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Corona KH-4 photograph of Israel’s nuclear research center at Dimona (Kirya Le’Mechkar Gariini) (KAMAG), 10 December 1965 (Courtesy of Global Security).

National Intelligence Estimates of
the Nuclear Proliferation Problem
The First Ten Years, 1957-1967

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 155

For more information contact
William Burr - 202/994-7032

Posted - June 1, 2005



Washington D.C. June 1, 2005 - The failure of the recently concluded review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, at a time when the future of the non-proliferation system is in question (Note 1), makes it an opportune time to look at how the U.S. intelligence establishment analyzed the proliferation issue during the years before the Treaty was negotiated. National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) from the 1960s and earlier shed light on how U.S. intelligence thought about the problem of nuclear proliferation, especially which countries had the will and the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Beginning in the late 1950s, the intelligence community began to assess systematically the developing problem of the spread of nuclear weapons. (Note 2) Responding to policymakers demands for information and analysis, intelligence analysts began looking the considerations that shaped decisions to go nuclear and the range of countries, from Israel to China, which could initiate independent nuclear weapons programs. Moreover, estimators looked at the broader implications of a situation where more countries had nuclear weapons. What kind of a world would it be?

This briefing book shows how analysts addressed those problems by publishing for the first time the first ten years of NIEs on nuclear proliferation. Among the findings in the documents:

  • the spread of "nuclear know-how" around the world was creating widespread capabilities for national nuclear weapons programs
  • an NIE from 1963 estimates that a basic capability to build two nuclear weapons a year was relatively cheap; no more than $180 million in 1963 dollars (a bit under $1 billion in today's dollars), although building advanced weapons delivery systems would greatly add to the expense
  • countries sought nuclear capabilities for reasons of "prestige" and "military effectiveness"; countries like China sought nuclear weapons as a "deterrent to the use of US nuclear weapons in the Far East"
  • during the late 1950s, analysts saw France, China, West Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Israel as among the countries with the greatest potential to develop nuclear weapons, although many of them faced domestic and international constraints to producing them
  • estimates on Israeli potential found, in 1961, "considerable evidence" that Israel was "developing capabilities"; by 1966, analysts believed that Israel had "imported and stockpiled sufficient unsafeguarded uranium for a few weapons."
  • in the aftermath of the 1964 Chinese test, India appeared to be a "serious" candidate for nuclear status; if India went in that direction, analysts saw Pakistan likely to follow suit, probably with help from China.
  • by the late 1950s and early 1960s, analysts worried that the proliferation of nuclear weapons could "materially increase" the chance of world war and raise the risk of an "unintentional or unauthorized detonation of [nuclear] weapons." Also of concern were the acquisition of nuclear weapons by "irresponsible" governments and the "risk" of stationing nuclear weapons overseas
  • multilateral nonproliferation agreements and nuclear test bans could restrain national nuclear programs but could not stop a determined government from initiating a nuclear weapons program
  • a report from the mid-1970s shows concern about nuclear terrorism as well as the possibility that "threshold states" such as Iran, Libya, Taiwan, and South Africa could acquire nuclear capabilities

Even before the first atomic test at Los Alamos, the U.S. government worried that other powers might get the bomb. (Note 3) Whether Nazi Germany would produce nuclear weapons before the United States did was a real, if short-lived, apprehension. After World War II, when U.S.-Soviet Union tensions became a significant element of world politics, the prospects and possibility of a Soviet bomb was unnerving to many, and the U.S. government developed intelligence systems to track the Soviet project. Through a huge effort, including espionage, the Soviets acquired the bomb in 1949; the United Kingdom's test in 1952 meant that there were three nuclear weapons states. Developments during the 1950s would increase potential for nuclear proliferation: Chinese and French decisions to begin nuclear weapons programs and President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program spreading nuclear power production capabilities. By the late 1950s, with the prospect for new nuclear states beginning to crystallize -- the so-called "Fourth" country problem -- U.S. intelligence faced pressure to look systematically at the problem and its broader implication. National Intelligence Estimate 100-6-57, "Nuclear Weapons Production in Fourth Countries - Likelihood and Consequences," June 18, 1957, was the first of many estimates, coordinated and published by the Central Intelligence Agency on a more-or-less annual basis, to gauge the changing problem of nuclear proliferation.

