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Letter to Nikolai Bulganin, Chairman, Council of Ministers, U. S. S. R.

February 17, 1958

[ Released February 17, 1958. Dated February 15, 1958 ]

My dear Mr. Chairman:

I am in receipt of your communication of February 1. I note that it is a slightly abbreviated and moderated edition of the lengthy and rather bitter speech which Mr. Khrushchev made at Minsk on January 22.

I begin to wonder, Mr. Chairman, whether we shall get anywhere by continuing to write speeches to each other? As I read your successive lengthy missives of December 10, January 8, and February 1, I cannot avoid the feeling that if our two countries are to move ahead to the establishment of better relations, we must find some ways other than mere prolongation of repetitive public debate. In this connection, I have some thoughts to offer.

But first I comment briefly on your latest note.


I tried in my letter to you of January 12 to put forward some new ideas. For example, I proposed strengthening the United Nations by rededication of our nations to its purposes and principles, with the accompaniment of some reduction in the use of the veto power in the Security Council.

That proposal you reject, alleging that it would give to the Security Council a power to "adopt decisions that would be binding on all States" and make it in effect a "world government." That argument is directed to a misrepresentation of my proposal. I suggested that our two nations should, as a matter of policy, avoid vetoing Security Council recommendations as to how nations might proceed toward the peaceful solution of their disputes. Surely authority to recommend, and that only as to procedures, is not to impose binding decisions. Already, the General Assembly can, free of veto, recommend procedures for peaceful settlement. Would it really be catastrophic for the Security Council to exercise that same facility?


Another new idea was that outer space should be perpetually dedicated to peaceful purposes. You belittle this proposal as one made to gain strategic advantages for the United States. Mr. Khrushchev in his Minsk speech said, "This means they want to prohibit that which they do not possess."

Since the record completely disproves that uncalled for statement, may we now hope between us to consider and devise cooperative international procedures to give reality to the idea of use of outer space for peace only.

When the United States alone possessed atomic weapons and the Soviet Union possessed none, the United States proposed to forego its monopoly in the interest of world peace and security. We are prepared to take the same attitude now in relation to outer space. If this peaceful purpose is not realized, and the worse than useless race of weapons goes on, the world will have only the Soviet Union to blame, just as it has only the the Soviet Union to blame for the fact that atomic and nuclear power are now used increasingly for weapons purposes instead of being dedicated wholly to peaceful uses as the United States proposed a decade ago.

The Soviet Union refused to cooperate in tackling the problem of international control of atomic energy when that problem was in its infancy. Consequently, it has now become too late to achieve totally effective control although there can be, as we propose, a controlled cessation of further weapons testing and of the manufacture of fissionable material for weapons purposes. But, as your Government said on May 10, 1955, a total "ban" on atomic and hydrogen weapons could not now be enforced because "the possibility would be open to a potential aggressor to accumulate stocks of atomic and hydrogen weapons for a surprise attack on peace-loving states."

A terrible new menace can be seen to be in the making. That menace is to be found in the use of outer space for war purposes. The time to deal with that menace is now. It would be tragic if the Soviet leaders were blind or indifferent toward this menace as they were apparently blind or indifferent to the atomic and nuclear menace at its inception a decade ago.

If there is a genuine desire on the part of the Soviet leaders to do something more than merely to talk about the menace resulting from what you described as "the production of ever newer types of weapons," let us actually do what even now would importantly reduce the scope of nuclear warfare, both in terms of checking the use of fissionable material for weapons purposes and in wholly eliminating the newest types of weapons which use outer space for human destruction.


With respect to the meeting of Heads of Government, the cumulative effect of your last three missives is to leave considerable puzzlement as to what you think another such meeting could contribute to a genuine settlement of our problems.

You have proposed, and insisted on, about ten topics which you want to have discussed at such a meeting. I, in turn, suggested some eight topics which I thought should be discussed strengthening the United Nations, dedicating outer space to peaceful purposes, the reunification of Germany, the right of the peoples of Eastern Europe to choose the form of government under which they would live, and a number of specific proposals in the disarmament field.

I wrote that, if there were to be a top-level meeting, I would be willing to discuss your proposals in good faith if you would so discuss mine. Your answer is that I must be prepared to discuss your proposals but that as regards mine there must, you said "be unanimous agreement of all participants as to the necessity for considering such proposals." In other words, you demand the right to veto discussion of the matters I believe to be vital to peace.

I noted that Mr. Khrushchev devoted a considerable part of his Minsk speech to a discussion of conditions in Hungary, Poland, and East Germany. Does the Soviet Union claim such a proprietary interest in these lands and people that to discuss them is solely a matter of Soviet domestic concern? If not, and if these lands and people can be discussed by Soviet leaders as an international problem, why cannot we both discuss them?

If indeed a top-level conference were to apply the formula that no one is to say anything except what all the rest agree they would like to hear, we would, as I said in my last press conference, end up in the ludicrous posture of our just glaring silently at each other across the table.

Perhaps the impasse to which we seem to have come can be broken by less formal and less publicized contacts through which we would continue to seek to find out whether there can be a top-level meeting which, in the words of my letter to you of January 12, 1958, "would hold good hope of advancing the cause of peace and justice in the world." Exchanges of views effected through our Ambassadors or Foreign Ministers may serve better than what Mr. Khrushchev referred to at Minsk as "polemics" between Heads of Government. The United States is accordingly consulting with some other interested nations as to the desirability of exploring, through more normal channels, the prospects of a top-level meeting which would be adequate as to subjects, and as to which preliminary exchanges would indicate good prospect of an accord. You will understand, of course, that, whatever be the preparatory procedures, these would, as far as the United States was concerned, require the participation of our Secretary of State.


