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December 10, 1957

Letter, Nikolai Bulganin to Dwight D. Eisenhower



December 10, 1957


Dear Me. President: I am addressing this letter to you in order to share with you certain thoughts regarding the international situation which is developing at the present time. The Soviet Government has recently examined the international situation in all its aspects. In doing so, we could not of course fail to give serious attention to the fact that at the initiative of the United States of America and Great Britain measures are now being developed the purpose of which is a sharp intensification of the military preparations of the NATO members, and that specific plans are being considered in connection with the forthcoming session of the NATO Council.


It is already evident that these measures in their essence amount to the mobilization of all the resources of the member states of NATO for the purpose of intensifying the production of armaments and for preparations in general for war. The NATO leaders openly state that at the forthcoming session military and strategic plans providing for extensive use of atomic and hydrogen weapons will be considered.


It is also very obvious that all such activity is taking place in an atmosphere of artificially created nervousness and fear with respect to the imaginary "threat" from the U.S.S.R., and, in the effort to create such an atmosphere, particularly wide use is being made of references to the latest scientific and technical achievements of the Soviet Union.


In our view there is serious danger that, as a result of such actions, international developments may take a direction other than that required in the interest of the strengthening of peace.


On the other hand, in all states of the world there is a growing and spreading movement for a termination of the armaments race, and for averting the threat of an outbreak of a new war. Peoples are demanding that a policy be followed whereby states may live in peace, respecting mutual rights and interests and deriving advantage from cooperation with one another, instead of sharpening their knives against one another.


All of this leads us to the conviction that in the development of the international situation a moment of great responsibility has arrived.


We feel that in this situation the responsibility that rests upon the government of every state in determining its future foreign policy is greater than ever before. Especially great is the responsibility of the governments of the great powers.


I must frankly say to you, Mr. President, that the reaction of certain circles in your country and in certain  other NATO countries regarding the recent accomplishments of the U.S.S.R. in the scientific and technical field, and regarding the launching, in connection with the program of the International Geophysical Tear, of the Soviet artificial earth satellites in particular, appears to us a great mistake.


Of course, the launching of artificial earth satellites bears witness to the great achievements of the U.S.S.R., both in the field of peaceful scientific research and in the field of military technology. However, it is well known that the U.S.S.R. has insisted and still insists that neither ballistic missiles nor hydrogen and atomic bombs should ever be used for purposes of destruction, and that so great an achievement of the human mind as the discovery of atomic energy should be put to use entirely for the peaceful development of society. The Soviet Union has no intention of attacking either the U.S.A. or any other country. It is calling for agreement and for peaceful coexistence. The same position is held by any states, including the Chinese People's Republic and other socialist countries.


On the other hand, in the present situation the governments of the Western powers are making the decision to step up the armaments race still further and are following the line of intensifying the "cold war." It is our deep conviction that nothing could be more dangerous to the cause of world peace.


First of all, who can guarantee, if the present competition in the production of ever newer types of weapons is continued and assumes still greater proportions, that it will be the NATO members who are the winners in such a competition? I do not even mention the fact that the armaments race in itself is not only becoming an increasingly heavy burden on the shoulders of peoples but is also still further magnifying the danger of an outbreak of war.


Let us suppose that, in calling for further development of military preparations with special emphasis on the creation of new types of weapons of mass destruction, the American military leaders expect to achieve some success. But nothing can change the fact that even with the present status of military technology a situation has developed for the first time in history where in the event of war the territory of none of the great powers will any longer be in a privileged position that would spare it from becoming one of the theaters of war from the very beginning of the conflict. Nothing is changed in this respect, even by the fact that the U.S.A. has a network of far advanced military bases, nor by plans to use territories and military potential of Western European allies.


At the present time in the United States of America there has been proclaimed the thesis of "interdependence" of the countries members of NATO. A new and increased contribution to the military preparations of this alliance is expected of them. No little pressure is being exerted upon them to obtain consent for the stationing of nuclear and rocket weapons in their territory.


