Richard Nixon photo

Speech by the Vice President of the United States Prepared for Delivery Before Meeting of Sigma Delta Chi, Toledo, OH

October 26, 1960

Tonight I want to talk about a question of major significance, both to our survival as a nation and our progress as a society - our atomic policy both as it affects peaceful uses and weapons.

We are not a warlike people. We yearn as deeply as any nation to convert our wealth, energy, and science into the pursuit of peaceful process.

Unfortunately, for all men, there are others in the world who boldly assert, by word and deed, that force and violence are justified to accomplish their political ambitions. War and threats of war are to them just as worthy tactics of basic policy as words of peace. They have repeatedly used the sword to deprive people of their freedom and compel them to serve the purposes of a tyrannical state.

Because of this continuing menace, America must stay powerfully armed and vigilant. But we have hoped, and we continue to hope, that the Communists would fully comprehend that a thermonuclear war can only destroy attacker and defender alike. Thus, 2 years ago, we sat down with the Soviets in Geneva to negotiate on control of nuclear weapons testing.

Both sides agreed that control was desirable, but the obstacle was Soviet refusal to accept adequate inspection. The Soviets have remained intent upon keeping their society walled off from the rest of mankind. They have insisted that we simply take their word that they would adhere to any agreed controls.

This has been unacceptable to ourselves and our allies as we earnestly seek the way to world peace. Years of the big and little lie, ignored pledges, broken promises, and violated agreements, make obvious the necessity of a foolproof inspection system. Until now, the Soviet atomic negotiators have stalled on implementing Chairman Khrushchev's letters of April 23, 1959, to President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Macmillan, when he stated that:

We are quite able to find a solution to the problem of discontinuing tests * * * and to establish such controls as would guarantee strict observance of the treaty.

In an open society like ours, a ban on atom testing is self-policing, in that any activities of this nature are widely reported immediately. The Soviets, by contrast, simply do not permit people - even their own people - to move freely about the country and speak or write what they see. The limited inspection system which they are willing to accept would permit them to cheat and allow the cheating to go undetected.

During these 2 years of negotiations, we have not detonated any nuclear devices and the Soviets know that we have not. However, during the same period, the Soviets have fired at least one large underground explosion and several small ones. They state that these have not been nuclear shots - simply high explosives. We have no way of knowing whether this is the fact. Nor will the Soviets permit us - or the United Nations, or neutral nations - to make an inspection.

Only a few days ago, the new seismic station at Fort Sill, Okla., recorded a disturbance in the Soviet Union. It might have been an earthquake. Or it might have been a large underground nuclear explosion. We have no way of knowing.

The seriousness of this great uncertainty becomes clear when we consider where we are in point of time as it concerns weapons development. Originally, the moratorium on testing was fixed for 1 year. Then, in a carefully calculated risk, the President decided to extend the moratorium, a risk which he accepted for the purpose of going the second mile, and beyond, to reach agreement with the Soviets.

Now consider the situation. For 2 years we have not tested our nuclear technology. And the history of weapons development is such that it requires only between 3 and 4 years to complete a new breakthrough. Two years of this time have passed, as the United States has worked earnestly for this positive step toward eliminating the war threat to all humanity.

Where has this left us? We have no agreement. There is reason to believe that the Soviets may have used the time to attempt to overtake us. We cannot prolong the risk much longer without seriously jeopardizing the very objective toward which we hoped the Geneva negotiations would point - peace and human survival.

Recently, my opponent made a campaign statement on the question of atomic testing, in the form of a reply to an open letter to us both from former Atomic Energy Commissioner Thomas E. Murray. He stated that, "This subject like all other public issues is properly a matter for critical discussion and debate." Then he outlined his course of action.

I will deal briefly with Senator Kennedy's proposals because of the fact that one or the other of us is going to have the responsibility for resolving this question bearing on our very survival. I will deal with them because his approach is quite different from the one which I believe this Nation must follow if we are to keep our vital military and technological superiority over the Soviets in the crucial years ahead.

My opponent said that he did not believe that underground nuclear weapons tests "should be resumed at this time." He would want, he said, even at this late date, to continue or reopen negotiations with the Soviets with new negotiators and new instruction. Noting specifically that the present negotiators "are not representatives chosen by me," he added that he would "direct vigorous negotiation, in accordance with my personal instructions on policy."

He is saying, in effect, that the negotiations of the past 2 years by the U.S. representatives have not been sufficiently vigorous and that their instructions have not been adequate to the task. He is proposing a course of action which would delay any possible resolution of this vital matter for much too long - far beyond any margin of safety - since he is proposing to handle the matter with new men and new instructions. And he is suggesting nothing more concrete toward resolving the issue than to imply that his "personal instruction" might be more effective than President Eisenhower's have been during the past 2 years.

