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Special Collection: Key Documents on Nuclear Weapons Policy, 1945-1990
State Department Officials Pointed to Soviet "Technical Violations" but "Gentlemen's Agreement" Spared Both Superpowers Public Criticisms over Possible Breaches
Secret Pentagon Programs to Monitor French Atmospheric Nuclear Tests Worried State Department about a U.S. Violation of 1963 Treaty
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 433
Posted - August 2, 2013
For more information contact:
William Burr - 202/994-7000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C., August 2, 2013 – The United States and Soviet Union conducted underground testing that sometimes produced significant "venting" of radioactive gases and particles which crossed international borders, even after signing the Limited Test Ban Treaty fifty years ago, in August 1963. That posed potential health hazards, but also created problems for U.S.-Soviet relations, according to documents recently uncovered through archival research. To minimize the problem, both superpowers tacitly agreed to keep their disagreements secret. A State Department document, published today for the first time by the National Security Archive, indicates that both superpowers followed a tacit "gentleman's agreement against publicizing venting incidents" in order to depoliticize the issue and to avoid public criticisms of nuclear testing in general, although that was more important to Washington than to Moscow.
The United States might also have violated the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) through a Defense Department program of monitoring France's atmospheric tests in the Pacific, according to the State Department in 1972. The Pentagon's objectives included tracking France's capabilities and collecting information about nuclear weapons effects, but even though State Department officials objected that the program — labeled NICE DOG — was tantamount to "participation" alongside France National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger overruled them and allowed the monitoring to proceed.
Fifty years ago, on 5 August 1963, the foreign ministers of the United States, the USSR, and the United Kingdom met in Moscow to sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) outlawing nuclear testing in the atmosphere, under water, and in space. On the 40th anniversary, ten years ago, the National Security Archive published a collection of documents on the Treaty's origins amid the drive for a comprehensive test ban (CTB). Today, the Archive re-posts that collection with new documents relating to the LTBT, some recently declassified, others found at the National Archives, all published here for the first time. They cover such issues as intelligence monitoring, treaty violations, and Chinese and French defiance of the treaty, and debate during the 1970s over a comprehensive test ban treaty.
Among the disclosures in today's publication on the LTBT and related issues:
The LTBT fell short of the comprehensive test ban that its negotiators sought by permitting nuclear weapons states to test underground. Nevertheless, the Treaty was a significant response to the international outcry against the radioactive fallout danger produced by atmospheric testing. By banning atmospheric nuclear tests, the Treaty has been called the "first international environmental regulation." Before signing the Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Unions had staged over 550 atmospheric tests (U.S.: 331, Soviet Union: 221) releasing significant amounts of radioactive material into the environment and causing measurable harm to public health to people living near test sites. The U.S. atmospheric testing record was bad, especially in the Pacific, but the Soviet record was especially notorious not least because of the serious incident of cancer deaths linked to the tests.
The LTBT was a milestone but it was not the end of the story of atmospheric testing and radioactive fallout. Two key nuclear states, China and France, refused to sign and tested in the atmosphere. To monitor atmospheric testing by nuclear renegades, the United States and the United Kingdom cooperated to extend the scope of a worldwide detection system. Moreover, as noted, even governments that discontinued atmospheric nuclear tests had problems with radioactive leaks or "venting" of radioactive particles and gases from underground tests. In addition, despite the U.S. renunciation of atmospheric testing, the Nixon administration secretly approved programs to exploit French tests by collecting data on nuclear weapons effects.
No serious attempt was made to revive the comprehensive test ban until the Jimmy Carter administration. During the Nixon years the CTB met strong opposition at the Pentagon where senior officials continued to insist that testing was a national security imperative. Nixon, however, found it necessary to accept a Threshold Test Ban Treaty, a ceiling on the size of underground tests, because of Moscow's continued insistence on a comprehensive ban. Carter found a threshold test ban irrelevant but could not realize his goal of an "early and instant end" to testing. The Pentagon's doubts about the CTB and Cold War pressures stalemated the negotiations.
It was not until 1980 that the LTBT became a truly globally accepted standard of conduct among the nuclear states. France had stopped atmospheric testing in1974 but China continued until 1980. Neither signed the Treaty (nor did North Korea). Nevertheless, with the revival of the Comprehensive Test Ban during the 1990s, thanks to U.S. and Russian support, both China and France signed the CTB Treaty in 1996. China, like the United States, has not ratified the CTBT, however. Despite the U.S. government's original sponsorship in the drive for a comprehensive test ban, the CTBT remains stalled in the U.S. Senate where chances of ratification are remote until a two-thirds majority becomes possible.
Document 1: Central Intelligence Agency, Memorandum for the Disarmament Staff, "Questions on Nuclear Weapons Tests and Fourth Countries (Dated 26 March 1957)," 3 April 1957, Secret
Source: CIA MDR release
Harold Stassen, President Eisenhower's special assistant on disarmament, was interested in a comprehensive test ban before it became administration policy and his staffers questioned the CIA about the relationship between nuclear testing and weapons proliferation. The "Fourth Country" was the next nuclear weapons state (presumably France) after the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The Agency did not think that testing was necessary for a country seeking inefficient Hiroshima-type fission weapons but it was if a country sought thermonuclear weapons. The memorandum briefly reviewed the possibility of covert weapons programs, the essential conditions for a weapon program and those countries that were the most likely candidates for nuclear weapons status. Of various countries considered, France had the "greatest capability," although financial resource limitations were a problem.