While the CIA has produced many secret estimates of nuclear proliferation, it has been reluctant to declassify them. During the 1990s, it released a few, in whole or in part, for use in the State Department's Foreign Relations series, but when it came to FOIA or mandatory review requests, the answer was "no." When CIA did not deny NIEs altogether it would release them only in bits and pieces, denying the analysis of specific countries. Recently, however, the Agency's reviewers took steps toward greater openness when they responded to FOIA requests and mandatory review appeals by releasing NIEs from 1958, 1960, and 1967 on nuclear weapons and missile proliferation. Instead of typically withholding the names of the countries deemed most capable of producing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the CIA released them. What influenced this change in approach is a matter of conjecture, although it may reflect Agency concerns about recent criticisms of its record on nuclear proliferation. Whatever motivates these declassification decisions, the Agency should be applauded for beginning to take a more forthcoming approach to the NIEs.

Besides publishing the declassified NIEs on nuclear proliferation, this briefing book includes documents, acquired through archival research and FOIA requests, that shed light on the context for the production of estimates of nuclear proliferation. The documents show how the NIEs were requested, how they were followed up, the role of embassies in the estimating process, and the contributions of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to the NIEs.

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1: Memorandum from W. Park Armstrong, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Intelligence to Fisher Howe et al., "National Intelligence Estimate on the `Fourth Country Problem'", May 3, 1957, enclosing letter to Director of Central Intelligence Allen W. Dulles, April 25, 1957
Source: National Archives, Record Group 59, Records of the Department of State (hereinafter RG 59), Central Decimal Files, 1955-1959, 101.21 NIS/5-357

Growing concern among State Department officials about the impact of nuclear proliferation on the U.S. position in world affairs produced a demand for an NIE that would estimate the extent of the problem as well as the "probable effects of the development of unconventional capabilities by fourth countries." As the most senior State Department official with intelligence responsibilities, it was plainly matter of course for W. Park Armstrong to write to CIA chief Allen Dulles, ask for an NIE, and to schedule completion within two months.

Document 2: National Intelligence Estimate 100-6-57, "Nuclear Weapons Production in Fourth Countries - Likelihood and Consequences," June 18, 1957
Source: CIA FOIA release

After denying this NIE when the National Security Archive initially requested it in the mid-1990s, in response to a second request the CIA declassified it in full in the fall of 2001. Looking at capabilities and intentions as well as the consequences of proliferation, the estimators saw up to ten countries that had the potential to produce nuclear weapons on a limited basis. One of the main conclusions, and a pessimistic one at that, was the near certainty that "over the next decade an increasing number of countries will obtain possession of nuclear weapons and that effective international control will be increasingly difficult to achieve." From current perspectives, some of the analysis seems wrongheaded, such as the alleged "even" chance for a Japanese bomb, the likelihood of a Swedish capability, and the discussion of Canada's potential. Nonetheless, it should be kept in mind that countries like Japan and Sweden would continue to figure in discussions of proliferation risk during the l950s and 1960s. Indeed, for some years the Swedish military was strongly interested in nuclear weapons and ran a covert weapons research program during the 1950s and 1960s, despite growing public anti-nuclear sentimen. (Note 4) The estimate also mentioned Australia in passing noting that it had been "receiving important assistance [from the United Kingdom] in the development of nuclear energy programs." The estimators may have been unaware that the Australians had wanted nuclear reactors so they would have a nuclear weapons option. (Note 5)

The analysis of other countries, such as Israel, France and China, is more credible in retrospect but also shows the limited knowledge of national decisionmaking, for example, the estimators did not know that France had already made the basic decisions on a nuclear capability. The discussion of West Germany and possible Western European cooperative arrangements reflects the concerns of those days but also the conviction that it would be possible to head off an independent West German nuclear program by giving it access to the U.S. nuclear stockpile ("nuclear sharing") if world war broke out. The multilateral force (MLF) proposal of the early 1960s was another attempt at forestalling a nuclear West Germany. (Note 6) While the estimators were relatively sanguine about the implications of wider nuclear capabilities for the possibility of general nuclear war, they acknowledged the imponderables, e.g., the acquisition of nuclear weapons by an "irresponsible" government or "radical" political changes in the countries that had nuclear potential.

