Given the topicality of nuclear testing, today’s entry from the shoe box files deals with General Curtis LeMay on the perils of an atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty.

In 1991, Dan Caldwell and I edited a book on The Politics of Arms Control Treaty Ratification, (my concluding chapter is online) which gathered much dust during the George W. Bush administration. The lessons learned in past treaty debates may now come in handy when anticipating another try at ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. One recurring theme in the history of past treaty debates is how worst case military scenarios that, at the time (and especially in retrospect) seemed far-fetched, can nonetheless serve to shape “safeguards” and conditions to the congressional resolution on treaty ratification.

One of the arguments used against the Senate’s consent to ratification of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 was that it would leave the United States at a grave disadvantage in the area of high-yield weapon tests. In October 1961, the Soviet Union tested a monstrous 57 megaton device. Senator John Pastore, a defense-minded Democrat from Rhode Island, and an influential voice on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, was inclined to test a high yield weapon, just to be on the safe side.

Pastore engaged in this colloquy with Air Force Chief of Staff (and former SAC Commander, pictured right) General Curtis LeMay during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings:

Pastore: Do you see any military need for a 50- or 75-megaton bomb?

LeMay: Yes, sir; I do. The Joint Chiefs have already recommended we go ahead with the development work on a large-yield bomb.

Pastore: Is this a new policy?

LeMay: It is not new as far as I am concerned. I asked for, the Air Force asked for, a high-yield bomb as early as 1954.

LeMay was also questioned on this subject by Senator “Scoop” Jackson during the Senate Armed Services Committee’s June, 1963 Hearings on “Nuclear Test Ban Proposals and Related Matters.” Jackson was of the view that very high-yield weapons were required “to deal with hardened targets” and for their EMP effects. LeMay offered the following testimony:

We have discussed for a long period of time the requirement for a very large-yield weapon, and there has always been a difference of opinion about whether we should have it or not where you could do just as well with smaller weapons… In addition to that, just the mere fact that the Russians will have one will, I think, be a strong psychological factor if we don’t have one, too.

Pastore and Jackson swallowed their concerns and voted for a safeguard-laden Test Ban Treaty, which passed the Senate by a lop-sided vote of 80-19.

Something to look forward to: Stan Norris is working on a new biography of LeMay.