Apparently for the purpose of reducing the dangers which are fully understandable and are caused in these countries by the prospect of having nuclear weapons stationed in their territory, military circles in the West are attempting to implant the idea that the so-called "tactical" atomic weapons are not very different from conventional types of weapons and that their use would not entail as destructive results as that of atomic and hydrogen bombs. One cannot fail to see that such reasoning, designed to mislead public opinion, constitutes a dangerous attempt to justify preparation for unleashing an atomic war.


Where can all this lead?


The military situation of the U.S.A. itself, in our opinion, will in no way improve as a result of this; the U.S.A will become no less vulnerable, while the danger of war will increase still further.


It is doubtful that such a policy would even lead to a strengthening of relations between the U.S.A. and its European allies. The contrary might be true, for in the last analysis no country can be content with a situation where it is compelled to sacrifice its independence for the sake of strategic plans that are alien to its national interests and to risk receiving a blow because of the fact that foreign military bases are situated in its territory.


As for plans to transfer nuclear weapons to allies of the U.S.A. in Europe, such a step can only further aggravate an already complicated situation on that continent initiating a race in atomic armaments among European states


One likewise cannot fail to take into account, for example, the fact that the placing of nuclear weapons at the disposal of the Federal Republic of Germany may set in motion such forces in Europe and entail such consequences as even the NATO members may not contemplate.


One of the arguments advanced in military circles in the West to justify the demand for expanding military preparations is the so-called theory of "local wars.” It must be most strongly emphasized that this "theory” not only absolutely invalid from the military standpoint but is also extremely dangerous politically. In the past too, as we all know, global wars have been set off by "local" wars. Is it possible to count seriously on the possibility of "localizing" wars in our time when there exist military groupings opposing one another in the world and including dozens of states in various parts of the world, and when the range of modern types of weapons does not know any geographic limits?


One's attention is also attracted by reports regarding the existence of plans for combining in some form the military blocs created by the Western powers in various parts of the world—NATO, SEATO, and the Baghdad Pact. I cannot but say to you, Mr. President, that we evaluate the development of such plans as a trend directly opposed to the principles of a joint strengthening of international peace and security, in the name of which the U.N. was created with the active participation of our two countries. In fact, if even now the existence of so-called military blocs exerts a baneful influence on the entire international situation, then it is completely obvious that an attempt to bring states together, to include those of several continents program which in essence amounts to joint preparation for a new war, would mean undermining the U.N. and would inflict irreparable damage upon it.


We are of course aware that the plans for further intensification  of military preparations are represented as plans directed toward insuring the security of the Western powers and toward the strengthening of peace. However, the leaders of such countries as the United  States and the Soviet Union bear too great a responsibility not to attempt to approach the evaluation of this or that course of foreign policy without prejudice, objectively, and taking into consideration the facts as they actually exist, and historic experience. After all, does not the whole experience of the development of international relations during the past decade indicate that the thesis that peace and the security of nations can be insured by means of intensified armament and of "cold war" or through a "brink of war" policy has absolutely no basis?


The last ten years have been characterized by the policy of a position of strength" and "cold war" proclaimed by certain circles in the West.


During all these years the minds of men in the West have been poisoned by intensive propaganda, which, day after day, has implanted the thought of the inevitability of a new war and the necessity of intensified preparations for war. This propaganda for war, which contributed not a little toward aggravating the international situation and undermining confidence in the relations between states, is one of the chief elements of the policy of "a position of strength.


Today the entire world is witness to the fact that this policy has not produced any positive results, even for those powers which have for such a long time and so insistently been following it, and which have confronted mankind with the threat of a new war, the terrible consequences of which would exceed anything that can be pictured by the human imagination.