The delay, and Senator Kennedy's reasons for it, are both unacceptable.

I say to him that it is impossible to imply in truth that these negotiations could have been pursued with greater vigor or sincerity on the part of Ambassador Wadsworth and our career negotiators and our top scientists. I say to him no instruction would have produced agreement to date, except and unless we had been willing to sacrifice the principles of adequate inspection.

The only major obstacle to an atomic test agreement has been, and is now, the Soviet refusal to accept adequate inspection. Clearly, then, the only "new policy instructions" through which the United States could remove this obstacle would entail surrender on this point. The security of the United States, and of the entire free world, simply will not permit either such a surrender or the indefinite continuation of the present moratorium entirely without inspection.

And I say that we cannot and should not blame ourselves, our policies, our negotiators, their scientific advisers, or their instructions, for the unyielding refusal of the Soviets to make an agreement at Geneva. The time and patience which we have already expended to explore this way out of the disarmament dilemma have been full proof of our own intentions and those of the Soviets. The blame rests squarely on them. We cannot permit further delay.

This is exactly what Mr. Khrushchev and his intransigent negotiators are seeking to accomplish. They are trying to buy critical time, critical time designed to arrest our atomic development, both military and peaceful, while they are free to proceed with their own. Another delay of the length indicated in Senator Kennedy's proposals could be decisive in the struggle for peace and freedom.

We must resolve the issue now. We must never allow the Soviets, by deceit, to make America second in nuclear technology. This outcome could defeat us without even the direct horror of atomic war.

As President Eisenhower already has done for the present administration, I will make the settlement of the atomic test negotiations a question of the highest priority of American policy.

We must act now to break this Soviet filibuster against peace and the security of the free nations.

To allow this Soviet filibuster against a test agreement to continue would dangerously increase the risk of war, the risk of war in the most frightful form in human history - an annihilating atomic war.

It has become one of the grim facts of our times that whatever increases Soviet strength relative to our own thereby increases the risk of war. Hearing Mr. Khrushchev bluster and threaten to launch his rockets from his present position of significant military inferiority leaves us small room for doubt about what he would be tempted to do if he ever gained the overall advantage.

The peace of the world - the very survival of the human race - demands that we break this fateful filibuster. We must and will take the necessary steps to maintain the peace.

If I am elected, I will on November 9 ask the President to designate Ambassador Lodge to go to Geneva personally to participate in the present negotiations with a view to resolving this question by February 1. There is no conceivable, no honest reason why this cannot be accomplished if the Soviets have any intention of ever coming to an agreement. After 2 years they are still haggling over matters that can only be construed as naked attempts to further obstruct and delay.

I would have Mr. Khrushchev know that if Ambassador Lodge and the Soviet negotiator are able to bring an agreement in sight in this 80-day period, I would be prepared to meet with Prime Minister Macmillan and - so important do I hold this question to be - with Mr. Khrushchev to make the final agreement at the summit.

But I would have him understand that, if at the end of the 80-day period - by February 1 - there is no progress, the United States will be prepared to detonate atomic devices necessary to advance our peaceful technology. Such devices already are prepared for underground use in such a way as to guarantee no contamination.

Further, I would have him understand that the United States is willing to continue negotiations for a nuclear weapons test ban, as long as the Soviet representatives will sit, but not under an uninspected moratorium of indefinite duration. I would have Mr. Khrushchev understand that if an agreement is not signed within a reasonable period after February 1, the United States will have no alternative but to resume underground testing of atomic weapons.

I say underground testing because there is no question of resuming tests in the atmosphere, where some still undetermined danger of contamination exists. The United States has abandoned such testing, certainly until more knowledge is available as to its exact consequences.

We must not, and will not, continue the moratorium on weapons testing without adequate safeguards of inspection for an extended period of time such as is implicit in Senator Kennedy's position.

On the other hand, if before then an agreement can be negotiated, the United States will proceed, in concert with all nations, to realize the enormous potential which nuclear energy holds for the human race. It must, of course, be an integral part of such an atomic agreement that the Nation continue - with proper safeguards - to experiment for peaceful purposes.

As things now stand, we face a fateful alternative. We can and must go forward with our atomic technology in one of these two ways:

(1) With an agreement guaranteeing that nuclear energy will not further be developed into still greater weapons of annihilations, but for the benefit of humanity; or

(2) With no agreement, each nation insuring its own survival and maintaining its technological progress, military and peaceful, as it sees fit.

