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Letter to Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman, Council of Ministers, U.S.S.R.

April 08, 1958

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have your communication of April 4 repeating, in substance, the already widely publicized statement of the Soviet Government with reference to the suspension of nuclear testing.

It seems peculiar that the Soviet Union, having just concluded a series of tests of unprecedented intensity, should now, in bold headlines, say that it will not test again, but add, in small type, that it may test again if the United States carries out its already long announced and now imminent series of tests.

The timing, wording, and manner of the Soviet declaration cannot but raise questions as to its real significance.

The position of the United States on this matter of testing is well known. for several years we have been seeking a dependable ending to the accumulation of nuclear weapons stockpiles and a dependable beginning of the steady reduction of existing weapons stockpiles. This was my "Atoms for Peace" proposal, made in 1953 before the United Nations. Surely, the heart of the nuclear problem is not the mere testing of weapons, but the weapons themselves. If weapons are dependably dealt with, then it is natural to suspend their testing. However, the Soviet Union continues to reject the concept of an internationally supervised program to end weapons production and to reduce weapons stocks. Under those circumstances of the Soviets' making, the United States seeks to develop the defensive rather than the offensive capabilities of nuclear power and to learn how to minimize the fissionable fallout.

It goes without saying that these experiments, so far as the United States is concerned, are so conducted that they cannot appreciably affect human health.

Perhaps, Mr. Chairman, you recall the Joint Declaration made by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States at Bermuda on March 24, 1957. We then declared that we would conduct nuclear tests only in such a manner as would keep world radiation from rising to more than a small fraction of the levels that might be hazardous. We went on to say that we would continue publicly announcing our test series well in advance of their occurrence with information as to their location and general timing. We further said that we would be willing to register with the United Nations advance notice of our intention to conduct future nuclear tests and to permit limited international observation of such tests if the Soviet Union would do the same.

The Soviet Union has never responded to that invitation. Its latest series of tests was conducted behind a cloak of secrecy, so far as the Soviet Union could make it so. Nevertheless, as I recently stated, it is the intention of the United States to invite observation by the United Nations of certain of our forthcoming tests.

Not only did the Soviet Union ignore our Bermuda proposal on testing, but it has persistently rejected the substance of my "Atoms for Peace" proposal. It refuses to agree to an internationally supervised cut-off of the use of new fissionable material for weapons purposes and the reduction of existing weapons stocks by transfers to peaceful purposes. During the five years since I first proposed "Atoms for Peace," the destructive power in our nuclear arsenals has steadily mounted, and a dependably controlled reduction of that power becomes ever more difficult.

Mr. Chairman, now that you have become head of the Soviet Government, will you not reconsider your Government's position and accept my proposal that fissionable materials henceforth be manufactured only for peaceful purposes?

If the Soviet Union is as peace-loving as it professes, surely it should want to bring about an internationally supervised diversion of fissionable material from weapons purposes to peace purposes.

If the Soviet Union is unwilling to accept "Atoms for Peace," there are other outstanding proposals by which the Soviet Union can advance the cause of peace. You will recall, Mr. Chairman, my "Open Skies" proposal made to you and Chairman Bulganin at Geneva in 1955. You will also recall my proposals for the international use of outer space for peaceful purposes emphasized in my recent correspondence with Chairman Bulganin. These proposals await Soviet acceptance.

The United States is also prepared, in advance of agreement upon any one or more of the outstanding "disarmament" propositions, to work with the Soviet Union, and others as appropriate, on the technical problems involved in international controls. We both recognize that international control would be necessary. Indeed, your present letter to me speaks of "the establishment of the necessary international control for the discontinuance of tests."

What is "necessary"? The question raises problems of considerable complexity, given the present possibility of conducting some types of tests under conditions of secrecy.

If there is ever to be an agreed limitation or suspension of testing, and the United States hopes and believes that this will in due course come about as part of a broad disarmament agreement, plans for international control should be in instant readiness. Why should we not at once put our technicians to work to study together and advise as to what specific control measures are necessary if there is to be a dependable and agreed disarmament program?

The United Nations General Assembly has called for technical disarmament studies, in relation both to nuclear and conventional armaments. The United States says "yes." I urge, Mr. Chairman, that the Soviet Union should also say "yes." Then we can at once begin the preliminaries necessary to larger things.



Note: Mr. Khrushchev's letter of April 4, 1958, is published in the Department of State Bulletin (vol. 38, p. 680).

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman, Council of Ministers, U.S.S.R. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234655

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