Document 2: Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee, "The Test Ban and Nuclear Proliferation," JAEIC report-3-64, April 1964, Secret, excised copy
Source: CIA MDR release, under appeal
In the wake of the limited test ban treaty, questions emerged in the intelligence establishment over what barriers existed to the underground testing of nuclear weapons by potential proliferants. Focusing on technical limits that could deter tests, the JAEIC found no geological limitations; the cost of underground testing was not a deterrent, neither were diagnostic measurement requirements. Moreover, enough public information on U.S. nuclear weapons and weapons design was also available to help a proliferant decide what type of device to test, which for "economy" reasons would be a small implosion type. The Committee found it "mandatory that at least one test shot be conducted," which raises interesting questions about the Israeli nuclear program (e.g., whether the mysterious September 1979 South Atlantic flash was the "one test shot"). According to the Committee, it "is not unreasonable to expect a high probability of success on the first shot." If North Korea's first nuclear test was a "fizzle" as some argue, it demonstrates that "high probability" is not the same as absolute certainty.
Documents 3A-D: "Clear Sky" Agreement with the United Kingdom
A: U.S. Embassy United Kingdom Airgram A-511 to State Department, "[Excised]," 28 August 1964, Excised copy, secret
B. Hugh Wolf to Arnold Freshman, 12 October 1964, enclosing "Test Ban Monitoring Requirements, Understandings Reached in US/UK Technical Discussions of September 1964," Secret
C: U.S. Embassy United Kingdom Airgram A-1043 to State Department, "[Excised] Informal UK Draft Agreement," 2 November 1964, Excised copy, secret
D: U.S. Embassy United Kingdom Airgram A-3082 to State Department, "[Excised] Agreed US/UK Cooperative Arrangements," 10 June 1965, Excised copy, secret
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1964-1966, DEF 18-8 US, declassified through FOIA request
When the U.S. signed the LTBT, government agencies supported special monitoring arrangements, to verify compliance with the treaty. That would in large part be the responsibility of the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), which already operated an Atomic Energy Detection System (AEDS) world-wide using acoustic, seismic, electromagnetic, radiological, and other means to detect nuclear tests and other nuclear activities. Moreover, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had underway the significant VELA project, which had a nuclear test detection component. AFTAC's technologies were already proven but as it had in the past, it collaborated with allies to carry out the mission.
Files at the National Archives are full of documents about negotiations over nuclear test monitoring with a variety of governments, under the code word "Clear Sky." Most of the documents are heavily excised by the U.S. Air Force, including most references to "Clear Sky," an indication of the sensitivity to that agency of the details of the nuclear detection system.
As part of the "Clear Sky" program, the United States proposed a program of cooperation with the United Kingdom by helping the British establish monitoring stations using AFTAC technology in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Mauritius, Pakistan, Fiji, and Australia (all the proposed sites are listed fully in document 8B). The British were already thinking about how they could contribute to LTBT monitoring and the U.S. proposal made that financially easier by providing technological support. While the fact that UK stations were monitoring nuclear activities would be unclassified, the collaboration with AFTAC and that organization's specific role would be classified secret. "Clear Sky" is excised from the subject line of most of these documents, but the memorandum from Wolf to Freshman (document 8B) confirms that the program of U.S-U.K. cooperation was indeed a "Clear Sky" activity.
One issue that was under discussion in connection with the "Clear Sky" stations was a provision for Anglo-American consultation in the event of a suspected violation of the test ban. While the British appeared to favor having an understanding on consultations be "specifically" associated with the agreement on monitoring arrangements, the U.S. government objected to any association, perhaps on the grounds that each stood on its own merit and that one did not depend on the other. Washington appears to have prevailed because the final agreement included a separate note calling for immediate consultations between the two governments in the event of a "suspected breach" of the LTBT.
Documents 4A-C: First Venting Incident
A: Memorandum of Conversation, "Signals Received of an Explosion in the Soviet Union," 19 January 1965, Secret
B. Memorandum of Conversation, "Underground Nuclear Explosion in the Soviet Union," 25 January 1965, Secret
C. State Department aide memoire, 15 February 1965, unclassified
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1964-1966, DEF 18-8 USSR.
With atmospheric testing banned, both superpowers resorted to extensive underground testing programs, yet radioactive contamination remained a problem. The problem of "venting" became an issue in U.S.-Soviet relations when Moscow or Washington detected radioactive gases and/or particles that had accidentally emerged from one of the underground test site and was detectable across national borders. Some U.S. officials who participated in the test ban negotiations recognized that venting would be a problem, but no discussions took place before the treaty signing on how to interpret the language barring the release of "radioactive debris ...outside the territorial limits of the State" that conducted an underground nuclear test. Thus each side developed discrepant interpretations: Moscow interpreted the LTBT to prohibit only releases of radioactive particles across borders, while Washington interpreted the ban more conservatively, to include particles and gases.
The first time that U.S. government agencies detected radioactive material from a Soviet underground test the diplomatic soundings occurred at the Secretary of State level. A Soviet test on 15 January 1965 produced debris that AFTAC collected in the Far East. After some debate among senior officials over whether the incident represented a treaty violation, on 19 January, Secretary of State Dean Rusk informed Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin that Washington had detected the venting. Rusk allowed for the possibility of error or accident noting that the incident could have resulted from a miscalculation of explosive yield or a misjudgment of the appropriate depth. Six days later, Dobrynin made a statement to Rusk essentially denying the possibility that any debris had crossed the Soviet border; therefore, the test did not affect the LTBT's "provisions."
Rusk said he would study the Soviet statement, but he observed that "debris did clearly get outside the Soviet Union." The incident had received considerable media play, including the Soviet denial, before Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson handed Dobrynin a note reiterating Rusk's point: despite the Soviet rebuff, "scientific findings" demonstrated that debris had crossed the Soviet border. The State Department reminded the Soviets of their obligation to the terms of the LTBT and asked for more information about the test.