It is not by accident that the voices in the world which call for an end to propaganda for war, an end to the "cold war," an end to the unrestrained armaments race and an entry upon the path of peaceful coexistence of all states are becoming louder and louder. The idea of peaceful coexistence is becoming more and more an imperative demand of the historical moment through which we are passing.


It is well known that the most rabid champions of the "cold war” are trying to picture this demand as "Communist propaganda." We Communists do not of course deny that we stand wholeheartedly for a program of peaceful coexistence, for a program of peaceful and friendly cooperation among all countries, and we are proud of it. But are we the only ones with such a program? Are all those statesmen and public figures of India, Indonesia, Great Britain, France, and other countries who insistently and ardently call for the renunciation of the "policy of strength" for peaceful coexistence also Communists? And do not their voices express the attitude and the will of millions and millions of people?


It seems to us that at the present time the international situation has become such that the actions taken by states in the very near future, and primarily by the great powers, will to a considerable extent determine the answer to the main question which so deeply concerns all mankind, namely:


Will the movement in the direction of a war catastrophe continue, and with ever-increasing velocity, or will those who are responsible for the policy of states enter upon the only sensible path of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between all states?


After all, for this it is necessary only to cast a sober look at the present situation; to recognize in fact that every country has the right to choose its own form of government and its own economic system; to renounce any attempt to settle international questions by force; to renounce war once and for all as a means of solving international disputes; and to build relations between states on the basis of equality, respect for the independence of each state, and noninterference in the internal affairs of one another, on the basis of mutual benefit.


If one proceeds from the premise of insuring universal peace, it is necessary, in our opinion, to recognize quite definitely the situation that has developed in the world where capitalist and socialist states exist. None of us can fail to take into account the fact that any attempts to change this situation by external force, and to upset the status quo, or any attempts to impose any territorial changes, would lead to catastrophic consequences.


I am well aware, Mr. President, that in your statements you have repeatedly expressed the thought that no durable peace can be based on an armaments race and that you strongly desire peace and cooperation with other countries, including the Soviet Union. This was also stated in your conversation with N. S. Khrushchev and myself during the Geneva Conference of the Heads of Government of the Four Powers in the summer of 1955. Unfortunately, however, it must be said that in practice all the steps taken by the Soviet Government to improve relations with the United States have not up to now met with a positive response on the part of the Government of the United States of America.


Meanwhile, the present state of Soviet-American relations cannot give any satisfaction either to the Soviet people or, it seems to us, to the American people. The tense and even almost hostile character which these relations very often assume cannot be justified from a political, economic, or moral viewpoint. It is an inherently absurd situation when two gigantic countries which have at their disposal everything that is necessary for their economic development, which have repeatedly and successfully cooperated in the past, and which, we are convinced, even now have no irreconcilable conflicts of interest, have been as yet unable to normalize their mutual relations.


This problem is all the more significant because the fate of universal peace depends to a high — probably even decisive — degree on the state of mutual relations between our countries under present conditions. For this very reason, it is especially important that our two countries display initiative and take the step which peoples have already been awaiting for a long time, namely, breaking the ice of the "cold war."


For this the necessary prerequisites exist. I have no doubt that the American people do not want a new war any more than the Soviet people do. Our countries, in close cooperation, achieved victory in the struggle against Hitlerite aggression. Is it possible that now, when prevention of the universal calamity of a new war depends to such an enormous degree upon our countries, we should fail to find within ourselves the courage to face the facts clearly and be able to unite our efforts in the interests of peace?


A consciousness of the gravity of the present situation and a deep concern for the preservation of peace prompts us to address to you, Mr. President, an appeal to undertake joint efforts to put an end to the "cold war," to terminate the armaments race, and to enter resolutely upon the path of peaceful coexistence.


Allow me to set forth what exactly, in our opinion, might be done in this respect.


We regret that, because of the position taken by the Western powers, the disarmament negotiations did not bring about successful results. The Soviet Union is, as before, prepared to come to an agreement concerning effective disarmament measures. It depends on the Western powers whether the disarmament negotiations will be directed into the proper channel or whether this problem will remain in a deadlock.


