whose support might depend upon compensation with "weapons stocks." Moreover, to produce a cohesive "western position," other issues would have to be sorted out, including the meaning of "effective international inspection" and what criteria would be used to determine whether states have "significant military potential" and require inspection. Another issue was whether the proposal would require disclosure or verification of past stockpiles (an implication of an internal discussion paper of 29 June 1956).
Documents 3A and B: Initial Proposals
Document 3B: Western Working Paper Submitted to the Disarmament Committee: Proposals for Partial Measures of Disarmament, 29 August 1957, with Memorandum by the Soviet Government on Partial Measures in the Field of Disarmament, 20 September 1957
Source: U.S. State Department, Documents on Disarmament, 1945-1959, Volume II 1957-1959 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, 1960)
Within a matter of weeks, the United States delegation submitted a paper on disarmament to the United Nations which included a proposal for the cutoff of production of fissile material for weapons with subsequent production to be stockpiled or used for peaceful civilian purposes. Treated as a logical progression of Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" concept, the system would be operated under "effective international inspection" whose details would have to be negotiated. Once production was under control, it would be possible to reduce existing stockpiles and ascertain previous levels of production so that the size of transfers of fissile materials for non-weapons uses could be determined. Besides the cutoff proposal, the paper included proposals for nuclear test bans, peaceful development of outer space, and measures to reduce the danger of surprise attack.
During the following months, the Eisenhower administration developed with the Canadians, British, and French, a set of "Proposals for Partial Measures of Disarmament," which they presented as a working paper to the UN Disarmament Committee, then meeting in London, on 29 August 1957. Besides recommendations on reducing armed forces and nuclear tests, the working paper offered the earlier proposal on fissile material production for non-weapons purposes only. It would go into effect within a month after an international inspection system had been inspected. Foreshadowing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, each party to the agreement would also pledge not to "transfer out of its control any nuclear weapon or to accept transfer to it of such weapons." All of the propositions (nuclear test suspension, fissile material production cutoff, etc.) were inseparable. The Soviets rejected it, calling for the "absolute prohibition" of nuclear weapons, and the London conference failed.
Document 4: Incremental Approach
Philip J. Farley, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Atomic Energy Affairs, to the Secretary of State, "Review of Disarmament Policy," 18 March 1958, Secret
Location of Original: RG 59, Department of State Decimal Files, 1955-1959, 700.5611/3-1858
The "all-or-nothing" character of the 29 August proposal proved to be a dead end and a variety of pressures—for example, rejection by nonaligned nations of linkage between nuclear testing and the cutoff—encouraged the Eisenhower administration to move toward an "incremental approach" with more potential to produce diplomatic accomplishments and influence anti-nuclear world opinion. (Note 8) State Department nuclear expert Philip Farley developed a disarmament proposal that leaned toward the new approach; he proposed a three year nuclear test moratorium that would not depend upon simultaneous agreement on a fissile material cutoff (unless the nuclear states agreed to continue the moratorium after three years). Farley also suggested that it was in the U.S. interest to offer the cutoff as a stand-alone, not dependent upon the acceptance of the entire package. He proposed a variant: fissile material production plants could continue to operate (under international inspection) as long as their output was for peaceful purposes. Alternatively, production could stop altogether, making verification easier, with "existing stocks" or dismantled weapons providing material for peaceful uses. As noted a few years earlier, British support would depend on some manner of compensation (see below).
Documents 5A and B: British Reactions
Document 5A: Memorandum of conversation, "Disarmament," 3 April 1958, Top Secret
Location of Original: RG 59, Department of State Decimal Files, 1955-1959, 700.5611/4-358
Document 5B: U.S. Embassy Denmark to Department of State, 5 May 1958, Top Secret
Location of Original: RG 59, Department of State Decimal Files, 1955-1959, 700.5611/4-358
The State Department inevitably sought London's reactions to the latest disarmament proposals and the British were troubled by them, especially the test ban and the fissile material cutoff, They dramatically rejected the latter altogether: "Acceptance of even a temporary shutdown of nuclear material facilities could spell economic ruin for the UK," in light of its "desperate" electric power needs.