Document 5: Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Glen Seaborg to Review Committee on Underground Nuclear Test, 5 July 1966, with "Summary of PIN STRIPE Venting," attached, secret
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1964-1966, DEF 18-8 US, declassified under FOIA request
Washington had its own venting problems. One early incident that worried the Atomic Energy Commission was the PIN STRIPE weapons test in April 1966. A crack in the surface of the test site had led to the discharge of a cloud of radioactive gases that headed toward the Midwest. The Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), charged with monitoring overseas nuclear tests, tracked the cloud. While a herd of dairy cows in Nevada were temporarily put on "dry feed" (no grazing in the grass), a series of thyroid measurements led the AEC to find that the venting had created "no health risk." The Soviets learned about the incident and the military publication Red Star condemned it as a "tragic incident [that] has given rise to another wave of wrathful indignation in the world."
Document 6A-C: The 27 October 1966 Soviet Test
A. State Department telegram 83502 to U.S. Embassy Moscow, 11 November 1966, Secret
B. State Department telegram 95903 to U.S. Embassy Moscow, 2 December 1966, Confidential
C. Memorandum of conversation, "Nuclear Venting Question," 14 January 1967, Secret
D. Memorandum of conversation, "Soviet-American Exchanges on the Venting of Nuclear Tests," 11 February 1967, Confidential.
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1964-1966 and 1967-1969, DEF 18-8 USSR
A major Soviet venting incident on 27 October 1966, involving a device with an explosive yield of about 1.2 megatons, was one of the last that received significant media coverage. Handled at the assistant secretary level by John Leddy, the exchanges with Ambassador Dobrynin did not produce any agreement. The latter denied that there was a problem. When Assistant Secretary Foy Kohler later brought up another venting problem from a test on 18 December, Dobrynin implied that venting could not have occurred. Kohler further brought up the "unsatisfactory" Soviet reply from the previous month on the 27 October incident and suggested U.S.-Soviet talks to clarify and "reconcile" their divergent interpretations of the treaty. In a subsequent oral reply, Dobryin said that his government would consider that proposal but in the meantime, the Soviet government asked Washington to stop bringing up the incidents: it wanted "to avoid future mutual inquiries" because they could be "exploited" to undermine the treaty. Whether any such talks ever occurred is unclear.
By this point in the history of the venting controversy, the State Department was getting better at controlling information; it was not until October 1967 that The Washington Post got wind of the Kohler-Dobrynin meeting the previous January, which it reported as a "secret protest" of the 18 December venting. Thereafter, newspaper coverage of U.S. government inquiries about venting incidents dried up, probably because nothing was leaking from the State Department or possibly because the incidents were no longer news.
Documents 7A-B: "A-Blast Goes Wild" (Los Angeles Times)
A: Memorandum of conversation, "Canadian Representation Concerning Nevada Nuclear Test Venting," 18 January 1971, Confidential
B: State Department telegram 16717 to U.S. Embassy Moscow, 1 February 1971, Confidential
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files 1970-73, Def 18-8 US (for A), Def 18-8 (for B)
When the AEC staged nuclear test Baneberry on 18 December 1970, everything went wrong geologically; it produced a "prompt, massive venting" of radioactive particles and gases, the "worst" such incident in the history of U.S. underground testing. The cloud reached 8,000 feet in height and radioactive particles were detected across the Canadian border. Owing to an error by the test controller, a warning was not issued quickly enough and radiation reached Camp 12 where hundreds of workers were stationed. A front page story in major newspapers , the incident led to a six-month moratorium on underground testing accompanied by a significant effort to apply resources to containment procedures so that nothing like Baneberry happened again.
Soviet and Canadian diplomats brought the matter to the attention of the State Department. Ambassador Dobrynin did not immediately produce evidence of a cross-border detection of venting, when he met with Assistant Secretary of State Martin Hillenbrand on 6 January 1971, but a few weeks later, on 29 January he did. Canadian diplomats cited Canada's detection of radioactive particles but they did not make a formal protest, although relations with Canada were strained because of U.S. underground testing at Amchitka, Alaska.
When Dobrynin first brought up the Baneberry venting, Hillenbrand in a tit-for-tat fashion handed him a note about Soviet tests in December 1970 that had caused venting and the collection of radioactive debris outside of Soviet borders. In the later discussion, Dobrynin denied that the December 1970 tests had released any radioactive debris. In the reporting cable, the State Department informed the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that it was following the "practice" of not publicizing "the nature of this exchange," but did not refer to a mutual understanding with the Soviets.
Document 8A-B: "Gentlemen's Agreement"
A. Memorandum of conversation, "Venting of Soviet Underground Test," 15 December 1971, Secret
B. Memorandum of Conversation, "Venting of Underground Explosions," 11 January 1972, Confidential
Source: Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files 1970-73, folder Chicom 12-1 (for A); Def 18-8 USSR (for B)
Moscow did not face a major public opinion problem and venting incidents continued; no major resources were expended to minimize them. A venting on 27 September 1971 was the subject of another exchange with Moscow. As had become the practice, Washington consulted with the British, the other original signatory of the LTBT, whenever it was about to lodge a protest. Holsey Handyside told British diplomat Christopher Makins that the U.S. did not bring up every venting incident with Moscow but there had been six in the last year and the 27 September incident was the "worst" such since October 1966.
