John F. Kennedy photo

Message to Chairman Khrushchev Concerning the forthcoming Disarmament Negotiations in Geneva.

February 25, 1962

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I regret that in your message of February 21, you seem to challenge the motivations of Prime Minister Macmillan and myself in making our proposal of February 7 that the forthcoming Disarmament Conference open at the foreign Minister level. I believe that there can be a legitimate difference of opinion on the most effective and orderly way to make progress in the vitally important field of disarmament. You have presented your own views and I do not wish to imply that they are motivated by anything other than your own conviction that the way you suggest is the best way to proceed. However, I must say that even though I have given the most careful thought to the considerations you advance, I continue to hold to my view that the personal participation in Geneva by the Heads of Government should be reserved until a later stage in the negotiations when certain preliminary work has been accomplished.

Indeed some of the statements you make reinforce my view in this respect. Your discussion of the control problem, for example, is based, in my view, on a fundamental misconception of the United States position that can probably best be clarified in the light of discussion of specific verification requirements for specific disarmament measures. It is not true, as you allege, that the United States is seeking to establish complete control over national armaments from the beginning of the disarmament process. Our position is a quite simple one and it is that whatever disarmament obligations are undertaken must be subject to satisfactory verification. For example, if, as we have both proposed, there is an agreement to reduce the level of armed forces to a specified number, we must be able to ensure through proper verification mechanisms that this level is not exceeded. I do not propose here to discuss this subject at length. I wish merely to point out that this is the type of issue on which more work should be done before it can usefully be dealt with at a Heads of Government meeting.

If it were not for the existence of the Statement of Agreed Principles which was worked out so laboriously between representatives of our two countries last year, there might be greater force to your reasoning that Heads of Government should meet at the outset to set directions for the negotiations. In my view the Statement of Agreed Principles constitutes just the type of framework which would be the most that could be expected at this point from a meeting of the Heads of Government. Since this has already been done, I believe now we need to have our representatives do further exploratory work of a more detailed nature.

As I have said and as I now repeat, I think it is of the utmost importance that the Heads of Government of the major nuclear powers assume a personal responsibility for directing their countries' participation in and following the course of these negotiations. I can assure you that the Secretary of State would present my views with complete authority. Even so, I hope developments in the Conference and internationally would make it useful to arrange for the personal participation of the Heads of Government before June 1. I do not, however, believe that this should be done at the outset and I must say frankly, Mr. Chairman, that I believe this view is well rounded. I believe that to have such a meeting at this point would be to begin with the wrong end of the problem. The Heads of Government should meet to resolve explicit points of disagreement which might remain after the issues have been carefully explored and the largest possible measure of agreement has been worked out at the diplomatic level.

I continue to hope that you will agree to the proposed procedure which was set forth in Prime Minister Macmillan's and my initial letter of February 7. I believe that the replies which have been made by other prospective participants to your messages indicate a general support for this approach and I trust that you will give a favorable response.

I cannot conclude this letter without mentioning briefly the problem of nuclear testing. Since I assumed the Office of President of the United States, the conclusion of a nuclear test agreement has been a primary effort we made to achieve agreement. It must be understood that in the absence of an agreement which provides satisfactory assurance that all States will abide by the obligations they undertake, there is no real basis for securing a safe end to the competition in the development of nuclear weapons. It is strange for the Soviet Union, which first broke the truce on nuclear testing, now to characterize any resumption of testing by the United States as an aggressive act.

It was resumption of testing by the Soviet Union which put this issue back into the context of the arms race and that consequently forced the United States to prepare to take such steps as may be necessary to insure its own security. Any such steps could not be characterized now as "aggressive acts." They would be a matter of prudent policy in the absence of the effectively controlled nuclear test agreement that we have so earnestly sought.

In our February 7 message, the Prime Minister and I attempted to lay a further framework for the conduct of the negotiations. We believe that in a preliminary meeting among the foreign Ministers of the United States, United Kingdom and USSR views could be exchanged and agreement reached on the three parallel approaches we suggested and on some of the procedural aspects which we might jointly recommend to guide the Committee's work. Such a discussion, together with the Statement of Agreed Principles, could give a valuable direction and impetus to the Committee's work.

Mr. Chairman, I think you agree that we must approach this meeting with utmost seriousness and dedication if we are to avoid a gradual drift to the same kind of aimless and propaganda-oriented talk which has characterized so much of past disarmament negotiations. This can be best achieved if we who are ultimately responsible for the positions we take, and our chief diplomatic officials, concern ourselves directly, as we are now doing, with this subject. I believe we should consider most carefully as we proceed when and how our actual participation at the conference table could be of most benefit.

JOHN F. KENNEDY

NOTE Chairman Khrushchev's message of February 21 is published in the Department of State Bulletin (vol. 46, p. 466). For the February 7 joint message of the President and Prime Minister Macmillan, see Item 42.

The Statement of Agreed Principles is published in the Department of State Bulletin (vol. 45, P. 589)-

John F. Kennedy, Message to Chairman Khrushchev Concerning the forthcoming Disarmament Negotiations in Geneva. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236868

Simple Search of Our Archives