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Joint Message With Prime Minister Macmillan to Chairman Khrushchev on the Forthcoming Disarmament Negotiations in Geneva

February 12, 1962

[Released February 12, 1962. Dated February 7, 1962]

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are taking the unusual step of addressing this message to you in order to express our own views, as well as to solicit yours, on what we can jointly do to increase the prospects of success at the new disarmament negotiations which will begin in Geneva in March.

We are convinced that a supreme effort must be made and the three of us must accept a common measure of personal obligation to seek every avenue to restrain and reverse the mounting arms race. Unless some means can be found to make at least a start in controlling the quickening arms competition, events may take their own course and erupt in a disaster which will afflict all peoples, those of the Soviet Union as well as of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Disarmament negotiations in the past have been sporadic and frequently interrupted.' Indeed, there has been no sustained] effort to come to grips with this problem at the conference table since the three months of meetings ending in June of 1960, over a year and a half ago. Before that, no real negotiations on the problem of general disarmament had taken place since negotiations came to an end in September 1957.

It should be clear to all of us that we can no longer afford to take a passive view of these negotiations. They must not be allowed to drift into failure. Accordingly, we propose that we three accept a personal responsibility for directing the part to be played by our representatives in the forthcoming talks, and that we agree beforehand that our representatives will remain at the conference table until concrete results have been achieved, however long this may take.

We propose that our negotiators seek progress on three levels. First, they should be instructed to work out a program of general and complete disarmament which could serve as the basis for the negotiation of an implementing treaty or treaties. Our negotiators could thus build upon the common ground which was found in the bilateral talks between the United States and the USSR which took place this summer, and which were reflected in the Statement of Agreed Principles of September 20, 1961. Secondly, our negotiators should attempt to ascertain the widest measure of disarmament which would be implemented at the earliest possible time while still continuing their maximum efforts to achieve agreement on those other aspects which present more difficulty. Thirdly, our negotiators should try to isolate and identify initial measures of disarmament which could, if put into effect .without delay, materially improve international security and the prospects for further disarmament progress. We do not believe that these triple objectives need conflict with one another and an equal measure of urgency should be attached to each.

As a symbol of the importance which we jointly attach to these negotiations, we propose that we be represented at the outset of the disarmament conference by the Foreign Ministers of our three countries, who would declare their readiness to return to participate personally in the negotiations as the progress made by our permanent representatives warrants. We assume, in this case, the foreign ministers of other states as well will wish to attend. The status and progress of the conference should, in addition, be the subject of more frequent communications among the three of us. In order to give impetus to the opening of the disarmament negotiations, we could consider having the Foreign Ministers of our three countries convene at Geneva in advance of the opening of the conference to concert our plans.

At this time in our history, disarmament is the most urgent and the most complex issue we face. The threatening nature of modern armaments is so appalling that we cannot regard this problem as a routine one or as an issue which may be useful primarily for the scoring of propaganda victories. The failure in the nuclear test conference, which looked so hopeful and to the success of which we attached such a high priority in the Spring of 1961, constitutes a discouraging background for our new efforts. However, we must be resolved to overcome this recent setback, with its immediate consequences, and forego fruitless attempts to apportion blame. Our renewed effort must be to seek and find ways in which the competition between us, which will surely persist for the foreseeable future, can be pursued on a less dangerous level. We must view the forthcoming disarmament meetings as an opportunity and a challenge which time and history may not once again allow us.

We would welcome an early expression of your views.


[Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman, Council of Ministers, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, The Kremlin, Moscow, U.S.S.R.]

John F. Kennedy, Joint Message With Prime Minister Macmillan to Chairman Khrushchev on the Forthcoming Disarmament Negotiations in Geneva Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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