In response to Makins' query about what the U.S. hoped to gain by protesting, Handyside explained that Washington wanted to build a "firm record" to respond to Congressional inquiries, to encourage the Soviets to improve their containment practices to minimize atmospheric radioactivity and opposition to "all nuclear testing," and to counter any Soviet "propaganda" charges about U.S. testing or the infrequent U.S. venting incidents. Summing up, Handyside explained that Washington "wished to remind the Soviets that the continuation of the existing gentlemen's agreement against publicizing venting incidents was to the advantage of both the US and the USSR." Handyside may not have been referring to an explicit agreement, but to practices that both sides had been following for mutual convenience since the mid-1960s in response to the problems raised by venting incidents.
The next day, Acting Assistant Secretary of State George Springsteen handed off an aide memoire to Soviet diplomat Yuli Vorontsov. Replying on 10 January, the Soviets stuck to their customary story that venting had not occurred and riposted by asking about a U.S. test that occurred on 24 November 1971. As Dobrynin had done in February 1967, diplomat Viktor Isakof asked the United States to stop bringing up the incidents. Whatever the nature of the agreement about venting incidents, tacit or explicit, Isakof interpreted it as meaning to keep silent: "he thought an understanding had been reached not to keep making reference to small events." Not surprisingly Soviet desk office Jack Matlock observed that the 27 September venting "had not been a small event."
Document 9: George S. Springsteen, Executive Secretary, U.S. State Department, to Acting Secretary Kenneth Rush, "Attached Memorandum on Soviet Venting," 21 February 1974, with memoranda from Helmut Sonnenfeldt and INR attached, Secret
Source: R 59. Executive Secretariat Records, Memoranda of the Executive Secretariat, 1964-1975, box 10, S/S Memos, Jan-March 1974
Several high-yield Soviet tests in the fall of 1973 raised more hackles in the Department of State about the venting problem. Two of the tests resulted in very large releases, with one specifically producing the "highest observed" level of "detected gaseous radioactivity ... from any Soviet venting since their test of October 27, 1966." While the Soviets apparently took precautions to "reduce the amount escaping Soviet territory," the Department believed that Moscow should have known that there was a "virtual certainty of at least gaseous radioactive material escaping Soviet territory." With Soviet venting occurring "regularly year after year," the Bureau of Intelligence and Research suggested sending a strong message, but Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Rush would endorse only a pro forma protest.
According to the Aide Memoire, which Assistant Secretary of State Arthur Hartman handed to the Soviets on 21 March 1974, the recent incidents were "most regrettable because of the relatively large amounts of radioactive material collected outside the Soviet Union." Moreover, they "continue to occur." By contrast, the U.S. government has made "rigorous precautions" which "have proved especially effective." The implication was that Moscow needed to take its own "effective measures" to reduce or prevent leakages of radioactivity. Hartman further commented that both countries should do their "best to uphold the Treaty."
Document 10: State Department counselor Helmut Sonnenfeldt to Secretary Kissinger, "LTBT Violations by Soviets," 28 November 1975, Secret
Source: RG 59, Records of the Counselor, 1955-77, box 7, Soviet Union Oct-Dec 1975
More venting occurred in the fall of 1975 when several Soviet megaton size tests produced detectable radioactive debris. As the Soviets had been unresponsive to U.S. suggestions, State Department counselor Helmut Sonnenfeldt suggested treating the problem at a higher level. Kissinger would sign off on the complaint, proposed by ACDA director Fred Ikle, which Sonnenfeldt would deliver personally to Ambassador Dobrynin in the Secretary's "name." While Sonnenfeldt saw some problems; for example, with the Threshold Test Ban Treaty going into effect in 1976, the huge tests that were at issue would be moot, but he nevertheless thought the incidents worth protesting. While Kissinger checked off the "disapproved" box, rejecting the advice that the protest be in his "name," Sonnenfeldt may have gone around him, because the note that Hartman delivered on 23 December 1975 began with these words: "The Secretary of State presents his compliments" to Soviet ambassador Dobrynin, a departure from the language used in previous notes (which not refer to the Secretary of State).
The U.S. developed better procedures to minimize venting, but it remained a problem for the Soviet underground test program. The U.S. record of quiet protests continued into the mid-1980s; it was not until May 1986, at the time of the Chernobyl accident, that the U.S. government acknowledged the record of secret protests, albeit without mentioning a "gentleman's agreement."
Documents 11A-B: China's First Test
A. State Department circular 674 to all Diplomatic Posts, "Guidance re Chicom Nuclear Atmospheric Test," 16 October 1964, Confidential
B. State Department circular 698 to all Diplomatic Posts, "Further Guidance re Chicom Atmospheric Nuclear Test," 21 October 1964, Confidential
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1964-1966, DEF 18-8 US
After China's first nuclear test at Lop Nor on 16 October 1964, President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk called upon Beijing to sign the LTBT. For the purposes of consultations between U.S. diplomats and foreign government officials, the State Department transmitted background information, somewhat in the nature of Cold War propaganda, that included criticisms of China for flouting the LTBT; a critique of China's position on disarmament; and the accusation that Beijing was using "atmospheric pollution from these tests as blackmail to pressure other government to accept" Chinese policy. The test was labeled an "offense against human well being."
Documents 12A-B: Protecting Skylab
A. Jean Davis, Staff Secretary, National Security Council, to Theodore Eliot, Jr. , Executive Secretary, State Department, "Message to PRC on Skylab Missions," 24 April 1973, Confidential
B. U.S. Embassy Paris telegram 11536 to State Department, "PRC Nuclear Tests During Skylab Missions," 26 April 1973, Confidential
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1970-73, DEF 12-1 Chicom
Out of concern that nuclear tests, especially those at high altitudes, could endanger Skylab crews during forthcoming missions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration asked the White House to pass a message to the Chinese government requesting that it avoid such tests during space flights that were scheduled for the months ahead. The State Department transmitted the message to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, which then served as a liaison to the Chinese government. The Chinese embassy's counselor "reacted rather cautiously" and said that he would pass the request to Beijing. If Beijing replied, the response does not appear in the State Department file.