Apparently, the more fundamental motives behind the objections to the cutoff proposal were the implications for the British nuclear weapons program. The next month, during a NATO meeting in Copenhagen, the British informed the State Department that they could accept the cutoff and a test moratorium as long as there was a "proper" verification system and that Washington would "provide us with the material needed to complete our weapons program." This matter would be resolved in a matter of months (July 1958) when London and Washington signed an Atomic Energy Defense Agreement (with a follow-up in 1959), which would lead to an "unprecedented" exchange of nuclear weapons design information and fissile material (as well as tritium for the British). (Note 9)
Document 6: Policy Review
U.S. Department of State, "Second Interim Report of the Working Group on Disarmament Policy," 28 April 1958, Secret, excerpt
Location of original: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Soviet Union Affairs Subject Files 1957-1963, box 1, 1.3.2. Background Studies U.S. Views
During March and April 1958, Farley's "Review of Disarmament Policy" became the subject of an interagency appraisal with the discussion surfacing a number of proposed changes, with which participants variously agreed or disagreed. The State Department proposed that the cutoff be treated as a separate step; nevertheless, a proposed moratorium on nuclear testing could last more than two years as long as there was agreement on an "adequately inspected production cutoff." The Atomic Energy Commission criticized a number of State Department proposals on nuclear testing and the cutoff; for example, it objected to the State Department proposal for a cutoff option involving the shutting down of existing production facilities because "future domestic and overseas requirements for fissile materials for peaceful purposes will require the continued operation of most US production facilities."
The high value that government agencies attached to the public relations (or propaganda) value of disarmament proposals is evident from the CIA comments. According to an Agency representative, the State Department proposals "should convince the majority of our allies and uncommitted nations that we are striving for a sound and reasonable solution to the nuclear problem." Also, to "put pressure" on Moscow, the CIA proposed the announcement of a "short unilateral cessation" of fissile material production.
Document 7: Debate over Tritium
Gerard C. Smith, Director, Policy Planning Staff, for S/AE, Mr. Farley, 10 December 1959, with enclosed memorandum to Dr. Kistiakowsky, "Effect of Nuclear Cutoff," Top Secret
Location of original: RG 59, Records of Policy Planning Staff, 1954-1961, box 125, Atomic Energy- Armaments
The 1958-1959 Berlin Crisis eventually led to an agreement between the British, French, Soviet, and U.S. heads of state that they would hold a summit meeting in Paris in May 1960. To prepare, U.S. officials began to review the disarmament proposals developed during 1958 and Eisenhower commissioned a study of arms control, directed by Boston lawyer (Ropes & Gray) Charles Coolidge. Coolidge leaned toward the Pentagon view against the cutoff (see next document) and took a position during an NSC meeting -- nuclear weapons delivery systems would "become useless because of degeneration of the nuclear stockpile after four to five years" -- that State Department officials found erroneous. Coolidge's reference to the problem of tritium, an important nuclear weapons fuel, "surprised" President Eisenhower, and Policy Planning Staff director Gerard C. Smith requested Farley to ask Eisenhower's science adviser George Kistiakowsky to remind the President that the cutoff proposal did not apply to the production of "short half-life elements" such as tritium.
Document 8: Verification Plan
"Coolidge Report Recommendations on Arms Control Measures," 18 January 1960, Secret, with cover memorandum from J.M. McSweeney, 16 January 1960, Secret, Excerpts
Location of Original: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Soviet Union Affairs. Subject Files, 1957-1963, box 2, Coolidge Committee
The Coolidge Committee—the Joint State Department-Defense Department Study on Disarmament—prepared a lengthy report, a summary of which is available at the National Archives. As an alternative to Soviet proposals to eliminate nuclear weapons and standing forces, the report emphasized "World Peace under Law" and "negotiating from strength." The Committee supported several ongoing initiatives, such as the test ban negotiations (as long as the final agreement permitted underground tests), banning mass destruction weapons from space, and a European "zone of inspection" against surprise attacks, but opposed arms control until a "stable balance of deterrence" existed. Consistent with the Pentagon's generally skeptical approach toward a fissile material production cutoff, the Report asserted that the cutoff was one of several measures "which should not be presently negotiated" on the grounds that more production was necessary to build up U.S. nuclear forces. Secretary of State Herter found the study's generally negative approach unhelpful. (Note 10)
Despite the criticisms of the cutoff, the study included an annex (D) which may have been one of the first studies of methods to verify a cutoff. While citing an "input-output" verification method as a possibility, the report focused on a system based on material balance accounting (a standard method in the nuclear industry), physical controls, and process surveillance. A key problem would be detecting diversion of nuclear material to illegal uses, but "measurable variations from ‘normal' material balance provide the clue to suspected diversion." One percent of annual production was the "dividing line between a poor and good probability of detection." Diversion below one percent of annual production of either plutonium or U-235 would be hard to detect, but beyond one percent "diversion becomes increasingly difficult."
Monitoring a single plant, such as the Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion facility, would require nearly 370 staffers to "establish a reasonable basis for suspicion of a 0.5% diversion." To staff an international verification system, the report cited a study (not further identified) which suggested that by 1968 a global system would require 13,000 personnel, including 3,000 scientists and technicians. An inspection system could be challenged by a variety of "loopholes," such as clandestine facilities (with the new centrifuge uranium enrichment technology "easier to conceal than diffusion plants"), use of propulsion reactors for secret production, or deliberate introduction of "vagaries into the production process" to throw off inspectors.
