6 January 2006. Thanks to A.

Source: Digital images of documents from the UK National Archives.

[1 page.]

[Records Listing]

Future UK atomic weapons testing policy


BRIEFING for Minister of Defence for Cabinet Meeting, 2 January 1961. "Use of Christmas Island for US Nuclear Tests" CC(62)1. The US proposed that they would be responsible for safety. The UK proposed veto through their Base Commander. The US also proposed that they would compensate British subjects for loss due to the tests.

[3 pages.]

[The National Archives Identification Label] Ref: AVIA65/1836

[2nd January 1962.]





1. In this Memorandum, the Prime Minister reports on his discussions with President Kennedy at Bermuda on the resumption of nuclear tests in the atmosphere and on the American requests to be allowed to make preparations to use Christmas Island as a base for such tests.

2. President Kennedy has not yet decided that the United States should carry out any atmospheric tests; but he indicated that he was likely to decide in the spring this year that tests must be resumed unless by then some substantial improvement had taken place in East/West relations. In his statement of 10th November, President Kennedy has already announced that the United States "as a matter of principle" intends to make preparations for atmospheric tests "so as to be ready in case it became necessary to conduct them".

3. In the course of his discussions with President Kennedy, the Prime Minister said that he recognized that, if the United Kingdom allowed the United States to devote time and effort to preparations for holding nuclear tests on Christmas Island, it would be unreasonable for the United Kingdom Government to claim more than a right to be consulted about the final decision; we could not ask for a veto at that stage.

4. The Prime Minister is therefore asking the Cabinet to consider whether we should agree to the United States request on the understanding there would be:

(a) a formal agreement on the financial and administrative arrangements;

(b) consultation before the United States Government take a final decision to resume tests; and

(c) a commitment on our part to support whatever decision President Kennedy made.

5. The Prime Minister suggests that our agreement should also be made conditional on United States acceptance in principle of a Western initiative to halt the nuclear arms race by agreement.

6. The main issue in this Memorandum is primarily a political one. Departmentally, we consider that there is a case for further nuclear tests on the lines proposed by the Americans "in order to maintain the balance of the deterrent". There is also the risk that a refusal on our part to co-operate in this matter may prejudice our present close relation with the Americans in the nuclear weapons field, through which we obtain information of great value to our own weapons program.

7. One of the conditions specified by the Prime Minister for our agreement with the United States request is that there should be a final agreement on the financial and administrative arrangements governing the U.S. use of Christmas Island. A draft Memorandum of Understanding which has been prepared by an inter-departmental Committee is attached at Annex A. It is not proposed that all the details of this Memorandum should be brought before the Cabinet, but copies are being submitted for approval by the Ministers immediately concerned before negotiations are opened with the U.S. authorities. In addition to yourself, the other Ministers being consulted are the Foreign Secretary, the Colonial Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

8. We have already had from the Americans a Statement of Principles which they suggest should govern their use of facilities at Christmas Island. A copy of this Statement is at Annex B. This copy incorporates certain additions to an earlier version which Sir William Pennay agreed with Dr. Seaborg during Bermuda discussions. As you will see, this Statement of Principles is not as comprehensive as our draft Memorandum of Understanding but, except on certain points, there should not be much difficulty in getting the Americans to accept our fuller and more detailed document.

9. The main points of potential difficulty are:-

(a) Application of safety rules

The American document proposes (in paragraph 1) that the United States would be responsible for the application of safety rules. They accept that the U.K. Base Commander should be a member of the Safety Committee.

We propose (in paragraph 7) that the United Kingdom (through the Base Commander) should have a power of veto if we are not satisfied that all the safety precautions which we consider necessary have been taken by the Americans. We do not expect that this would in practice cause any difficulty with the Americans. A arrangement on these lines exists in our agreement with the Australians about tests at Meralings. However, we consider that there is considerable political advantage in our being able to say that any test proposed by the Americans can safely be carried out from U.K. territory.

(b) Claims

The American document (in paragraph 6) proposes that the U.S. Government should deal directly with all claimants and that no claim would lie in respect of U.K. Government property or personnel within the testing area or for loss of use of such area by U.K. subjects.

We propose in paragraph 11 that we should deal with and be indemnified against claims from U.K. citizens and corporate bodies (because the Colonial Offices does not wish the U.S. government to deal directly with the Colonial Government on individual Gilbertese, and that the U.S. Government should deal only with other claims. However, we cannot accept that no claim should lie in respect of our personnel and property on Christmas Island nor in respect of any loss of copra production resulting from the U.S. occupation of Christmas Island.

10. You may consider that the first point mentioned in paragraph 9 above - namely the question of retaining a veto on safety grounds - is worth mentioning at the Cabinet, because of it political implication.

11. There is one other point covered in both the American Statement of Principles and our draft Memorandum which you may wish to mention. As you will see in the first paragraph of both documents, there is a specific reference to the fact that only tests using air drops or balloon shots will be carried out. Might it not be preferable to specify this limitation as one of the initial conditions on which the U.K. Government are prepared to allow U.S. Government to embark on preparations on Christmas Island, rather than rely on the terms of the subsidiary Memorandum of Understanding?

12. Finally, you will note that in our Memorandum (paragraph 1) we reserve the right to carry out a U.K. test or tests at Christmas Island during the period of the U.S. occupation. It is understood that the Atomic Energy Authority may come forward with proposals for such a U.K. test, if the United States decide to resume atmospheric tests.

2nd January 1962.

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