Document 13: State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Intelligence Note RGSN-12, "Arms Control: China Explodes a Hydrogen Bomb," 29 June 1973, Secret
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1970-73, DEF 12-1 Chicom
The focus of this report was China's H-bomb test on 27 June, a 2.4-megaton device fired at some 7,000 feet. This occurred during the second Skylab mission but at a low altitude thus apparently not presenting any risks for the crew. The problems raised by this report were not the particular test but China's justification for the test, its position on no-first use of nuclear weapons, and the larger problem of atmospheric testing in the Pacific by both China and France. China's H-bomb test led to protests by other countries in the region, some of which also objected to France's forthcoming test series in the Pacific. In response to action by Australia and New Zealand, the International Court of Justice had issued a ruling against French nuclear testing, but the French government argued that the Court had no jurisdiction in this matter.
Document 14: State Department telegram to U.S. Liaison Mission to China, "PRC Nuclear Fallout," 28 October 1976, Confidential
Source: NARA, Access to Archival Databases, 1976 State Department telegrams
A Chinese nuclear test at Lop Nor on 26 September produced fallout in the United States which the State Department brought to the attention of China's liaison mission in Washington. First Secretary Hsu Shin Hsi (Wade-Giles spelling) objected to the intervention arguing that Moscow and Washington had already conducted atmospheric nuclear tests and so would China. Hsu later called back on the telephone and elaborated on this point with a statement that opened as follows: "the U.S. side has no credentials to raise this question."
Document 15A-C: Protests in 1980
A: State Department cable 2822457 to U.S. Embassy Beijing, "Chinese Nuclear Explosion," 22 October 1980, Confidential
B. U.S. Embassy Beijing cable 10590 to State Department, "Chinese Nuclear Explosion," 23 October 1980, Confidential
C. U.S. Embassy Beijing cable 10586 to State Department, "Chinese Nuclear Explosion," 24 October 1980, Secret
Source: FOIA release
China continued to stage atmospheric nuclear tests until 1980. A 16 October 1980 test, at 200 kilotons, produced a radioactive cloud that U.S. officials asserted produced "health and safety" risks for air traffic in the Pacific and civilian populations generally. The State Department requested the embassy to lodge a protest with the Foreign Ministry, whose representative Ji Chaozou declared that the radiation levels were low and that atmospheric tests were necessary until China had an underground test capability. The Embassy reported separately that Ji had stated that China could stop atmospheric testing more quickly if Washington provided Beijing with requested assistance on holding underground tests. Earlier in the year, when Deng Xioaping met with President Carter in Washington, the Chinese had requested technical assistance for conducting underground tests but more needs to be learned about the administration's decisions on this matter.
Document 16: Phillip Odeen, NSC Staff, to Dr. Kissinger, "Observations of 1972 French Nuclear Tests," 13 March 1972, enclosing memorandum from Secretary of Defense Laird to Kissinger, "Weapons Effect Data Collection from 1972 French Nuclear Tests," 3 March 1972
Source: Nixon Presidential Library, National Security Files, box 678, France Volume IX Jan-Jul 1972, mandatory declassification review release
From the beginning of the French test program, U.S. intelligence had monitored French test sites, first in North Africa, and later in the Pacific, to determine French capabilities. By the early 1970s, if not earlier, the purposes of monitoring broadened to what could be learned from French tests for the sake of U.S military programs. Even if the United States could not legally conduct atmospheric tests by scrutinizing French testing activities the Pentagon could collect data about nuclear weapons effects and calibrate its nuclear test detection systems. These documents relate to the 1972 program code-named NICE DOG/DIAL FLOWER. While Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird claimed that the observation program was conducted "independently" of France and was therefore "consistent" with U.S. obligations under the LTBT, the State Department objected to the proposal arguing that such close monitoring could be deemed virtual "participation" in atmospheric nuclear testing and thereby a violation of the LTBT. National security advisor Henry Kissinger overruled the State Department and authorized the JCS proposal for NICE DOG/DIAL FLOWER (see document 15 below).
Documents 17A-B: French Interest in Underground Testing
A: U.S. Embassy Peru telegram 1280 to State Department, "French and Chinese Nuclear Testing," 11 March 1973, Confidential
B: State Department telegram to U.S. Embassies in France and Peru, "French and Chinese Nuclear Testing," 12 March 1973, Secret
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files 1970-73, Def 12-1 Chicom
French atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific were the source of international criticisms and protests, especially from neighboring countries, including Australia and New Zealand and the Pacific states of Latin America. A report from the U.S. embassy in Peru that France's nuclear tests in 1973 would be held underground was contradicted by a message from the State Department which reported that the French were scheduling three or four "low-yield" atmospheric tests. To minimize some of the protests, the French were changing their announcement tactics, but they were also looking into the possibility of conducting underground tests. While the French ambassador to Peru had reported that underground tests would add over one million dollars to the cost of the test program, the State Department noted that the actual cost would be somewhere between fifteen to twenty million dollars.
Document 18: William J. Porter for INR-Mr. Cline, 1 June 1973, with attached memoranda from Barr, Moorer, and Cline, Secret
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Western European Affairs, Records Relating to France, 1972-1975, box 2, DEF 12-1 1973
This group of documents casts light on the 1973 controversy within the Nixon administration over the Defense Department's NICE DOG program. In 1973, the interagency debate over NICE DOG reopened when JCS chairman Moorer proposed NICE DOG/HULA HOOP, which involved the use of helicopters to conduct a "radar transmission experiment" through the mushroom cloud. The purpose was to obtain data for the U.S. missile defense program. Again, to shield the U.S. from charges of participating in an atmospheric test, the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research recommended a more discreet approach, but Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Porter overruled INR. The 40 committee—the special NSC subcommittee for authorizing intelligence operations—approved HULA HOOP, further instructing the Defense Department to inform the French about the helicopters in order to avoid a collision near the test site.
