What’s the most important U.S. government report on nuclear and arms control matters that has gotten little notice and even less respect? My vote goes to the Gilpatric Committee report. presented to LBJ in January 1965. So let’s open the shoe box files to Roswell Gilpatric, and give credit where it’s due.

Gilpatric was one of “the best and the brightest” who went to school at Hotchkiss, Yale, and Yale Law. His resume included the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; a “presiding” partnership at the prestigious New York law firm of Cravath, Swain & Moore; and a stint as Deputy Secretary of Defense in Robert McNamara’s ill-starred Pentagon, a post he held until 1964.

Gilpatric’s obituaries did not mention what, in my view, was his most important accomplishment – his chairmanship of a blue-ribbon panel formed to help LBJ deal with the fallout from China’s first nuclear test in 1964. The State Department had been urging the White House to arm U.S. allies – especially West Germany and Japan, and perhaps even India — with nuclear weapons. The Pentagon and the newly created U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency lined up against Foggy Bottom, wanting the President to make nuclear non-proliferation a high national priority. McGeorge Bundy, LBJ’s national security adviser, rounded up the usual graybeards – including Arthur H. Dean, Allen W. Dulles, Alfred M. Gruenther, George B. Kistiakowsky, John J. McCloy, and Herbert York, then a mere youngster – to break the impasse. Gilpatric, fresh from his Pentagon assignment, was given the delicate task of forging a consensus.

Nothing matters more than the composition and timing of a commission. If the membership covers too broad a spectrum of policy views, the commission is unlikely to break new ground on contentious issues. (One contemporary example: Bill Perry and James Schlesinger still have difficulty agreeing on whether the Senate should consent to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.)

The timing and composition of Gilpatric’s panel were well-suited to achieve significant results. LBJ’s administration was at a policy crossroads, and significant decisions could not be postponed further. While some old diplomatic hands believed that giving the Bomb to friendly nations was the most prudent course of action — one idea then in circulation was having European crews join the United States in manning nuclear-armed naval combatants — new concerns over a proliferated world were beginning to swell. Ireland was championing the notion of a new international agreement to promote disarmament and nonproliferation at the United Nations. It was also evident that prospects for improved U.S.-Soviet relations and ending the deep freeze with Beijing would be minimal if U.S. nuclear assets were shared with Bonn and Tokyo.

The Gilpatric Committee report weighed in with far-sighted and even radical proposals that subsequently led to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the initiation of strategic arms reduction talks with the Kremlin. The Committee warned that, “The world is fast approaching a point of no return in the prospects of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.” It’s unanimous bottom line:

“Preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons is clearly in the national interest. … the United States must, as a matter of great urgency, substantially increase the scope and intensity of our efforts if we are to have any hope of success. Necessarily, these efforts must be of three kinds: (a) negotiation of formal multilateral agreements; (b) the application of influence on individual nations considering nuclear weapons acquisition… and © examples by our own policies and actions.”

Here are some key elements of the Gilpatric Committee’s reasoning and recommendations:

Although one might be tempted to accept Indian or Japanese nuclear weapons to counterbalance those of China, we do not believe the spread of nuclear weapons would or could be stopped there. An Indian or Japanese decision to build nuclear weapons would probably produce a chain reaction of similar decisions…

We must acknowledge the importance of the Soviet Union in efforts to stop proliferation. Furthermore, it is unlikely that others can be induced to abstain indefinitely from acquiring nuclear weapons if the Soviet Union and the United States continue in a nuclear arms race. Therefore, lessened emphasis by the United States and the Soviet Union on nuclear weapons and agreements on broader arms control measures must be recognized as important components in an overall program to prevent nuclear proliferation.”

We believe that the Soviet Union, because of its growing vulnerability to proliferation among its neighbors, probably shares with us a strong interest in preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons. Further, we believe that the change of leadership in the Soviet Union… may now provide an immediate opportunity for joint or parallel action in the near future to stop the nuclear spread

The rewards of long-term success would be enormous; and even partial success would be worth the costs we can expect to incur.

Measures to prevent particular countries from acquiring nuclear weapons are unlikely to succeed unless they are taken in support of a broad international prohibition… We should intensify our efforts for a non-proliferation agreement and seek the earliest conclusion of the widest and most effective possible international treaty on non-dissemination and non-acquisition of nuclear weapons… We should be prepared to go ahead without the participation of France or China.

We should actively support the establishment of.… nuclear free zones.”

We should undertake early initiatives toward the following United States-Soviet arms control agreements as a means both of reducing tensions… and creating an atmosphere conducive to wide acceptance of restraints on nuclear proliferation.”

We should increase our efforts to build up the IAEA… We should exert stronger influence on all nations… to accept IAEA safeguards on reactors and separation plants and should offer, in return, to extend safeguards to additional United States facilities.”

Not bad for government work. The Gilpatric Committee endorsed a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty; a fissile material “cutoff” agreement; a verifiable freeze of new deployments of strategic delivery vehicles along with 30% reductions in deployed force levels; and a halt in ABM construction. These proposals represented outside-the-box thinking for the Graybeard Establishment in 1965.

Can you name another Commission that was more influential and less well known than that chaired by Roswell Gilpatric?