Document 9: An "Advantage" against the Pentagon
Gerard C. Smith, Director, Policy Planning Staff, to Mr. Farley, 16 February 1960, Top Secret
Location of original: RG 59, Records of Policy Planning Staff, 1957-1961, box 125, Atomic Energy- Armaments
With the Paris summit approaching, the inter-agency debate over the production cutoff and other measures intensified. In the lead-up to an NSC meeting slated for 18 February, Smith advised Farley on how Secretary of State Herter could strengthen the arguments for the cutoff proposal and preserve an "advantage" against adversaries in the Pentagon. Herter could argue that the United States has a "relative advantage" in quantities of fissile material, with "more than enough fissionable material to accomplish SAC retaliatory missions." Smith did not provide any numbers, but in 1960, fissile material output was "sufficient to produce nuclear weapons at an unprecedented rate of more than 7,000 annually compared with only about 140 in 1950-51." (Note 11) Smith also argued that if the cutoff was accompanied by a prohibition of nuclear weapons transfers, Washington could maintain "its atomic monopoly vs. the Chinese Communists." A prohibition would prevent Moscow from giving Beijing atomic weapons (an action which Khrushchev had already decided against (Note 12)).
Document 10: NSC Meeting on the Cutoff
Memorandum of Conversation Prepared by Philip Farley, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy Affairs, "NSC Meeting on Nuclear Cutoff," 18 February 1960, Secret (Note 13)
Location of original: RG 59, Policy Planning Staff Records 1954-1962, box 116, Atomic Energy - Armaments 1960
The National Security Council discussion of the cutoff was a lively one. Secretary of State Herter led off by arguing that it was a proposal that could be negotiated "now" because it would preserve a U.S. stockpile advantage vis-à-vis Moscow—a ten-to-one advantage (Note 14) -- but was also essential for stemming nuclear proliferation which was "dangerous to the United States." Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Nathan Twining objected, however, because they believed that the proposal would impair the production of air defense and anti-ballistic weapons which required large amounts of fissile material; moreover, they worried that world opinion could "force us into a moratorium." Twining and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John Irwin were also troubled that the United States might have to cut tritium production because they believed that world opinion saw thermonuclear weapons as "worse than the A-bomb."
None of those arguments swayed President Eisenhower who believed that a properly verified cutoff was to the U.S. advantage and could also be broken out of a more comprehensive disarmament package and treated as a stand-alone. "We have always said it is not technically feasible to ban the bomb now but we have actively urged the cutoff as a first step." Eisenhower argued that Gate's reservations were "one-sided and in a vacuum" because a verification system would give the United States "broad access all through the Soviet Union," thus undercutting Soviet secrecy.
Whether Moscow accepted it or rejected the cutoff, it was a "sound and a good proposal." While appreciating the Pentagon's objections, Eisenhower insisted that it was necessary to have the "faith and courage to put forward positive proposals." Even if the United States had to give up tritium production, Moscow would be affected by this as well and its nuclear weapons would become less effective: that would "cut down Soviet ability to destroy the United States." In any event, "we can't go on the way we are with the nuclear build-up and the spread of capabilities." Eisenhower was also willing to treat the cutoff proposal as something that could be broken out of a more comprehensive disarmament package and treated as a stand-alone. The damaging environmental impact of fissile material production had no bearing on the NSC discussion, although production sites such as Hanford were, in the words of former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, becoming the "single most polluted places in the Western world." (Note 15)
A few weeks later, Eisenhower wrote to Khrushchev about his concerns over nuclear proliferation, noting that the "secrets of the production of nuclear weapons … cannot remain hidden from many states." As steps to check nuclear spread, he recommended agreement on a test ban, expanded IAEA safeguard procedures, and a cutoff "as soon as effective inspection measures are agreed and operating." Khrushchev, however, rejected Eisenhower's proposal, arguing that it would not lessen the nuclear war danger. Eisenhower later responded by restating his proposals and warning about the risk of nuclear proliferation. (Note 16)
Document 11: Updating the Position Paper
James S. Lay, Executive Secretary, National Security Council to National Security Council, "Nuclear Elements of the United States Disarmament Policy," 9 March 1960, Secret
Location of original: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Records of the Office of the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, National Security Council Series, Administrative Subseries, Box 7, National Security Council - Special Meetings
Consistent with decisions made at the NSC, the State Department's position paper was modified so that it took into account agency concerns. For example, it would make clear that the "prerequisite" of the actual cutoff was the "installment and effective operation" of a verification system and that the definition of fissile material in any proposal would exclude tritium. During the following weeks, the Foreign Ministers of the four powers that would be represented at the Paris summit met with their West German counterpart and agreed on a disarmament package, including the cutoff proposal, for presentation to the Soviets. (Note 17)
Document 12: Unresolved Issues
Gerard C. Smith, Director, Policy Planning Staff, to Secretary of State through Special Assistant for Disarmament and Atomic Energy, "Unresolved Arms Control Issues," with Position Paper on "Disarmament," 9 May 1960, attached, Secret
Location of original: RG 59, Records of Policy Planning Staff, 1954-1961, box 116, Atomic Energy- Armaments 1960
In the wake of the U-2 crisis, the Eisenhower administration vainly hoped that the summit would occur as scheduled. Thus, Gerard C. Smith suggested to Herter that, if Eisenhower had the opportunity, he suggest to Khrushchev that if Moscow agreed to a production cutoff that Washington would consider "some agreed restrictions on transfer of nuclear weapons to other nations." The possibility that Khrushchev might argue that the nearest short-term proliferation risk ("Nth country") would stem from transfers of weapons might improve the prospects for Soviet interest in a production cutoff. That the Defense Department had not approved any proposals to restrict transfer of nuclear weapons was a complicating element, but Smith believed that this could be resolved.