Document 19: Charles K. Johnson to Arthur A. Hartman, "US Policy Toward French Nuclear Tests," 13 June 1974, enclosing undated memorandum to Acting Secretary of State on same, Secret
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs. Office of Western European Affairs, Records Relating to France, 1972-1975, box 2, DEF 12-1 1974
In 1974, the French government, facing strong international pressure—Greenpeace actions, the adverse ruling by the International Court of Justice, and protests from governments in the Pacific—held their last atmospheric test series. The question that the Bureau of European Affairs raised was how or whether the U.S. government should react to this development. Since 1969, the Nixon administration had refrained from critical statements because it sought to improve relations with France, even to the point of initiating a secret program of assistance to the French nuclear program. Not upholding the atmospheric test ban, however, exposed Washington to criticism, hurt relations with Australia and New Zealand, and raised pressures for action on a comprehensive test ban treaty. To ease the criticisms, officials at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and some State Department bureaus, favored a public statement "welcoming" the French decision, while one office preferred "noting" the decision, as more neutral. The Bureau of European Affairs and the National Security Council preferred a no-reaction option to avoid "criticism of French testing at a time when [President] Giscard [d'Estaing] is showing obvious interest in improving relations." That position prevailed because the media coverage of French tests during the summer of 1974 did not mention any official U.S. reactions.
Document 20: Helmut Sonnenfeldt to the Secretary, "French Interest in U.S. Underground Nuclear Test Technology," 8 February 1975, Secret
Source: Record Group 59. Records of the Department of State, Office of the Counselor, 1955-77, box 4, France (HS and JK Only)
In 1973, the year before France halted atmospheric tests, French Defense Minister Robert Galley asked Kissinger and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger for technical assistance on underground testing as part of his broader effort to seek U.S. aid for France's nuclear program. This document from early 1975 describes an initiative by the French Atomic Energy Commission to seek cables needed to conduct underground tests from a New York broker Telecommunications Research Inc, (TRI), with the cooperation of the U.S. Energy Research Development Administration (ERDA), one of the successor agencies to the Atomic Energy Commission. Kissinger's State Department advisers favored providing assistance through ERDA, but the problem of nuclear aid to France was so sensitive that Sonnenfeldt advised Kissinger to avoid action on this particular case until he could "look at it in the overall context of assistance to the French."
Kissinger soon traveled to Paris and may have discussed the matter personally with French president Giscard d'Estaing. In any event, in a directive that he signed on 23 June 1975, Kissinger informed the Deputy Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense that President Ford had approved special assistance to support French efforts to increase the safety of underground nuclear tests and "to encourage the French from further atmospheric nuclear testing through the adoption of an underground testing program." To make this possible, the United States could provide unclassified and classified information up to the secret level, but not "restricted data" relating to nuclear weapons design. In this context, something like the deal involving TRI and ERDA probably occurred, although the details remain to be disclosed.
Documents 21A-B: Test Ban Critics
A. Memorandum from Phil Odeen, NSC staff, to Henry Kissinger, 29 March 1972, enclosing JCS Chairman Thomas Moorer memorandum to Secretary of Defense, "Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,"14 March 1972, Top Secret, excised copy
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume E-2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 1969-1972, document 311 at http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76ve02/d311
B. John S. Foster, Director of Defense Research and Engineering to Secretary of Defense (Elliot Richardson), "Review of Comprehensive Test Ban Issues," 4 April 1973, Top Secret, enclosing copy of Moorer memorandum on CTB, 14 March 1972, Top Secret, excised copies
Source: Defense Department FOIA release
The Johnson administration focused on nonproliferation issues directly, instead of a test ban, and Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, had little interest in pursuing a comprehensive agreement. While some at the State Department argued that U.S. support for a CTB would further U.S.-Soviet détente, that was irrelevant to the Joint Chiefs who wrote a detailed memorandum to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird arguing that underground testing was a vital defense interest. NSC staffer Odeen saw the JCS arguments as "highly charged" and "emotional"; Kissinger agreed because he did not forward the paper to Nixon.
Drawing attention to new problems, director of Defense Research and Engineering John S. Foster made a detailed pro-testing argument in a 1973 memorandum to Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson. For Foster, higher-level interest in limited nuclear options and the implications of a possible Mutual Balanced Forces (MBFR) agreement for tactical nuclear deployments made it worth testing new low yield nuclear weapons. Also relevant were survivability and vulnerability concerns because of greater Soviet capabilities to strike U.S. nuclear targets, an interest in quantifying "[target] kill levels" of new nuclear weapons, reliability testing when a weapons design was modified, and the need to preserve an existing cadre of trained scientists and engineers, who might lose interest in the nuclear mission if testing was no longer an option.
Apparently not seeing the 1972 JCS paper as "emotional," Foster attached it to his paper but this version, released by the Defense Department, has different excisions than the one published in the FRUS (document A above). The latter is generally more complete, although the Defense Department FOIA release includes some information withheld from the FRUS version. A comparison discloses some commonalities; the reviewers excised several sentences on pages two and three, probably concerning specific devices to be tested.
