Michael KreponNegotiating the Limited Test Ban Treaty

Glenn T. Seaborg knew about the Bomb from the inside out: he discovered plutonium, worked at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, served on the General Advisory Committee during the Truman administration, and accepted President Kennedy’s offer to become Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. During his ten-year tenure at the AEC, Seaborg kept a journal. In 1981, with the help of Ben Loeb, he published a book about his experiences during the Kennedy administration — fateful years of a test moratorium, unprecedented atmospheric testing, and negotiations with the Soviets to end this practice. Some of the less-well known vignettes in Seaborg’s Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Test Ban may be of interest:

When the U.S. resumed nuclear testing after the Soviets ended their moratorium, Seaborg traveled to the UK, where his interlocutor, Sir Roger Makins, requested the use of the Nevada Test Site “for one small UK device.” Seaborg passed along the request to the State Department and Pentagon for their clearance. As expected, both did so, but Seaborg received this less-than-enthusiastic reply from Secretary of State Dean Rusk:

The National Security Council policy toward NATO, approved by the President April 21, states that it would be desirable for the British, in the long run, to phase out of the nuclear deterrent business, since their activity in this field is a standing goad to the French. Over the long run, I believe that we should move to fulfill this policy.

During the fruitless negotiations over on-site inspections and in-situ monitoring which ruled out a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the three locations the Kremlin proposed for the placement of their “black boxes” were near Los Alamos, Hanford, and Savannah River. Interesting. ACW readers: Why would they do that?

The position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hardened as prospects for a test ban treaty improved. At a White House meeting on July 9, 1963 – two days before U.S. negotiator Averell Harriman was set to leave for Moscow — the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Maxwell Taylor, backtracked. Here are Seaborg’s notes of the meeting:

General Taylor said he thought we should study again whether an atmospheric test ban was to the advantage of the U.S. The president said that the standing position of the U.S. was in the affirmative. Taylor said that perhaps [ACDA Director William] Foster should investigate the pros and cons of an atmospheric test ban with and without a quota of underground tests. [Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara said he thought a formal government discussion on this problem at this time was not desirable. The president agreed.

Kennedy worked to close the deal with the Chiefs for a Limited Test Ban after Harriman left for Moscow. Here’s Seaborg’s account:

He talked with them as a group on July 23, 1963, after having discussed the treaty with each Chief individually the week before. In these conversations Kennedy is reported to have asked the Chiefs to weigh both military and political considerations in their evaluation. The president’s support of the four safeguards probably had its genesis at this time. [One of the Chiefs’ safeguards was ‘the conduct of comprehensive, aggressive, and continuing underground nuclear test programs’ — MK] While this support may have obtained favorable testimony of the Joint Chiefs, it was at a very heavy price for the cause of disarmament.

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