Documents 3a and 3b: NIE 100-2-58
Document 3a. National Intelligence Estimate 100-2-58, "Development of Nuclear Capabilities by Fourth Countries: Likelihood and Consequences," July 1, 1958, Secret
Source: FOIA request by National Security Archive

Document 3b. Annex to National Intelligence Estimate No. 100-2-58, "Development of Nuclear Capabilities by Fourth Countries: Likelihood and Consequences," July 1, 1958, Secret, Excised copy
Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, mandatory review request

NIE 100-6-57 may have created a demand for even more analysis and information because the next estimate of the "fourth country problem" was twice as long. NIE 100-2-58, recently released in its entirety by the CIA (which had initially denied Archive requests for this document), provides more detailed analysis of capabilities of potential nuclear states, "probable courses of action" including motives for proliferation, possible deterrents to proliferation, and the implications of proliferation for international relations. The blanket certainty of the 1957 estimate about an "increasing number of countries" obtaining nuclear weapons was replaced by a more nuanced analysis, but without any generalizations about the most probable course of events. Nevertheless, the analysts were even more certain that France was on the road to testing nuclear weapons; also, as before, they saw Sweden as a strong candidate under certain circumstances. China was also most likely to have begun a development program and Israel would follow suit if it had access to the necessary materials. The analysts paid even more attention to the possibility of West European cooperation to produce the bomb but were unsure whether the French-Italy-German (FIG) group would go beyond missile research into a cooperative program to build the bomb. (Note 7)

The estimators had a far more ominous view of the consequences of proliferation than they did a year earlier. While the 1957 estimate opined that "fourth power production of nuclear weapons over the next 10 years is not likely to … materially increase the likelihood of general war" the 1958 estimate asserted that nuclear proliferation is "certain to produce difficulties and in most cases would tend to increase the chances of general war by an expansion of local conflicts." While the interested public would have not seen these estimates, the scholarly community was already raising searching questions about the risks of nuclear proliferation. Moreover, only weeks after this NIE was published Irish Foreign Minister Frank Aiken introduced the first of a series of resolutions-the "Irish Resolutions"--at the United Nations calling for a nuclear non-proliferation policy. (Note 8)

Documents 4a and 4b: Reactions to NIE 100-2-58
Document 4a. Untitled memorandum from U.S. Embassy, Sweden, 2 September 1958
Source: FOIA request by National Security Archive

Document 4b. State Department instruction, CA-3456, to various embassies, "Development of Nuclear Weapons on the European Continent: Request for Information," October 13, 1958.
Source: RG 59, Records of Component Offices of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, 1947-1963, Lot 61D1597, box 4, OSI

Document 4c. State Department instruction, CA-5044, to various embassies, "Development of Nuclear Weapons Capabilities by `Fourth Powers,': Political Aspects," December 3, 1958, enclosing U.S. Intelligence Board "Post-Mortem on NIE 100-2-58", October 30, 1958
Source: RG 59, Central Decimal Files, 1955-1959, 100.21-NIS/12-958

Some interesting reactions to NIE 100-2-58 have turned up through archival research and FOIA requests. The economics counselor and the Army attaché at the embassy in Sweden assessed the estimate of Swedish nuclear potential and produced highly divergent reactions, with the counselor arguing that the estimate exaggerated Swedish potential and the attaché generally agreeing with the NIE. Apparently the mission chief, Ambassador Francis White, leaned toward the thinking of the counselor, because the cover memo included a criticism of the "flat statement" about the likelihood of a Swedish bomb in the absence of progress on disarmament.

Plainly the NIE led to demands for more information. In October the Department of State asked Western European embassies to raise their antennae for information on the French nuclear program as well as on European cooperative nuclear weapons projects. Within that same month, in another effort to encourage information gathering by the embassies, the State Department sent them a rarely released "post-mortem" of an NIE by the U.S. Intelligence Board, the body that vetted the NIEs in their final stages. It shows that the intelligence establishment felt that it was not getting the information that it needed for full analysis of the proliferation problem. For example, it found the sources on French plans to be not good enough and wanted the CIA-led Guided Missiles Intelligence Committee to look more closely at the ballistic-missile potential of those countries with "fairly imminent" nuclear capability. Moreover, as the State Department underlined, the USIB wanted more reporting from the "field," from embassy officers but also from collectors in the military and the CIA.