Documents 22A-B: Toward the Threshold Test Ban
A. Helmut Sonnenfeldt to the Secretary, 4 June 1974, enclosing memorandum from Sonnenfeldt and Jan Lodal, "Troublesome Developments in TTB Experts Talks" with talking points attached, 3 June 1974, Secret
B. Memorandum from Helmut Sonnenfeldt, William Hyland, and Jan Hyland, to the Secretary, "Test Ban - Your Meeting with Dobrynin," 7 June 1974, Secret with talking points and Moscow embassy telegram, "Nuclear Test Ban Technical Talks: Assessment of Current Status," 7 June 1974, attached
Source: Record Group 59, Records of the Department of State, Office of the Counselor 1955-77, box 9. TTB/PNE/NPT
Early in 1974, the Soviets proposed an agreement on a comprehensive test ban, but Nixon and Kissinger rejected it. As a fallback Moscow suggested a threshold test ban, which would put a ceiling on the size of underground nuclear tests. The Nixon White House, then nearly in extremis from the Watergate scandal, quickly supported the proposal. The TTB concept initially established an explosion measuring 4.75 on the Richter scale as the upper limit, but when U.S. and Soviet negotiators met in Moscow in the spring of 1974, the latter suggested an explosive yield measurement instead. In exchange, the Soviets offered proposals to make verification easier: test sites would be designated and geological data would be exchanged to facilitate remote measurement. They also proposed a quota of tests and upper and lower level thresholds.
Kissinger's advisers initially objected to a yield-based threshold on the grounds of uncertainty: the yield would be difficult to forecast because "the actual yield of a nuclear test can be as much as 25 percent higher than the design yield." Surprisingly, however, U.S government agencies quickly accepted the concept of a yield threshold as "not worse" in terms of verifiability than a seismic threshold, although they rejected the idea of quotas as unverifiable (multiple tests could be disguised as one shot). The Atomic Energy Commission and the Pentagon sought a threshold as high as 200 kilotons with a "quota of permissible shots above the threshold." Kissinger's advisers suggested that if the Soviets were thinking about a 100 kiloton upper limit an agreement could be negotiated, but a much lower level would cause "massive bureaucratic problems" because of the verification issue.
Document 23: Memorandum of Conversation, "ABM; Test Ban," 28 June 1974, 4:00-5:30 p.m., Top Secret
Source: Nixon Presidential Library. National Security Council Files, HAK Office Files, box 77, Memcons, Moscow Summit June 27-July 3, 1974
By the time Nixon and Kissinger were in Moscow for meetings with the Soviet leadership, the TTB Treaty was nearing completion. This record of conversation of one of the meetings indicates the chasm between U.S and Soviet thinking about nuclear testing. While Premier Alexei Kosygin argued that "it is very hard to prove the need to continue nuclear testing," Nixon emphasized the need to "negotiate something that is possible now." The TTB was "far better than the unlimited testing of big weapons."
Some TTB issues had to be negotiated on the spot: the exact threshold and the relationship of peaceful nuclear explosions (PNE) to the TTB. Kissinger had already been thinking of a 150 kiloton threshold, which Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger later said would "give us a margin of error," probably in the event a device produced a larger than anticipated yield. In this conversation with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Kosygin, Nixon mentions a 100 kiloton threshold, but Kissinger recognized that was too low for Schlesinger and later pushed for 150 kilotons. Nixon and Brezhnev soon agreed on a 150 kiloton threshold and further decided that Peaceful Nuclear Explosions required a separate agreement. Nixon and Brezhnev signed the TTB treaty on 3 July 1974, but it was not ratified in the United States until 1990.
Document 24: John Marcum and Vic Utgoff to David Aaron, "CTB Policy Review," 2 May 1977, Secret, excised copy
Source: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Zbigniew Brzezinski Material, Subject File, box 13, Comprehensive Test Ban, 3-12/1977
When Jimmy Carter became president, he treated a comprehensive test ban as a priority item integral to an overall effort to curb nuclear proliferation. This made ratifying the TTB a nonissue. Yet actualizing a CTB was most difficult; eventually the negotiations stalled under the weight of Cold War tensions and intra-government opposition. While much documentation from the period remains classified, this memorandum from NSC staffers to deputy national security advisor David Aaron gives some of the flavor of the early debate. Moscow and Washington had an initial disagreement over the duration of a CTB and it was not easily resolved. Moreover, while Carter had spoken about an "early and instant" halt to testing, the agencies had different interpretations of what that meant. The State Department and ACDA favored suspending tests as soon as the key elements of a deal with the Soviets had been negotiated. Delaying action, they argued, would weaken the nonproliferation benefits of a treaty. By contrast, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and officials at the Energy Research Development Administration (ERDA) wanted to wait a year-and-a half to accomplish "currently planned testing objectives."
Documents 25A-B: More Criticism of a Test Ban
A. Report of the USAF Scientific Advisory Board Weapons Panel on the Effects of a Comprehensive Test Ban, April 1978, Secret, Excised copy
B. BDM Corporation, "Implications of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the U.S./Soviet Strategic Force Balance," 25 October 1978, Secret, excised copy
Source: MDR releases
Significant elements of the nuclear establishment directly opposed the CTB. Analysts at the BDM Corporation and high level Air Force advisers expressed the same concerns that preoccupied the Joint Chiefs and John S. Foster earlier in the decade. Among these was the need for testing to assure the "reliability and credibility of the deterrent" and to maintain highly skilled nuclear design laboratories. These massively excised reports by contractor BDM and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board argue that a CTB would have an unequal and asymmetrical impact on the U.S. and the Soviet Union. For example, according to the BDM report, Soviet ICBM's were larger than the U.S.'s and could carry a bigger weapons payloads (throw-weight), which put the U.S. ICBM force at greater risk of a counter-force strike. To offset Soviet capabilities and reduce strategic vulnerabilities, the United States needed to be able to continue testing new weapons designs.