The summit collapsed in acrimony over the U-2 incident and the Eisenhower administration sought to improve its tarnished image by reintroducing disarmament proposals and specific measures relating to the cutoff. On 27 June 1960, at a session of the UN Ten Nation Committee on Disarmament, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge submitted "A Program for General and Complete Disarmament under Effective International Control." Stage one of the multi-stage plan included a production cutoff, which would go into effect "upon installation and effective operation of the control system." On 16 August 1960, Lodge followed up with a proposal to set aside on a reciprocal basis, 30,000 kilograms of U-235 for peaceful uses. Finally, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, Eisenhower warned against the "growth and prospective spread" of nuclear weapons and proposed that the nuclear weapons states convene "experts to design a system for terminating, under verification procedures, all production of fissionable material for weapons purposes." Tons of fissionable material could be transferred for peaceful use and the United States and the Soviet Union could match each other in shutting down "major plants." (Note 18)
Document 13: Perkins Panel Report
"Report of the Panel on the Cutoff of the Production of Fissionable Material for Weapons," 1 April 1961, Top Secret, excerpt
Source: U.S. State Department, Foreign Relations of the United States 1961-1963 Volume VII (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995), 30-31.
The Foreign Relations volume presents only the "Introduction and Conclusions" of this report on the cutoff, which is the subject of a declassification request to the National Archives. The report was prepared by committee chaired by Cornell University President James Perkins at the request of the U.S. Disarmament Administration, created by President Eisenhower's executive order as a new branch of the State Department (and the precursor to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency established by an Act of Congress in the Kennedy administration). While the panel's general conclusions were close to the Eisenhower-Herter position that a cutoff would lock in a U.S. advantage in fissile material, they hedged by noting that "it is impossible to draw any final conclusions … until the appropriate net military advantages are completed." One tentative conclusion, however, was that if a cutoff began in mid-1963, the United States could "maintain a very substantial second-strike retaliatory capability by allocating 20 to 50 percent of the 1963 stockpile to strategic systems." Far less sanguine than Eisenhower about the impact of a tritium cutoff, the panel took the view that some level of production had to be maintained to prevent "degraded performance." For details of the Perkins Panel's findings on verification requirements, see Document 18.
Document 14: The Cutoff and the "Nth country problem"
George McGhee, director, Policy Planning Staff, to John J. McCloy, Special Adviser to the President for Disarmament, 22 June 1961, Secret
Location of original: : RG 59, Records of Policy Planning Staff, 1954-1961, box 116, Atomic Energy- Armaments 1961
In the wake of the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit at Vienna earlier that month, Policy Planning Council chief McGhee revisited Gerard C. Smith's earlier advice to Herter by suggesting that a fissile material cutoff could be linked to an initiative on nuclear nonproliferation ("Nth country problem"). McGhee thought it "unlikely" that a proposal would get anywhere with the Soviets "but our public posture would be improved." While McGhee suggested that a letter from Kennedy to Khrushchev could take up these issues, Kennedy did not directly raise nuclear proliferation issues with the Soviet Premier for another year.
Document 15: Not Disadvantageous
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer to Secretary of Defense McNamara, "Net Military Consequences of a Cessation of Production of Fissionable Material," 21 July 1961, JCSM-487-61, with Appendix, Top Secret, excised copy
Location of original: John F. Kennedy Library, National Security File, box 267, ACDA, Disarmament, Committee of Principals, 7/16/61-7/31/61.
The hard-line Joint Chiefs of Staff prepared the study of the military implications of a cutoff that the Perkins Panel believed was necessary. The Chiefs concluded that a cutoff treaty "would not be disadvantageous", that is, there would be no "net military disadvantage" as long as the agreement had an "effective verification" system, permitted modernization of existing weapons stockpiles, excluded tritium production from its terms, and was accompanied by an "effective nuclear test ban". For the purposes of the study, the Chiefs assumed that the nuclear test moratorium would continue; if the Soviets resumed testing, overtly or covertly, it would nullify the results of the study.