Document 5: NIE 100-4-60, "Likelihood and Consequences of the Development of Nuclear Capabilities by Additional Countries", 9 September 1960, Secret, excised copy
Source: Mandatory review request

With the French nuclear test in February 1950, the "Fourth Country" problem turned into the "Nth" country problem; no one could foresee how many new nuclear states would materialize. This NIE, recently released in slightly excised form after previous denials, takes into account the impact of the French test on the situation. Still there was much uncertainty about future prospects. This NIE treated France as the only formerly non-nuclear state that "is known to have programs underway." Unlike in 1958, when China's nuclear ambitions were discussed more speculatively, the analysts believed that "Communist China almost certainly has started a weapons program." Yet, they were not absolutely sure. They also assumed that Soviet nuclear weapons assistance to China was still a possibility when in fact Moscow had already called off its nuclear assistance program. In a dissent on page 10, naval intelligence rightly made much of the withdrawal of Soviet technical assistance in light of "current dissensions" between Beijing and Moscow. (Note 9) The CIA excised all references to Israel from this NIE; in contrast to its decisions on NIE 100-2-58, the Agency followed its more routine procedure on the Israeli nuclear question.

As in 1958, the analysts discussed Sweden, West Germany, Japan, and a European cooperative effort, seeing all of them as unlikely prospects for nuclear weapons programs barring changes in the world situation and domestic policy and politics. Also as in previous analyses, the estimators discussed the potentially dangerous impact of the spread of nuclear weapons; this NIE mentioned the peril of nuclear sharing schemes: "the stationing of nuclear weapons on foreign soil and training indigenous forces in their use is not without risk." This was becoming a concern beyond the intelligence agencies. For example, not long after this NIE appeared, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy pointed out the danger that that "revolutionary coup d'etats by the Communists or rightists in certain NATO countries" could lead to seizure of U.S. nuclear weapons and "actual, attempted, or accidental use." (Note 10)

Documents 6a and b: NIE 4-3-61
Document 6a. Guided Missiles and Astronautics Intelligence Committee, "GMAIC Contribution to NIE 4-3-61," July 20, 1961, secret, excised copy
Source: CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), National Archives library, College Park, MD

Document 6b. National Intelligence Estimate, NIE 4-3-61, "Nuclear Weapons and Delivery Capabilities of Free World Countries Other than the US and UK," September 21, 1961, Secret, Excised copy
Source: microfiche supplement to U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume VII, Arms Control and Disarmament (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997)

The next NIE, published in mid-1961, shows a greatly broadened scope of inquiry, not only weapons program but also the proliferation of delivery system capabilities. Unlike the earlier estimates, this one did not look at the broader international implications of nuclear spread, limiting itself to the national considerations that prompted a decision to build the bomb. It did, however, hone the analysis of the problem. Leaving the problem of China to separate estimates, and perhaps in response to earlier critiques, the estimators created categories of "likely" and "unlikely candidates." Countries like Canada were in the latter category, but Sweden was still in the "likely group," along with Israel, France, West Germany, India, and Japan, as well as "Western European groupings." But the estimators also divided countries that had made a positive decision, such as France and Israel, from a somewhat larger number of countries that only had the potential to develop nuclear weapons. For example, with respect to India, a Chinese nuclear test "would greatly strengthen the view … that there is a pressing need for an Indian nuclear capability." Japan could also go nuclear in the wake of a Chinese test or if it lost confidence in U.S. security guarantees.

Document 6a, a background studies prepared for NIE 4-3-61 by the GMAIC, is one of the thousands and thousands of documents released in scanned images through the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), available on computers only at the National Archives library (College Park, Md) and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library (Austin, Tx.). The CREST reviewers deleted the list on page 2 naming countries with the capability to produce ballistic missiles, although more or less the same information had been released when the NIE was published four years earlier.

Document 7: Special National Intelligence Estimate, 30-2-63, "The Advanced Weapons Programs of the UAR and Israel," May 8, 1963, secret, excised copy
Source: CIA FOIA release

The sensitivity of the Israeli nuclear issue and that nation's commitment to a policy of opacity on its nuclear weapons status (Note 11) has generally encouraged the U.S. government to take a highly restrictive approach to declassifying intelligence analysis on the Israeli program. While the information in document 6b is an example of uncharacteristic openness on this issue, this document exemplifies the restrictive policy. The CIA withheld almost all of it. (Note 12)

Document 8: National Intelligence Estimate Number 4-63, Likelihood and Consequences of a Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Systems, June 28, 1963, secret, excised copy
Source: CIA FOIA appeal release

This NIE has gone through several rounds of declassification review in recent years (Note 13); this is the most complete release so far. In an earlier release CIA withheld the discussion of the major candidates for nuclear proliferation; now that has been declassified except for the review of Israel's nuclear potential. The list of eight countries that were under special scrutiny is essentially the same as in NIE 4-3-61, although Italy has been added. Also partly declassified for the first time is the "Special Case," on pages 13-14, on a possible transfer to third countries, such as Egypt, of nuclear weapons technology or even a complete weapon.