Air Force science advisers raised similar issues, such as the importance of testing for stockpile reliability, testing new designs, maintaining "competence" at the labs, and preserve the U.S. deterrent. The report's major excisions make the central arguments and recommendations elusive but the science advisers were also concerned about CTB verification, arguing that the Soviets were in a better position to stage clandestine tests and to evade the 150 kiloton ceiling of the Threshold Test Ban (1974). The advisers may have had a specific proposal in mind, perhaps to limit testing to "some tens of kilotons", but the excisions prevent any clarity on this point.
Document 26: "Interim Report on CTB Negotiations," 29 June 1978, Secret, excised copy
Source: MDR releases by Defense Department
With détente already shaky, the Carter administration started backing away from some of its initial thinking on a comprehensive test ban of indefinite duration that prohibited all nuclear testing activity. A report by an official (name excised) at the Defense Department, was prepared only a month after the White House had given up support for unlimited duration opting instead for five years to be followed by a review conference. Moreover, instead of an absolute prohibition on testing activities—a true test ban—the U.S. government was considering the possibility of "permitted experiments," but it had not yet developed a final position. Nevertheless, the Defense official believed that because the treaty was so close to absolute prohibition it would not be "verifiable" because the Soviets rejected U.S. proposals for a seismic monitoring network.
 Some reporters speculated about the possibility of a tacit understanding; see John W. Finney, "Possibility of Test Ban Violation is Seen in Recent Blast by Soviet," The New York Times, 9 November 1966.
 Presentation by Toshihiro Higuchi, University of Wisconsin, Roundtable on "The Test Ban Treaty 50 Years On: New Perspectives on Nuclear Arms Control and the Cold War," 22 June 2013, Annual Conference of Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Crystal City, VA. For the public health risks presented by atmospheric nuclear testing, see Stephen Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Cost and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Washington, D.C.: 1998), 395-396, 407-421, and 428-431.
 For the early history of AFTAC, when it was known as AFOAT/1, see Charles A. Ziegler and David Jacobson, Spying Without Spies: Origin of America's Secret Nuclear Intelligence Surveillance System (Westport, CT, 1995).
 Telephone conversation with Ambassador James Goodby, 31 July 2013; Gloria Duffy, Compliance and the Future of Arms Control (Cambridge, MA, 1988), 52-54. The principal drafters of the LTBT in 1962 were Alan Neidle, an ACDA attorney, and James Goodby, also of ACDA, who backstopped the Geneva test ban negotiations. Having served with the Atomic Energy Commission for several years during the 1950s, Goodby recognized that venting was difficult to contain fully but that restrictions of some type should be imposed. The language that appears in the LTBT resulted from the efforts of the American drafters of the LTBT to deal with that problem. Both that treaty and the draft CTBT were approved by the Committee of Principals in the summer of 1962 and introduced into the Geneva negotiations in August 1962. There was no serious discussion, not to mention negotiation of that language at any stage in the negotiations, either in Geneva or in Moscow in July 1963.
 For the U.S.-Soviet exchanges and internal U.S. discussion of the venting problem, see United States Department of State,Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS] 1964-1968, Volume XI, Arms Control and Disarmament (Washington, D.C., 1997), http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v11, especially documents 62, 66, 67, 69, 70, 73, 75, and 76. . Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Glenn Seaborg did not believe that there was a treaty violation, but CIA and State Department officials thought otherwise. See FRUS, 1964-68, XI, document 62 at pages 170-171
Richard Reston, "Foster Testifies on Fallout Incident During Soviet Test," The Washington Post, 27 January 1965; Stewart Hensley, "
Envoy Denies Red A-Test Violated Pact," The Washington Post, 26 January 1965
 "Nuclear Accident in Nevada is Assailed by Soviet Press," The New York Times, 30 April 1966.
 For example, "U.S. Queries Soviet on Big Atom Blast," The New York Times, 12 November 1966, and "U.S. Ponders Response to Soviet on Nuclear Test," The Washington Post, 8 December 1966.
 Barton Hacker, Elements of Controversy: The Atomic Energy Commission and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1947-1974 (Berkeley, 1994), 247-251.
 Colin McKinlay "A-Blast Goes Wild, 500 Workers Flee," Los Angeles Times, 19 December 1970; Thomas O'Toole, "Atom Test Vents, Site is Evacuated," The Washington Post, 19 December 1970.
 U.S. Department of Energy/U.S. Defense Nuclear Agency, Caging the Dragon: The Containment of Underground Nuclear Explosions (Las Vegas, 1995), 97-112,
 . For the exchange with the Canadians, see also U.S. State Department, Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1972, Volume E-2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation (Washington, D.C. 2007), at http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76ve02/d298.
 Telephone conversation 25 July 2013 with Ambassador Raymond L. Garthoff, who worked in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs during the 1960s.
 U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, The Containment of Underground Nuclear Explosions (Washington, D.C.,1989).
 Walter Pincus, "U.S. Secretly Protested Radiation Leak from Soviet Arms Test, Perle Says," The Washington Post, 9 May 1986.
 For the implementation of HULA HOOP, see the excerpt from a Pacific Command history, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB184/FR26.pdf in Jeffrey Richelson, ed., "U.S. Intelligence and the French Nuclear Weapons Program," https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB184/
 Edward Ifft, "The Threshold Test Ban Treaty," Arms Control Today, March 2009.
 Raymond L. Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation: U.S.-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, D.C, 1994), 476, note 61. For additional documentation on the CTB during the Carter administration, see National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 323, "The Test Ban Challenge: Nuclear Nonproliferation and the Quest for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," 26 May 2011.
 Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 833 -835.