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Letter to Secretary Rusk on the Opening of the Geneva Disarmament Conference.

March 14, 1962

Dear Secretary Rusk:

As you and your colleagues from every quarter of the globe enter upon the work of the Geneva Disarmament Conference, it may seem unnecessary to state again that the hopes and indeed the very prospects of mankind are involved in the undertaking in which you are engaged. And yet the fact that the immediate and practical significance of the task that has brought you together has come to be so fully realized by the peoples of the world is one of the crucial developments of our time. For men now know that amassing of destructive power does not beget security; they know that polemics do not bring peace. Men's minds, men's hearts, and men's spiritual aspirations alike demand no less than a reversal of the course of recent history--a replacement of ever-growing stockpiles of destruction by ever-growing opportunities for human achievement. It is your task as representative of the United States to join with your colleagues in a supreme effort toward that end.

This task, the foremost item on the agenda of humanity, is not a quick or easy one. It must be approached both boldly and responsibly. It is a task whose magnitude and urgency justifies our bringing to bear upon it the highest resources of creative statesmanship the international community has to offer, for it is the future of the community of mankind that is involved. We must pledge ourselves at the outset to an unceasing effort to continue until the job is done, We must not be discouraged by initial disagreements nor weakened in our resolve by the tensions that surround us and add difficulties to our task. For verifiable disarmament arrangements are not a fair weather phenomenon. A sea wall is not needed when the seas are calm. Sound disarmament agreements, deeply rooted in mankind's mutual interest in survival must serve as a bulwark against the tidal waves of war and its destructiveness. Let no one, then, say that we cannot arrive at such agreements in troubled times, for it is then their need is greatest.

My earnest hope is that no effort will be spared to define areas of agreement on all of the three important levels to which Prime Minister Macmillan and I referred in our joint letter of February 7 to Premier Khrushchev.1 Building upon the principles already agreed, I hope that you will quickly be able to report agreement on an outline defining the over-all shape of a program for general and complete disarmament in a peaceful world. I have submitted such an outline on behalf of the U.S. to the U.N. General Assembly last September.2 But an outline is not enough. You should seek as well, as areas of agreement emerge, a definition in specific terms of measures set forth in the outline. The objective should be to define in treaty terms the widest area of agreement that can be implemented at the earliest possible time while still continuing your maximum efforts to achieve agreement on those other aspects which present more difficulty. As a third specific objective you should seek 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. In this category you should seek as a matter of highest priority agreement on a safeguarded nuclear test ban. At this juncture in history no single measure in the field of disarmament would be more productive of concrete benefit in the alleviation of tensions and the enhancement of prospects for greater progress.

1 See Item 42.

2 See 1961 volume, this series, Item 387.

Please convey, on my behalf and on behalf of the people of the United States to the representatives of the nations assembled, our deep and abiding support of the deliberations on which you are about to embark. I pledge anew my personal and continuing interest in this work.

With warmest personal regards,


Note: The letter was read by Secretary Rusk as part of his statement at the opening meeting of the conference on March 15.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to Secretary Rusk on the Opening of the Geneva Disarmament Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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