According to the report, a production freeze that went into effect on 1 July 1963 would "give the United States a three to one quantitative advantage over the Soviets in nuclear material." While that would not confer "a proportionate military advantage," the Chiefs believed that the United States would gain in two areas: tactical nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missiles (or anti-ICBMs/[AICBMs]). For example, with a cutoff, the Soviets "would be in a considerably more difficult situation with respect to AICBM production" and "any net military advantage in this area would accrue to the United States"
According to the Chiefs, the United States should maintain a "superior nuclear capability in order to offset the Sino-Soviet bloc quantitative superiority in manpower and their continual threat of world domination." Without a cutoff, the United States could lose its edge; the Soviets might "close the tactical nuclear weapons gap and largely nullify the Allied advantage in theater operations." By contrast, a cutoff would provide "a net military advantage ... to the Western Allies in the conduct of theater operations."
On tritium production, the Chiefs believed it "preferable to completely exclude tritium from negotiations" on a cutoff treaty than to try to agree on some specific production level. Including it in the agreement would raise complex inspection issues and it was impossible to "determine in advance how much the U.S. needs."
Document 16: Revisiting Verification Issues
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Secretariat, "Background Papers for the Declaration on Disarmament": Report on "Cutoff of Production of Fissionable Materials," 29 November 1961, Secret
Location of Original: National Archives, Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Decimal Files 1961, file 3050 (30 Sept 61)
In late September 1961, with U.S.-Soviet tensions escalating over West Berlin and nuclear tests, President Kennedy gave a major address to the UN General Assembly, which touched on a number of issues, including the problem of nuclear proliferation. Kennedy submitted a major disarmament proposal, "A Program for General and Complete Disarmament" which broke the Eisenhower administration's linkage between conventional forces reduction and a fissile material production cutoff. The "Program" included the production cutoff, a proposal to transfer agreed quantities of fissile material to non-weapons purposes, and IAEA safeguards for such transfers, among other proposals. The program touched only generally on verification issues, which were to be settled by a proposed Nuclear Experts Commission. (Note 19)
Produced by a staffer at the Defense Department's Office of International Security Affairs, this paper provides general background on the purposes and policy issues raised by the fissile material cutoff proposal. At the heart of the paper was a discussion of verification issues, with an outline plan that included specific requirements for verification of plutonium production and gaseous diffusion facilities as well as for identifying clandestine sites. Another core issue was the problem of tritium production, which the verification plan elusively identified as "fuel to maintain weapons stockpiles." Unless serious negotiations developed, the author suggested that the United States not mention tritium at all.
Citing intelligence information, the author estimated that the Soviet Union was unlikely to support a cutoff at this time," because it "has not yet met its stockpile requirements." Moreover, the Soviets are "reluctant to accept the inspection system accompanying a cutoff."
A particular benefit identified with the cutoff was its potential for curbing nuclear proliferation thereby reducing "the danger of accidental, unauthorized, or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons, and … the danger of catalytic nuclear war." Presumably the latter referred to the apprehension that an incipient nuclear power would try to provoke or catalyze a conflict between other nuclear powers, the superpowers in particular.
Document 17: Position Paper for ENDC
U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Eighteen Nations Disarmament Committee, U.S. Disarmament Measures Paper # 4, "Measures to Contain and Reduce the Nuclear Threat," 9 March 1962, Confidential
Source: RG 59, Conference Files, box 281, CF 2065 Foreign Ministers Meeting 3/62 18 Nations Disarmament Committee Briefing Book Disarmament
At the meeting of the Eighteen Nations Disarmament Committee (ENDC) in Geneva in April 1962, the U.S. delegation broached a proposal "Outline of Basic Provisions of a Treaty on General and Complete Disarmament in a Peaceful World." Nuclear weapons measures in stage I of the program included a cutoff, with fissile material production for nonweapons uses "limited to agreed levels." The proposed International Disarmament Organization would be responsible for verifying the cutoff, including assurances that "undeclared facilities" were not violating it. Moreover, the United States and the Soviet Union would transfer agreed quantities of U-235 from past production for peaceful uses, with the materials placed under safeguards. Any transfer of fissile material between states would have to be for non-weapons uses and would be placed under safeguards in consultation with the IAEA. (Note 20)
The position paper reproduced here provided background information on key issues for decision makers and negotiators. On verification of the cutoff, e.g., proposals for identifying secret facilities, Washington was not ready to make specific proposals. On the provisions for U.S. and Soviet fissile material transfers, Washington was willing to consider up to 50,000 kilograms of U-235 as a "significant and tangible reduction of weapons capabilities." If however, the Soviets objected to equal transfers, the possibility of proportional transfers was available. "According to U.S. estimates, if the principle of equal transfer were observed …, the Soviet stockpile would be depleted before the U.S. stockpile."
