5. Seeking a Silver Bullet: Nonproliferation, the Test Ban, and Nuclear Sharing, 1957–1960
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5 Seeking a Silver Bullet Nonproliferation, the Test Ban, � Nuclear Sharing, 1957–1960 In April 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower averred that the Soviets had “more to gain from preventing the spread of atomic weapons to fourth countries than dowe.” That belief shaped U.S. policy throughout Eisenhower’s second term. The United States sought to control, not prevent, proliferation within the Western alliance, choosing which countries acquired nuclear weapons and making those allies dependent on American technology and data. Eisenhower valued NATO solidarity more than nonproliferation and displayed a willingness to attenuate U.S. nuclear hegemony in order to strengthen its dominance within the alliance more broadly. He gambled that Soviet fears of nuclear diffusion would render Moscow pliant in arms control negotiations. Worldwide protests against atmospheric testing helped elevate the test ban as Eisenhower’s primary arms control goal. During disarmament talks, the United States probed Soviet willingness to concede on verification and inspection in exchange for a nonproliferation accord. Both goals foundered on U.S. bureaucratic discord and renewed U.S.-Soviet acrimony following the U-2 spy plane incident. Absent arms control, the Eisenhower administration decided that sharing nuclear technologyand data would sateWestern alliance appetites for national nuclear forces.When President Charles de Gaulle’s insistence on an independent French nuclear arsenal scuttled the first nuclearsharing proposals, Eisenhower responded by proposing a multilateral force 116  Seeking a Silver Bullet (MLF) under NATO command. The MLF exemplified the oxymoronic belief in American policy circles that increasing access to nuclear weapons would inhibit their spread, and that technological quick fixes could better ensure U.S. security than diplomatic agreements could.1 ​ “Worse Than Suez” In early 1957, the United States faced strained relations with Great Britain and France following the Suez crisis. Repairing alliance ties directly affected nonproliferation policy. Forced withdrawal from Egyptian territory under threat from both the United States and the Soviet Union fed Great Britain and France’s desire to reinvigorate their eclipsed great-power status by expanding their respective nuclear programs. Washington thereafter pursued a “schizophrenic” or “divide et impera” policy, encouraging the British while condemning the French. Attempting to control Britain’s program through a tightly coordinated Anglo-American nuclear alliance, Washington simultaneously tried to nip the French program in the bud in order to contain “the neutralist dangers of a Third Force” in Europe and inhibit France from acting irresponsibly to save its collapsing colonial empire. These conflicting attitudes toward the two independent European nuclear programs shaped Western consultations prior to and during the London UN Disarmament Subcommittee meetings in March 1957.2 Eisenhower and his disarmament adviser, Harold Stassen, hoped that easier access to nuclear data and technology might salve post-Suez Britain ’s wounded pride. Nuclear sharing might also wean London away from the emerging Franco-British-German bloc in the Western European Union and encourage its support of U.S. arms control positions. In January, the president dismissed objections within the national security bureaucracy and approved an agreement to exchange data on nuclear submarines with the British. More important, he also offered intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) under a unique arrangement that gave the British control over the delivery vehicles and the United States control over the warheads. This agreement stretched to its limits the Atomic Energy Act’s prohibition against transferring nuclear weapons to other powers. U.S. possession of the “key to the warhead cupboard” provided the only American veto over missile use.3 Already hints of greater cooperation had inspired London to distance itself from Paris and Bonn and embrace the U.S. position on test limitation and proliferation. At the Bermuda Conference of 1957, British prime minister Seeking a Silver Bullet  117 Harold Macmillan and Eisenhower had agreed that without arms control “atomicweapons might come into the hands of irresponsible countries.” John Foster Dulles, too, worried that a world without checks against proliferation might “enable a dictator” to acquire a nuclear capability sufficient to “blackmail ” other powers. Nonetheless, the Anglo-American powers could only wanly agree “to do very little by way of encouraging or assisting” the French nuclear program.Through the foggy language one thing shone clearly: “Britain had dumped its European allies” in favor of closer relations with Washington and its own national nuclear force.4 Despite renewed U.S.-British amity, the UN Disarmament Subcommittee sessions seemed fated to end unproductively. Numerous clouds hung over the proceedings, including the Suez crisis, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and France’s Algerian war. The Bermuda...


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Subject Headings

  • Nuclear weapons -- Government policy -- United States -- History.
  • Nuclear arms control -- United States -- History
  • Nuclear nonproliferation -- United States -- History.
  • Nuclear weapons -- Government policy -- Developing countries -- History.
  • Nuclear arms control -- Developing countries -- History.
  • Nuclear nonproliferation -- Developing countries -- History.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Developing countries.
  • Developing countries -- Foreign relations -- United States.
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