We are on the threshold of developing major peaceful uses of the atom. Large power reactors are coming into being. Next year will witness the sea trials of the Savannah - the world's first atomic merchant ship. By 1965, we will have, from Project Rover, a nuclear-fueled space engine that will be capable of propelling space probes.

However, without exploding atomic devices we cannot achieve many peaceful benefits of our nuclear technology. This is particularly true of a new and imaginative peaceful use of the atom which has tremendous potential - the use of its explosive power for great engineering projects which would otherwise not be practical or economical. Our plan to develop peaceful constructive uses of nuclear explosives has been given the names of Project Plowshare, because it is literally an attempt to convert the most destructive weapon in history into a tool for human betterment. Through Project Plowshare, we now have a great opportunity to turn our atomic armory into a tool for peace.

From the studies on the very few subsurface shots that were conducted prior to the Geneva talks, we have gained tantalizing glimpses of great new vistas of future achievement. In Project Plowshare, scientists and engineers already know of some things they expect to find and some hints as to what else they may find. Exciting as these factors may be, the other still unknown findings may outshine all the rest.

In numerous private and official discussions with our scientists and our leaders in this exciting new field, I have full reports on both the progress and the promise of these developments. I will discuss them briefly tonight.

First, a word about safety from atomic radiation. I am assured by all scientists familiar with Project Plowshare that the underground projects can go forward without fear of the consequences of radiation. Eventually, with further development and more knowledge, ways can be found to exploit all of the promising areas which the Plowshare researches now suggest. It would be my firm policy that projects of this character would only be undertaken after the most thorough consideration and with the utmost regard for public health and safety.

In small underground explosions, the scientists advise, the fireball is small - only a few feet in diameter - and it transmits its heat through the ground for a radius of 60 to 150 feet. Everything immediately around the fireball is vaporized. A few feet beyond, everything is melted. As the intense heat of the fireball diminishes, all this molten material cools and forms a glasslike shell. A major portion of the radioactivity produced by the explosion is permanently trapped inside the shell.

And in this underground shell and broken rock formations around it - between 100,000 and 100 million tons of broken and crushed rock - is enormous potential to be extracted for man's benefit. First, the scientists believe the heat which is trapped may be trapped for a long enough time to produce steam for the economical generation of electric power. Think of the implications for a moment - the energy unit of an atomic powerplant to be available wherever the engineers want to place it. Think of the vast mineral riches in remote areas of Alaska, Canada, South America, Africa, Asia, which lie untapped because there presently is no way to bring in electricity or any other conventional form of energy to mine and extract the ores. Any of these areas would be vastly benefited and enriched if they sought to avail themselves of such scientific development.

Moreover, we have in this country, in our Rocky Mountain States, oil deposits that equal the reserves of the entire Middle East, oil deposits that are denied to us because they are tightly locked in shale rock. At present we know of no economical way to get the oil out of the shale. Plowshare offers a solution.

There is another great potential of enormous significance to millions of Americans, particularly in the presently depressed coal-mining regions. For some time the coal industry has searched for cheap and reasonable methods to accomplish coal "gasification," to convert this resource, not presently in great enough demand, into one that is. The Plowshare scientists have been led to believe from results of previous underground tests that an answer may lie in their researches.

The versatility of Project Plowshare goes on and on. Of immediate and far-reaching importance to the peoples of all the world is the use of atomic energy in this form for massive engineering projects, the costs of which heretofore have been prohibitive. Plowshare scientists anticipate that with further research and testing, nuclear explosions will make it possible to build harbors, where none now exist, thus accelerating by many times the economic development of such areas as Alaska, and many other areas of the world.

They are already drawing plans and designing devices to adapt the "nuclear dynamite" of Plowshare to cut sea level canals between the oceans and other navigable bodies, dredge rivers, literally to lift the face of the earth to the benefit of all mankind. Our determination to proceed with these works of great general benefit to humanity is fully in accord with the great American tradition.

I repeat, that with or without a trustworthy agreement with the Soviets in the next few months, we must get on with our work.

Significantly, this kind of effort has been a discernible part of the American character and the American purpose from the beginnings of our country. Early in the 19th century the French observer, De Tocqueville, noted this difference between the American character and the Russian: "The American struggles against the obstacles that nature opposes to him," he wrote, "the adversaries of the Russian are men. The conquests of the American are therefore gained by the plowshare; those of the Russian by the sword."

We will continue to gain our conquests by the plowshare, in the modern context of the atomic plowshare. At the same time, we will maintain our military superiority so that the Soviet can never again gain new conquests by the sword.

And ultimately, we will realize the vision of the prophet Isaiah for the community of man - and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more."

Richard Nixon, Speech by the Vice President of the United States Prepared for Delivery Before Meeting of Sigma Delta Chi, Toledo, OH Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project