Document 18: Inspection System for a Cutoff
Department of Defense, Office of International Security Affairs, "On Nuclear Diffusion Volume II": Appendix II, "Inspection for a Production Cutoff," 20 June 1963
Location of Original: John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Carl Kaysen Papers, box 376, Nuclear Energy Matters, Nuclear Diffusion, Briefing Book Volume II "On Nuclear Diffusion"
With President Kennedy about to travel to Europe for meetings with key leaders and the U.S.-U.K.-Soviet test ban talks nearing a point of decision, administration officials considered other arms control possibilities in the event that talks with the Soviet Union offered some opportunities. While the talks led to a limited test ban treaty only, some Defense Department officials were interested in developing positions "oriented to the future" and emphasized the anti-proliferations aims of the cutoff proposal. Arthur Barber, an official at the Office of International Security Affairs, acknowledged that the cutoff would "freeze an important U.S. advantage in nuclear weapons" vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, but argued that the "nuclear containment" feature had the "greatest value to U.S. security." It would have to be part of a bargain with the non-nuclear powers, however, because they would expect the nuclear states to "accept limitations on their own weapons program." Rather optimistically, Barber suggested that this could be sold to the Soviets who "must realize that they cannot overcome the absolute U.S. advantage in nuclear material production in this decade, nor probably in the next."
To show how an inspection system could work and what it could do, Barber included a lengthy excerpt from the March 1961 Perkins Panel report (see document 13 above) which concluded that an inspection group of 350 in the Soviet Union would "have a high probability of detecting annual illicit diversions of 2 percent or more of the 1963 USSR stockpile." The Perkins Panel argued that a "high degree of access" was essential to check diversions and "prove the existence of a clandestine plant." This would not only be a problem for Moscow but also for Washington because it could "compromise any advantage …in production technology," Nevertheless, "such access would improve the US intelligence position." The Panel did not make any specific suggestions on who should do the inspecting, but Barber argued that the major nuclear states would have to inspect each other, while an international organization like the International Atomic Energy Agency could search for clandestine activity in smaller states.
Document 19: Soviet Objections - "Why Should We Expect They Would Accept" the Cutoff?
U.S. Mission in Geneva cable DISTO 1593 to State Department, 13 February 1964, Secret
Location of original: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Series, 1964-1966, Def 18-3 Switz (GE)
On 21 January 1964, when the Eighteen Nations Disarmament Conference reconvened in Geneva, Switzerland, President Lyndon Johnson sent a message proposing an expanded arms control agenda. With the Limited Test Ban Treaty already on the books, Johnson introduced old and new proposals: the cutoff, observation posts to help reduce the risk of inadvertent conflict, "means of prohibiting the threat or use of force … to change boundaries or demarcation lines," and measures to curb nuclear proliferation, including agreements against the transfer of nuclear weapons to "states which do not now control them." Altogether new was a proposal to freeze numbers of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (SNDVs), a proposition which was stillborn because it would freeze a U.S. advantage (like the cut-off). (Note 21)
Some weeks into the conference, the chief Soviet representative Semyon Tsarapkin met with ACDA director William C. Foster to discuss the negotiations. While most of the discussion was on issues before the ENDC, Tsarapkin led off with a reference to the recent defection of KGB officer Yuri Nosenko, one of the most notorious defector cases in CIA history. During their discussion of the negotiations, Tsarapkin explained why he could not accept the cutoff proposal: "Why should we expect they would accept this since we [the United States] had produced these materials for five years longer than they had." Foster observed that the U .S. position tried to compensate for that by offering to "divert larger quantity to peaceful uses than would be required from them," but if Tsarapkin responded to that point it is not mentioned in the cable.
Documents 20A-C: Cutoff Verification Proposal for ENDC and British Doubts
Document 20A: U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, "Cutoff of Production of Fissionable Material Production and Transfer to Peaceful Uses as Separable Measures," 4 June 1964, Confidential
Location of Original: RG 59, Records Relating to the Committee of Principals, 1964-1966, box 2, Committee of Principals – 1964 July through January
Document 20C: Memcon, "British Comments on US Cutoff Verification Paper," 23 June 1964, Confidential, with attachment B only
Location of original: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Series, 1964-1966, Def 18-3 Switz (GE)
During the first months of his administration, President Lyndon Johnson took several unilateral initiatives to cut back on fissile material production, including a halt of HEU production for weapons purposes (see document 22 below). Another development on the policy front during 1964 was the production of this position paper on the cutoff, including a proposal for verification. The paper was the result of an extensive interagency review process during the spring of 1964, and President Johnson approved it on 16 June 1964. (Note 22) By then, the cutoff was being treated as a stand-alone, or "separable," proposal that could be broken out of the stage 1 disarmament plan if there was enough serious interest in it.
