Button factories and international negotiations

I have long heard that Khrushchev once commented how ridiculous export controls were, saying that anything could be a militarily significant technology, even trouser buttons.  “How do you expect a military to fight if they can’t hold their trousers up?” is along the lines of what he is reported to have said.  No one seems to have the original statement however, which makes it dubious to use in academic writing.  While searching, however, I found this gem that I will be including somewhere.

Mr. Vishinsky, in a speech to the 1954 General Assembly, rejected the United States proposals for inspectors with broad powers.    He said:

“During the last World War, even button factories-at least in my country-began to make weapons to fight Germans, and they did so successfully. Do you suggest that with a view to the reduction of armed forces and armaments we have to supervise every factory making buttons for ladies’ suits and men’s trousers?” 1

Ambassador Wadsworth replied:

“Mr. Vishinsky pointed out yesterday that during the war certain button factories in the Soviet Union manufactured munitions. This, I can assure him, is quite parallel to the history of U. S. industry during the war-and indeed that of most of the countries in the war.    The international control commission must therefore, in our view, have the right to inspect button factories in order to determine whether or not they are manufacturing munitions.    That is precisely what the Soviet Union representative denied to us during the London talk. . . . If . . . we correctly interpret Mr. Vishinsky’s statement yesterday, any country can frustrate the international inspection simply by posting on a munitions factory a sign reading: ‘Keep out. This factory is making buttons.'”2

Taken from: Bechhoefer, B.G., 1958. Weapons Control. American Society of International Law Proceedings, 52, p. 236-7.


1 General Assembly, 9th Sess., 1st Committee, Official Records, p. 29, par. 98 (Oct. 11, 1954).

2 Ibid., p. 34, par. 37 (Oct. 12, 1954).