15. Letter From the Commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission (Murray) to the President 1

Dear Mr. President: In my letter of February 5, 1954,2 I presented for your consideration thoughts concerning an attempt to negotiate a weapons test moratorium. May I take this opportunity of expanding on those thoughts, particularly in the light of the events of the past year.

The most important points to be considered in this connection are:

The United States is far ahead of the U.S.S.R. in the field of thermonuclear weapons.
Weapons testing is essential for rapid development.

As you know, the United States has exploded a total of fifty-six nuclear weapons.…

This testing has given us a weapons technology that is highly advanced. So much so, that we could accept a delay of a year or more in testing weapons of yields greater than a hundred kilotons without our progress being greatly hampered.

. . . . . . .

My second point is that testing is essential for the rapid development of nuclear weapons. Our scientists agree that, although some weapons development may continue without testing, the absence of such tests would slow progress to an appreciable degree.

It is my deep conviction that a moratorium on the testing of large thermonuclear weapons would lengthen the time during which the United States would maintain its advantage over the U.S.S.R. Our experience is so much more extensive than that of the Soviets that we could use tests of small weapons and components to much greater advantage than they.

Then again, the United States does not plan to test large thermonuclear weapons for over a year. From what we have been able to detect of the Soviet pattern we should expect their next series to take place this Fall. Thus, if a proposal to defer the tests of large thermonuclear weapons is made soon, the Soviets would be the first to be affected. If the Soviets agree to the moratorium and then violate it within a year, our position would be unchanged. On the other hand, if the Soviets do not violate their agreement, our next tests of large [Page 57] weapons could be deferred as the time for them arrived. In any event, a Soviet refusal to consider this proposal would strengthen our position from a psychological viewpoint.

It has been suggested that an offer by the United States to limit tests to weapons with yields below a hundred kilotons would simply bring forth an attempt by the Soviets to whittle the upper limit to zero. This is described as placing the United States on a “toboggan slide”. It seems to me that appropriate arrangements could be made which would prevent our being placed at a disadvantage in this way.

Another reason for such a moratorium follows from the fact that due to advances based on tests many nations, large and small, will eventually have thermonuclear weapons, because costs for such weapons are rapidly decreasing. The consequent threat to world peace is obvious. A moratorium on tests of thermonuclear weapons would tend to freeze technology and limit possession to nations now having them.

It is envisaged that a moratorium of the type proposed would include provisions for monitoring, preferably by the United Nations.

I continue to be a firm advocate of expanding our capabilities in the nuclear weapons field. Under this moratorium proposal preparations for tests next Spring would be continued with the same vigor as at present. Likewise we would continue with our intensive program of weapons development.

In conclusion, the information available to me supports the view that, with appropriate safeguards, a moratorium on the testing of large thermonuclear weapons would act to maintain and advance our weapons superiority over the Soviets, and thus would be in the interests of the United States. Moreover, it would be a forward step looking to eventual limitation of armaments.

Knowing of your strong interest and leadership in all that relates to world peace, I have taken this occasion to make my views known to you. I have already acquainted Chairman Strauss and Commissioner Libby with my intention to do so. It is my earnest and prayerful hope that these thoughts will be of assistance to you in your continual search for some solution to the ever mounting threat of atomic destruction.3

Respectfully yours,

Thomas E. Murray
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Sp. Asst. for Nat. Sec. Affairs Records. Top Secret.
  2. Not found in the Eisenhower Library or Department of State files.
  3. In a memorandum from Eisenhower to Cutler, March 15, on Murray’s proposals for a weapons test moratorium, the President wrote:

    “1. Herewith a document, on the above cited subject, which I request that you have thoroughly studied.

    “2. If you consider desirable, the matter can be made the topic of a National Security Council paper. D.D.E.” (Eisenhower Library, Sp. Asst. for Nat. Sec. Affairs Records)

    For a later discussion of Murray’s letter, see Document 18.