On June 25, 1964, the U.S. delegates to the ENDC conference introduced the first specific public proposal for the verification of a cutoff, a proposal which appears as annex A of this ACDA position paper. (Note 23) Ambassador Clare Timberlake later described the verification procedure on one designed to avoid "excess intrusion." Thus, inspection of U-235 separation plants would be external only on the grounds that proposed measurements (electrical power input, perimeter uranium input and declared product output, etc.) would be enough to "assure against diversions." Reactors would have to undergo IAEA inspections (or similar arrangements) while chemical separation (plutonium reprocessing) plants would require "close monitoring" and "complete access." (Note 24) For clandestine or "undeclared facilities," a "limited number of inspections … on an adversary basis" would be possible in order to determine whether plutonium or U-235 production or other "suspect" activities were under way.
The Soviets were not the only nuclear power with doubts about the cutoff. As a close ally and nuclear power, the British were consulted about the verification proposal, which gave them an opportunity to observe that they could not support the cutoff itself for "well known reasons," apparently their continued dependence on the U.S. for fissionable materials. Nevertheless, they wanted to comment on the verification proposal and handed the suggestions to ACDA a few days before Foster offered the U.S. proposal. Unfortunately, the British memorandum is not in the file, only Tab B, the "preliminary" U.S. response, is available.
Document 21: Cutoff Policy Review
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, "A Cutoff of Production of Fissionable Materials for Weapons Use with Demonstrated Destruction of Nuclear Weapons and Transfer of Fissionable Materials Therefrom to Non-Weapons Use," 18 October 1965. Secret, excised copy
Location of original: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Subject File, box 14, Disarmament Volume 2 Committee of Principals
Prepared when ACDA director William C. Foster was advancing a nonproliferation agenda at meetings of the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, this report restated and reviewed U.S. positions on the cutoff and the related proposals on the transfer of fissile material and the "demonstrated destruction" of nuclear weapons. (Note 25) The report updated intelligence estimates of the Soviet fissile material stockpile; while acknowledging that Moscow "could catch up … during the 1970s," the current "material balance is believed to be in the favor of the U.S." Tritium production would not be included in the cutoff and would continue at levels required to compensate for normal decay of tritium in the weapons stockpile.
The verification proposal that Foster advanced in 1964 was also reviewed, with the caution that a "changing situation" would require "periodic review and updating," and that such a review should be a requirement of a cutoff proposal. One issue was that neither France nor China was likely to sign a cutoff and both Moscow and Washington would want to review estimates of their stockpiles (this was more than a cutoff verification issue). More to the point, the prospect of increasing application of peaceful uses of atomic energy would raise the risk of diversion of spent fuel and enriched uranium to illicit military purposes. Thus, "deviations from declarations [by each signator] will become significant unless all states recognize and implement tighter verification procedures." The discussion also included verification procedures for the "demonstrated destruction" of nuclear weapons.
Document 22: ACDA History
U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Johnson Administration, Volume II Policy and Negotiations, Section F: Fissionable Materials Production Cutoff and Transfer, n.d., Top Secret, Excised Copy
Location of Original: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Administrative Histories, United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, box 1.
This study provides an overview of the development of the cutoff proposal from the late Kennedy administration through the close of the Johnson administration. Besides reviewing President Johnson's unilateral cuts in plutonium and U-235 production, the study covered the discussion of the verification proposal cited earlier (see document 18).
A significant moment in the history of U.S. policy on the cutoff took place after the signing of the Nonproliferation Treaty in June 1968. ACDA officials believed that emphasizing the cutoff in a presidential message to the ENDC was necessary to show that that Washington was taking seriously its disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT. Johnson did not approve the recommendation and ACDA ran into opposition when it asked the Pentagon and the AEC to support a reaffirmation of the cutoff at Geneva. AEC commissioner Seaborg was not sure whether the 1964 verification proposal was adequate and the Chiefs argued that there were enough uncertainties about the future needs of the nuclear stockpile to make it ‘impossible to rule out … a potential for significant disadvantage to US interests." Seaborg later wrote that what was central to the diminished interest in the cutoff on the U.S. side was that it was "less advantageous, if advantageous at all" because the "the ratio of U.S. to Soviet stockpiles of fissionable materials was diminishing rapidly." (Note 26)
Document 23: "Let It Rest There"
National Security Council Meeting: "Saturday, March 15, 1969," Glenn Seaborg Office Diary, Confidential, Excised copy
Location of original: Glenn Seaborg Papers, Library of Congress
What was very likely the last high-level policy review for many years of the cutoff took place at a National Security Council meeting held in the Nixon Administration's early months. The meeting included discussion of the ENDC, a summary by ACDA director Gerard C. Smith of his arms control priorities, and a review of the Seabed Treaty (banning nuclear weapons from the ocean floor). The conversation turned toward the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the cutoff proposal. On the cutoff, Smith argued that it "was to our advantage" because the United States had "quite an edge" in comparison with the Soviets, but JCS Chairman Wheeler questioned that. Moreover, Seaborg expressed reservations over whether a cutoff was even feasible in the near term because of Defense Department weapons needs. Also at issue was the perennial issue of tritium, although there were potential fixes to solve the problem.