Showing that NIEs were committee products, paragraph 25 opined that a nuclear-armed China would not have a significant impact on Chinese policy while the next paragraph held that the "tone of Chinese policy would probably become more assertive." Pointing out the contradiction, the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research dissented from the more foreboding analysis held elsewhere in the bureaucracy.

Unlike the 1957 analysis, the estimators were more confident that the nuclear proliferation problem would be limited: "there will not be widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons over the next 10 years" even though a growing numbers of countries would have the capability to join the nuclear club. Nevertheless, limited or not, the estimators saw a more unstable world. If new nuclear states became involved in conflicts with non-nuclear or nuclear-neighbors, the "situation would be potentially more dangerous … because of the added uncertainties introduce by [the] presence" of nuclear weapons. In addition, the estimators believed that as the number of nuclear weapons states increased "the risk of unintentional or unauthorized detonation of such weapons will also rise," partly because of the absence of safety measures.

An annex discusses the costs of starting a small nuclear weapons program. A "minimal" capability to build two plutonium implosion weapons a year was relatively cheap; ranging from $140 million (about $670 million in today's dollars) to 180 million in 1963 dollars (a bit under $1 billion in today's dollars), with annual operating costs running between $20 and 30 million (between $100 to 150 million in today's dollars). If, however, a country wanted modern weapons delivery systems, e.g., ballistic missiles or bombers, "costs rise steeply." (Note 14)

Document 9: NIE 4-2-64, "Prospects for a Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons over the Next Decade," October 21, 1964
Source: FOIA appeal release

This NIE, prepared only days after China's first nuclear test, is heavily redacted with almost half of it withheld in its entirety. In light of the Chinese test, the estimators were more confident that India would follow suit: "we believe the chances are better than even that India will decide to develop nuclear weapons within the next few years." Instead the Indians would take almost 10 years to make a decision to "develop," or produce and test a nuclear device ("peaceful nuclear explosive") and quite a few more years before they weaponized their nuclear program. (Note 15) The estimators also saw a greater possibility of an Israeli and a Swedish decision to begin a nuclear weapons program. The analysis of the implications of nuclear proliferation was substantially the same as NIE 4-63.

Document 10: Central Intelligence Agency, "Nuclear Weapons Programs Around the World," 3 December 1964, top secret, excised copy
Source: Mandatory review request by National Security Archive to Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security File, Committee File, Committee on Nuclear Proliferation, box 6, Prospects for Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

Shortly after the first Chinese test, President Lyndon Johnson commission former Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric to head a panel to investigate the nuclear proliferation problem. The Gilpatric report turned out to be a milestone in U.S. nuclear proliferation policy, although its import remains a matter of some controversy. (Note 16)

The Gilpatric panel asked military and intelligence agencies to prepare background reports on the problem and this is one of the CIA responses. Significantly, it provides details on the state of nuclear weapons programs that CIA withheld from the NIE of six weeks earlier. What explains this inconsistency is unknown; perhaps, declassification guidelines for the NIEs are more stringent because of their inter-agency status. Like NIE 4-3-61, this estimate analyzed both progress on nuclear weapons and delivery systems, although the analysis was slightly different than NIE 4-64. While the latter saw a greater possibility for Israeli and Swedish nuclear programs, the present study tended to rule them out: "Israel has probably decided to not build nuclear weapons,' while "the chances are better than even that Sweden will not initiate a weapons program during this decade."

Documents 11a and b: INR Contributions to NIEs
Document 11a. U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, " Contribution to NIE 4-1-65," 4 October 1965.