"Polemics" will not, I fear, advance us along the path of better relations which is my nation's goal. Indeed, I deplore the constantly mounting accusations within the Soviet Union that the United States is a nation ruled by aggressive war-minded imperialists. Mr. Khrushchev's speech of January 22 is an outstanding example of such charges and indeed they are to be found in your February 1 note.

What is the explanation of such charges? They seem to fly in the face of established history.

Until the end of the First World War, war was generally accepted as a lawful means of conducting foreign policy. But after World War I showed the terrible consequences of such toleration of war, the United States took the initiative in bringing about the Pact of Paris whereby the nations of the world renounced war as an instrument of national policy. An even broader renunciation of force is now found in the United Nations Charter. The United States, which initiated the concept of the international renunciation of force, has sought to adhere scrupulously to that concept.

I am really amazed now to be told by Soviet leaders, who have never even been near this country, that there are in the United States those who, in your words, "utter the dangerous call for preventive war"; and conduct "unrestrained propaganda for war." If any such persons exist in the United States, I do not know of them; nor do I know of any "imperialist ruling circles" that are supposedly eager to plunge the world into war in order to make financial gains.

These allegations do not provide the real facts of American life. The real facts are the intense longing of the American people for peace; the working of the American constitutional system which assures that government shall be responsive to the peaceful will of the people; our "built-in" guarantees against the possibility of any United States Government suddenly initiating war; our national dedication to the international renunciation of force as an instrument of national policy; the decisive influence for peace of American religious, labor, intellectual and political leaders and of their organizations.

It is, of course, quite true that our people are flatly opposed to regimes which hold people against their will and which deny the principle on which our nation was founded, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed and can never rightly deprive the governed of their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our people's rejection of many foreign and domestic aspects of Soviet methods and policies is, however, demonstrably not a moving cause to war. Otherwise we would have struck when we had atomic weapons and the Soviet Union had none; or when we had thermonuclear bombs and the Soviet Union had none.


When I contrast the actual facts of American life with such portrayals as those of Mr. Khrushchev at Minsk, and indeed of your latest communication to me, I am impressed more than ever before with the enormous difficulties besetting us in attempting to move toward better relations and with the greater necessity than ever before of doing so.

It is possible that Soviet leadership feels it necessary deliberately to misrepresent the American viewpoint. If so, one effect would be to confuse their own people and the people of those Eastern European countries under their domination, who are denied access to world information except as the Soviet leaders permit. Another effect would be to make true cooperation more difficult. Possibly also these misrepresentations constitute blind adherence to what was one of the early tenants of orthodox Communism, namely, that capitalistic societies are by their very nature warlike.

I prefer, however, to assume that these misrepresentations are not willful but result from genuine misconceptions which could be done away with.


Our two nations are both now exploring and seeking to learn the truth about outer space. But is it not more important to learn the truth about each other? The ambassadorial agreement concluded between our Governments on January 27, 1958, points in this direction. It contemplates exchanges that, it is said, "will contribute significantly to the betterment of relations between the two countries, thereby contributing to a lessening of international tension." I hope that we shall make full use of that agreement. But, for the most part, it deals with exchanges of technicians and specialists in various fields. Would it not be well if, in addition, leaders of thought and influential citizens within the Soviet Union should come to visit the United States, not to acquire technical knowledge but rather to learn at first hand the feeling of our people toward peace and the working of our popular institutions as they affect our conduct of foreign relations. Most of the Soviet citizens who exert an influence are strangers to this country with, I fear, totally false conceptions. These misconceptions I should like to see corrected in the interests of better relations. I can assure you that groups of qualified citizens of the USSR coming here for the purpose I describe would receive every facility to learn about our country and our people and the working of our political institutions.

I feel also that we need particularly to be thinking not only of the present but also of the future and of those, now young, who in a few years will be carrying heavy responsibilities that our generation will pass on to them. I think our young people should get to know more about each other. I strongly feel that the recent agreement for the exchange of 20 to 30 students a year is a small step in the right direction, but woefully inadequate. I may write you further on this topic.


In the meantime, I reaffirm what has been so often said by Secretary Dulles and by myself. The American nation wants nothing more than to cooperate wholeheartedly with any Soviet Government which is genuinely dedicated to advancing, by peaceful means, the welfare of the people of the Soviet Union. It should, however, be appreciated how difficult it is to generate here the good will which the Soviet leaders claim they want, so long as there remains between our two countries the vast gulf of misunderstanding and misrepresentation that is again revealed by both speeches and written communications of Soviet leaders. If the Soviet leaders sincerely desire better relations with us, can they truly think it helpful for the Soviet Union to continue to pursue the objectives of International Communism, which include the overthrow of other governments? The Moscow Manifesto made last November by the representatives of Communist Parties from 64 nations, and the Soviet Government's official endorsement of the results of the recent Afro-Asian Conference in Cairo could not fail to raise in the minds of our people the question of the real purposes of the Soviet leaders.

We shall nevertheless go on seeking such good relations. And I hope that, if there is a positive response to the concrete suggestion here made, we may perhaps do something toward ushering in a new and better era.



Note: Mr. Bulganin's letter of February 1, 1958, is published in the Department of State Bulletin (vol. 38, p. 376). The President's letter of January 12 appears as Item 7 above.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to Nikolai Bulganin, 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/234314

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