We must recognize that the achievement of an agreement on disarmament is hindered by the fact that the sides which take part in the negotiations lack the necessary confidence in each other. Is it possible to do something to create such confidence? Of course it is possible.


We propose the following things. Let us jointly, with the Government of Great Britain, undertake for the present only an obligation not to use nuclear weapons, and let us announce the cessation, as of January 1, 1958, of test explosions of all types of such weapons, at the beginning at least for two or three years.


Let us jointly, with the Government of Great Britain, agree to refrain from stationing any kind of nuclear weapons whatsoever within the territory of Germany — West Germany as well as East Germany. If this agreement is supplemented by an agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic on renunciation of the production of nuclear weapons and on the non-stationing of such weapons in Germany, then, as has already been officially declared by the Governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia, these states likewise will not produce or station nuclear weapons in their territories. Thus would be formed in Central Europe a vast zone with a population of over one hundred million people excluded from the sphere of atomic armaments — a zone where the risk of atomic war-fare would be reduced to a minimum. Let us develop and submit to the member states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact for consideration a joint proposal for the conclusion of some form of nonaggression agreement between these two groupings of states.


In order to normalize the situation in the Near and Middle East, let us agree not to undertake any steps that violate the independence of the countries of this area, and let us renounce the use of force in the settlement of questions relating to the Near and Middle East.


Let us conclude an agreement that would proclaim the firm intention of our two states to develop between them relations of friendship and peaceful cooperation. It is time to take measures to halt the present propaganda in the press and on the radio which generates feelings of mutual distrust, suspicion, and ill will.


It is also necessary to reestablish the conditions for a normal development of trade relations between our countries, since mutually advantageous trade is the best foundation for the development of relations between states and the establishment of confidence between them.


Let us do everything possible to broaden scientific, cultural, and athletic ties between our two countries. One can imagine what fruitful results might follow, for example, from the cooperation between Soviet and American scientists in the matter of further harnessing the elemental powers of nature in the interest of man.


There is no doubt whatsoever that the implementation of the abovementioned measures, which would in no way harm either the security or the other interests of any state, would be of enormous significance to the promotion of a wholesome atmosphere in the entire international situation and to the creation of a climate of trust between states, without which ono cannot even speak of insuring a lasting peace among peoples.


The creation of the necessary trust in relations between states would then make possible to proceed with the implementation of such radical measures as a substantial reduction in armed forces and armaments, the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons, the cessation of their production and the destruction of stockpiles, the withdrawal of foreign armed forces from the territories of all states, including the member states of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact, and replacement of the existing military groupings of states with a collective security system.


The critical period in the development of international relations in which we are now living makes it necessary, perhaps as never before, to adopt realistic decisions that would be m accord with the vital interests and the will of peoples. The experience of the past tells us how much can be done for the benefit of peoples by statesmen who correctly understand the demands of the historic moment and act in accordance with those demands.


Knowing you, Mr. President, as a man of great breadth of vision and peace-loving convictions, I hope that you will correctly understand this message and, conscious of the responsibility which rests with the leaders of the United States of America and the Soviet Union in the present situation, will manifest a readiness to combine the efforts of our two countries for the noble purpose of turning the course of events in the direction of a durable peace and friendly cooperation among nations.


Attaching great importance to personal contacts between statesmen, which facilitate finding a common point of view on important international problems, we, for our part, would be prepared to come to an agreement on a personal meeting of state leaders to discuss both the problems mentioned in this letter and other problems, the participants in the meeting could agree upon these other subjects that might need to be discussed.




N. Bulganin


Bulganin proposes a halt on nuclear tests among the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom beginning on January 1, 1958.

Related Documents

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The Department of State Bulletin vol. 38, no. 970 (January 27, 1958): 127-130.


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