Document 11b. U. S. Department of State, "Addendum INR Contribution to NIE 4-65 Likelihood of Further Nuclear Proliferation," 4 November 1965
Source: State Department FOIA release

In the fall of 1965, the intelligence community began work on another NIE on the proliferation issue; while the NIE was provisionally called NIE 4-65 it was not ready until 1966 and the number was changed to 4-66 (see document 12). Some of the proposed State Department Bureau of Intelligence Research input into the NIE has been released and it gives some insights into it. Suggesting that the INR had a broader scope than the previous two, the first document reviews the likelihood of nuclear weapons decisions by Japan, Australia, and Indonesia; the last two had not previously been on the list of candidates. Another document estimated the possibility of a nuclear weapons decision by Pakistan. Not only did it see such a decision likely if an Indian nuclear weapons program emerged. If Pakistan so decided, the estimate astutely suggested that Pakistan was likely to seek help from China, another adversary of India. Pakistan would either seek Chinese security guarantee or more "tangible assistance" in the form of completed weapons, fissionable material, or technical aid.

Document 12: NIE 4-66, "The Likelihood of Further Nuclear Proliferation," January 20, 1966, Secret, excised copy
Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, mandatory review release; currently under appeal

The Archive has an earlier release of this document under appeal at the Interagency Security Classification Appeal Panel (ISCAP) but the CIA recently declassified more information from this NIE, including the country analysis, in a separate release. Interestingly, in contrast to the 1963 and 1964 estimates, CIA released some details on Israel: it had "imported and stockpiled sufficient unsafeguarded uranium for a few weapons." The excised analysis probably indicates how U.S. intelligence assessed Israel's production capabilities from the Dimona reactor as well as the source(s) of imports. In any event, the analysts concluded that Israel had not yet produced any weapons but that it would be hard for the international community to check such a decision if Israel believed that "the threat from the Arab states could no longer be contained by conventional means." According to Avner Cohen's major study, by May 1967, Israel had an operational nuclear weapon. (Note 17)

Besides Israel, the analysts saw India as the only other "serious [contender] for nuclear status," with the latter "likely to undertake a nuclear weapons program in the next several years." In keeping with the 1965 INR contributions, Pakistan was on the list of potential nuclear states; so were the Australia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the UAR. The CIA partly declassified an interesting analysis of the "Snowball Effect" suggesting the larger impact of decisions on a nuclear capability by one or two countries.

Document 13: U.S. Embassy Bonn Airgram A-1512 to Department of State, "NIE 23-66: West German Capabilities and Intentions to Produce Nuclear Weapons and Delivery System," 12 April 1966
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files 1964-1966, INT 2-2

Showing the variety of inputs for NIEs, the U.S. embassy in West Germany produced this airgram to contribute to an estimate on West Germany's nuclear weapons potential. Who sought an NIE on this topic is presently unknown. Over the course of 1966, however, the United Nation's Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) was holding intensive discussions on a nuclear non-proliferation treaty of which the West German government was highly critical. (Note 18) Perhaps someone in the White House or elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy wanted U.S. intelligence to look more closely at the West German nuclear problem to see if there was any risk. Plainly the embassy saw little danger; it reaffirmed the "judgment expressed in NIE 4-66 - that West Germany will almost certainly not embark on a program to develop or acquire her own nuclear weapons." Risks would materialize, however, if West Germany began to fear for its security. That would happen only in the event of a "radical change in the basic structure of the political relationships in the postwar world," such as a reversal in U.S. security policy toward Western Europe. An NIE on West German capabilities and intentions was soon produced although it remains classified.

Documents 14a and b: Ballistic Missile Proliferation
Document 14a. NIE 4-67, "Proliferation of Missile Delivery Systems for Nuclear Weapons," 26 January 1967, secret, excised copy, as released November 2004

Document 14b. NIE 4-67, "Proliferation of Missile Delivery Systems for Nuclear Weapons," 26 January 1967, secret, excised copy, as released under appeal, March 2005
Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files, National Intelligence Estimates, box 1, 4 Arms and Disarmament

During 1967, instead of its usual estimate on the likelihood of nuclear proliferation, the intelligence community looked at a related problem--the extent to which new nuclear states would have the capability to produce missile delivery systems. A year ago, the National Security Archive submitted a mandatory review request to the Johnson Library for a copy of this NIE. The initial request produced a heavily excised version, withholding most of the analysis (see document 12a). An appeal from the National Security Archive recently produced a lightly excised version (see document 12b), with most of the discussion of specific countries intact. Noting that one of the most "difficult and expensive" aspects of a nuclear weapons project is the development and deployment of a missile delivery system, the estimate looked closely at six non-nuclear states that were deemed "serious candidates for acquiring such systems": Israel, India, the UAR, Sweden, Japan, and West Germany. Of the six, however, a number of them faced significant domestic inhibitions and opposition, international prohibitions, or resource constraints that made them less likely candidates in the short-run. The discussion of Israel, one of most motivated countries, has great excisions although a pending appeal to ISCAP may produce more details.

