Kennedy and the Congress: The
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 1963
Philip J. Briggs
The continuing quest for nuclear disarmament remains of central importance to national state survival in general and Soviet-American relations in particular. The administration of John F. Kennedy produced a milestone in that quest--the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. Yet, its successful conclusion was constitutionally dependent on senatorial consent. How that consent was achieved and the particular role of bipartisanship is the subject of the following case study.
Congressional suspicion and conflict with executive efforts to negotiate limitations on nuclear arms has been a recurring pattern since the inception of atomic weaponry. As early as December 27, 1945, when American Secretary of State James Byrnes, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov issued a communique from Moscow with several proposals, including the exchange of basic atomic energy information for peaceful purposes, Republican foreign policy spokesman Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan "nearly resigned" as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. 1
Vandenberg's near revolt arose from his disagreement with Secretary Byrnes about when the sharing of atomic energy secrets should take place and his understanding of what bipartisan consultation meant--7consultation prior to the implementation of policy, not simply being informed about impending developments. Vandenberg did not resign because President Harry S Truman subsequently agreed with the Republican senator's position that adequate arrangements for security must accompany each stage of disclosure regarding atomic information. 2
The Baruch Plan of 1946 did in fact include such assurances on disclosure. This plan, which was put forward by Bernard Baruch, U.S. representative on the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission, called for placing all atomic resources