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Letter to Senate Leaders Restating the Administration's Views on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

September 11, 1963

[ Released September 11, 1963. Dated September 10, 1963 ]

Dear Senator Mansfield and Senator Dirksen:

I am deeply appreciative of the suggestion which you made to me on Monday morning that it would be helpful to have a further clarifying statement about the policy of this Administration toward certain aspects of our nuclear weapons defenses, under the proposed test ban treaty now before the Senate. I share your view that it is desirable to dispel any fears or concerns in the minds of Senators or of the people of our country on these matters. And while I believe that fully adequate statements have been made on these matters before the various committees of the Senate by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nevertheless I am happy to accept your judgment that it would be helpful if I restated what has already been said so that there may be no misapprehension.

In confidence that the Congress will share and support the policies of the Administration in this field, I am happy to give these unqualified and unequivocal assurances to the members of the Senate, to the entire Congress, and to the country:

1. Underground nuclear testing, which is permitted under the treaty, will be vigorously and diligently carried forward, and the equipment, facilities, personnel and funds necessary for that purpose will be provided. As the Senate knows, such testing is now going on. While we must all hope that at some future time a more comprehensive treaty may become possible by changes in the policies of other nations, until that time our underground testing program will continue.

2. The United States will maintain a posture of readiness to resume testing in the environments prohibited by the present treaty, and it will take all the necessary steps to safeguard our national security in the event that there should be an abrogation or violation of any treaty provision. In particular, the United States retains the right to resume atmospheric testing forthwith if the Soviet Union should conduct tests in violation of the treaty.

3. Our facilities for the detection of possible violations of this treaty will be expanded and improved as required to increase our assurance against clandestine violation by others.

4. In response to the suggestion made by President Eisenhower to the Foreign Relations Committee on August 23, 1963, and in conformity with the opinion of the Legal Adviser of the Department of State, set forth in the report of the Committee on Foreign Relations, I am glad to emphasize again that the treaty in no way limits the authority of the Commander-in-Chief to use nuclear weapons for the defense of the United States and its allies, if a situation should develop requiring such a grave decision. Any decision to use such weapons would be made by the United States in accordance with its Constitutional processes and would in no way be affected by the terms of the nuclear test ban treaty.

5. While the abnormal and dangerous presence of Soviet military personnel in the neighboring island of Cuba is not a matter which can be dealt with through the instrumentality of this treaty, I am able to assure the Senate that if that unhappy island should be used either directly or indirectly to circumvent or nullify this treaty, the United States will take all necessary action in response.

6. The treaty in no way changes the status of the authorities in East Germany. As the Secretary of State has made clear, "We do not recognize, and we do not intend to recognize, the Soviet occupation zone of East Germany as a state or as an entity possessing national sovereignty, or to recognize the local authorities as a government. Those authorities cannot alter these facts by the act of subscribing to the test ban treaty."

7. This Government will maintain strong weapons laboratories in a vigorous program of weapons development, in order to ensure that the United States will continue to have in the future a strength fully adequate for an effective national defense. In particular, as the Secretary of Defense has made clear, we will maintain strategic forces fully ensuring that this nation will continue to be in a position to destroy any aggressor, even after absorbing a first strike by a surprise attack.

8. The United States will diligently pursue its programs for the further development of nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes by underground tests within the terms of the treaty, and as and when such developments make possible constructive uses of atmospheric nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes, the United States will seek international agreement under the treaty to permit such explosions.

I trust that these assurances may be helpful in dispelling any concern or misgivings which any member of the Senate or any citizen may have as to our determination to maintain the interests and security of the United States. It is not only safe but necessary, in the interest of this country and the interest of mankind, that this treaty should now be approved, and the hope for peace which it offers firmly sustained, by the Senate of the United States.

Once more, let me express my appreciation to you both for your visit and for your suggestions.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader of the Senate, and to the Honorable Everett M. Dirksen, Minority Leader of the Senate, and sent at their suggestion.

The Report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to which the President referred, is dated September 3, 1963 (Senate Executive Rept. No. 3, 88th Cong. 1st sess.).

John F. Kennedy, Letter to Senate Leaders Restating the Administration's Views on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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