President Nixon, national security adviser Henry Kissinger, and Secretary of State William Rogers generally agreed that the United States could "not walk away" from earlier cutoff and transfer proposals, including the 60-40 ratio for U.S. and Soviet transfers of fissile material. Washington would soon make a new proposal for verification to be handled entirely by the IAEA, (Note 27) but the Nixon administration had little interest in the old disarmament agenda (which was becoming overtaken by the priority of strategic arms control); as Nixon put it, "let it rest there" at the ENDC, although he suggested the need for a policy review on whether changes were necessary. It was not long before discussion of the cutoff disappeared from the pages of the ACDA annual Documents on Disarmament compendium.
The cutoff faded from the U.S. arms control agenda after the 1960s, although proposals surfaced in the UN General Assembly, including Moscow's 1982 proposal in response to Reagan administration stockpile buildup.
1. A number of the documents in this collection refer to a "fissionable materials" production cutoff. Fissionable has been used as a synonym for fissile, but fissile will be used here instead. Fissile specifically refers to a capability to "sustain an explosive fission chain reaction." See International Panel on Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report 2008: Scope and Verification of a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty, 102. http://www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08.pdf
2. For "arms control as propaganda," see Glenn T. Seaborg with Benjamin S. Loeb, Stemming the Tide: Arms Control in the Johnson Years (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1987), 456-457. See also Ira Chernus, Apocalypse Management: Eisenhower and the Discourse of National Insecurity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008). For the balancing act between propaganda, anxieties about nuclear weapons, and commitment to building up forces, see, for example, Neal Rosendorf, "John Foster Dulles' Nuclear Schizophrenia," and Vladislav M. Zubok and Hope Harrison, "The Nuclear Education of Nikita Khrushchev," in John Lewis Gaddis, Philip H. Gordon, and Ernest R. May, eds., Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy Since 1945 (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999).
5. Kingston Reif and Madeline Foley, "Factsheet on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty," Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 15 July 2009. For more detailed background on the U.S. position during the Clinton and Bush administrations, see International Panel on Fissile Materials, Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons: Country Perspectives on the Challenges to a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty (International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2008), 54-62. For more on developments during the 1990s and a lucid review of the debate over the cutoff treaty, see David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 431-433. For the draft treaty submitted by the Bush administration in 2006, see Michael Krepon, "The Bush Administration Tables a Draft "Cutoff" Treaty: Analysis of Key Elements," 18 May 2006, Stimson Center.
6. For background, see Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar, "Playing the Nuclear Game: Pakistan and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty," Arms Control Today, April 2010, and Paul Meyer, "A Fissile Material (Cut-off) Treaty: Some Observations on Scope and Verification," Disarmament Diplomacy Issue No. 91, Summer 2009. See also Mark Hibbs, "Pakistan Deal Signals China's Growing Nuclear Assertiveness", Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Nuclear Energy Brief, 27 April 2010.
8. David Tal, The American Nuclear Disarmament Dilemma, 1945-1963 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008), 116-124. For the most recent account of Eisenhower's nuclear arms control and nonproliferation policy, see Shane Maddock's, Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy From World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2010).
12. Evgeny A. Negin and Yuri N. Smirnov, "Did the USSR Share Atomic Secrets with China?" Web site of Parallel Project on Cooperative Security.
13. For a detailed account of the NSC meeting, see U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume III (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1996), 836-845.
19. Address by President Kennedy to the General Assembly, September 25, 1961, and "United States Declaration Submitted to the General Assembly: A Program for General and Complete Disarmament in a Peaceful World," September 25, 1961, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Documents on Disarmament 1961 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1962), 469-470 and 478-479.
21. "Message to the 18-Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva," 21 January 1964, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President, 1963-1964, Book I (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1965), 171-172.
25. For statements by Foster during October 1965 see ACDA, Documents on Disarmament 1965 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 474-481 and 505-512. See also Seaborg, Stemming the Tide, 399-400.
27. "Statement by ACDA Deputy Director Fisher to the Eighteen National Disarmament Conference, April 8, 1969," ACDA, Documents on Disarmament 1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1970), 160.