Document 15: Eight Years Later: New "Threshold States"
Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence, Office of Political Research, Research Study, "Managing Nuclear Proliferation: The Politics of Limited Choice," December 1975, Secret, excised copy
Source: CREST, National Archives Library, College Park, Maryland

A report prepared by CIA several years later suggests that the problem of widespread nuclear knowledge raised by the early NIEs had only grown worse: "the requisite materials and technology are already too widely available for technical safeguards and international regulation to be effective." While the author believed that there was "no hope of preventing nuclear proliferation," the study argued that it might be possible to influence the choices made by would-be nuclear states, e.g., to not go too far down the road to weaponization. The NIEs from the 1950s and 1960s did not anticipate the possibility of nuclear terrorism, but that prospect was under discussion by the mid-1970s: "the same increasing availability of nuclear materials and technology which has made nuclear explosives accessible to developing states can also be expected sooner or later to bring them within the reach of terrorist groups."


* The author thanks Jeffrey Richelson for helpful comments and for contributing documents.

1. For assessments of the issues, see Fred Kaplan, "The Real Nuclear Option," at http://www.slate.com/id/2117940/; and "The Proliferation Crisis," Washington Post, 4 May 2005, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/03/AR2005050301388.html; Alexander Barnes Dyer, “Nuclear (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Meltdown,” at http://www.slate.com/id/2119831/; and Lawrence Wittner, “Has the Bush Administration Made Nuclear Proliferation Inevitable?,” History News Network, 30 May 2005, at http://hnn.us/articles/12185.html.

2. For a history of U.S. nuclear intelligence, see Jeffrey Richelson, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from the Nazis to Iran and North Korea (New York: W.W. Norton, forthcoming).

3. See Richelson, Spying on the Bomb and Robert S. Norris, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man (South Royalton, Vt.: Steerforth Press, 2002).

4. For discussions of the Swedish program, see Thomas B. Johansson, "Sweden's Abortive Nuclear Weapons Project," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 41 (March 1986): 31-34, and Tor Larsson, "The Swedish Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Postures," Storia Delle Relazioni Internationali 13 (1998): 101-119.

5. Wayne Reynolds, "Rethinking the Joint Project: Australia's Bid for Nuclear Weapons, 1945-1960," Historical Journal 41 (1998): 853-873.

6. For the German nuclear question during this period, see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1999).

7. For the France-Italy-West German consortium, see Leopoldo Nuti, "The F-I-G Story Revisited," Storia Delle Relazioni Internationali 13 (1998): 69-101.

8. See George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 64-66.

9. For a fascinating account of Chinese-Soviet nuclear cooperation during the 1950s, see Evgeny A. Negin and Yuri N. Smirnov, "Did the USSR Share Atomic Secrets with China?" published by the Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact, at http://www.isn.ethz.ch/php/documents/collection_11/texts/Negin_Smirnov_engl.htm.

10. Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, [Report of Ad Hoc Subcommittee on U.S. Policies Regarding the Assignment of Nuclear Weapons to NATO], 11 February 1961, copy at National Security Archive.

11. For the Israeli nuclear program and the policy of opacity, see Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

12. The same excisions show up in the Foreign Relations volume on the region; see U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Vol. XVIII, Near East, 1961-1963 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1995), at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/kennedyjf/xviii/26209.htm, document 239.

13. For a version released in 2001, see http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB90/dubious-secrets-9B.pdf.

14. Thanks to Steven Koziak, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, for showing how to use the Office of Management and Budget GDP deflator to convert 1963 dollars into today's dollars.

15. George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 84-85.

16. For a recent upgrading of the significance of the Gilpatric report, see Francis Gavin, "Blasts from the Past: Proliferation Lessons from the 1960s," International Security 29 (Winter 2004), 29-130. Interestingly, an account of the NPT's origins and negotiations by one of the negotiators does not mention the report. See Bunn, Arms Control by Committee, 59-82.

17. Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, 273-275.

18. For West Germany and the NPT, see Susanna Schrafstetter and Stephen Twigge, Avoiding Armageddon: Europe, the United States, and the Struggle for Nuclear Proliferation, 1945-1970 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), 182-194.

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