S/AE Files

Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (Bush) to the Secretary of State

Subject: Coming conference with Mr. Attlee.

Two points will come up: The Quebec Agreement, and the approach to Russia on the future of atomic energy.

For a thoroughly sound approach to this conference it seems to me essential that the President, as soon as he decides on the general policy and objectives, should constitute a small group to prepare for the conversations in very definite manner. This should not be the Interim Committee,22 as the President will probably wish new membership, specifically from the Senate. The Interim Committee should hence be dissolved. The new group should continue after the conference. I feel it is utterly essential, if this administration is to present a consistent and united point of view to the public, that there should be no statements on atomic energy from the administration until after they have been reviewed by this group. In particular I feel the Attlee conference should be promptly followed by a careful statement to the public, and that the group should prepare it for the President’s approval. The Secretary of State should of course head the group.

Quebec Agreement

The Quebec Agreement is an agreement between Roosevelt and Churchill having three parts:

The first has to do with interchange on atomic energy. This has automatically ceased to be operative, since it was based on the principle that we would give the British such information as would aid in winning the way, and no more. This was what was done, and they have not been given much of our manufacturing information.

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The second part had to do with joint acquisition and allocation of materials. This occurs under the Combined Policy Committee, and the Combined Development Trust. The matter may be on a somewhat insecure foundation. Continued arrangements along these lines are certainly necessary.

The third part contains several political clauses. The one about commercial use may embarrass the British. The ones that require British approval on some of our actions might conceivably be considered to embarrass us.

It appears that this somewhat informal agreement should now be superseded by a permanent one, drawn in consultation with the Senate on this side. This should be written with the intention of making it public, and having it fit in appropriately with any more general agreements that may be made, through UNO or otherwise.

It seems to me, therefore, that the coming conference should result in an understanding that the whole affair will be renegotiated to put it in permanent form, and in an exploration of the form and content desired by each party, basing this on the assumption that the Quebec Agreement was intended for the war period only.

Personally I would supersede the agreement by a simple one with the British providing merely for sharing of materials, leaving political clauses and the dissemination of information to be worked out on a more general international basis.

The Approach to Russia

This is the great question before the conference. Russia should be approached before the whole subject comes up in the United Nations Organization.

The objectives are clear. We wish to proceed down the road of international collaboration and understanding, to avoid a secret arms race, and above all to avoid a future war, in which atomic bombs would devastate our cities as well as those of our enemy.

The difficulty is also very clear. It resides in the fact that Russia is naturally secretive and suspicious, and very intent on its own immediate interests. We must make agreements with Russia which Russia will keep.

The solution, if there is one, is to make the agreements in such manner that it will be in Russia’s interest to keep them. This involves proceeding on a basis of “partial payments”, and step by step, in such manner that Russia will be faced with the alternatives. Either she will genuinely conform, or her failure to do so will become fully known, and public opinion all over the world will become arrayed against her.

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We want no future war. If we cannot avoid one, we at least wish to be in our full strength and to have the rest of the world with us. We also want to have atomic bombs and to be in a clear position to use them promptly, if there is any chance that our enemy has them. Hence our program toward international understanding should involve no premature “outlawing of the bomb”, which is a dangerous phrase. It should be realistic at every step.

With these points in mind I advocate an approach along the following lines. The Russians should be apprised at the outset that we propose to go the whole distance, but the steps should be taken in sequence, and the success of one should be essential to the initiation of the next. Needless to say we should ourselves conform genuinely at all times, and be tolerant of minor irritations or departures. We hope genuinely to open up Russia, and it will take time.

(1) Step One should be a simple one.

We should approach Russia with the suggestion that she join Britain and the United States in suggesting the establishment under the UNO as a creation of the Assembly of a scientific body charged with the full dissemination of fundamental information on science in all fields including that of atomic fission.

As a prerequisite it should be fully understood in advance that every country will (1) invite visits of foreign scientists freely to its laboratories where basic research is carried on, as may be arranged between the scientists themselves, and with no artificial impediments applying to foreigners that do not apply to its own nationals, (2) allow its own scientists to travel freely for such purposes, (3) further the exchange of students for the same purpose, (4) encourage its scientists, engaged in fundamental research, to publish freely, and further full publication and the complete dissemination of the results.

The primary objective of this step is to start Russia down the path of collaboration with us. It will require no policing. The scientists themselves will soon know whether Russia is really opening up her laboratories on fundamental work or not.

This step probably costs us nothing. Russia can readily find out most of what we do in fundamental science anyway, and the chances are certainly that we will publish freely in any case, no matter what Russia does. Moreover, while our free publication, in the absence of agreement, might help Russia’s progress on atomic energy some, it would be very likely to help our own progress more.

It will give us a chance to find out whether Russia really wants to proceed with us. There is little incentive for her to join us genuinely on this step unless she does.

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(2) Step Two.

This step should include under the provisions above the practical aspects of atomic energy, centered about its application to industrial uses.

The quid pro quo should be the establishment of an internationally constituted inspection system, organized under the UNO, with technical men from various countries. No control is involved, but the Commission of Inspection should have the right, without impediment, to visit any laboratory or plant in any country where atomic fission is being carried out, to the extent necessary to determine the magnitude of the operations, the disposition of the product, etc.

In this matter we alone at the present time have extensive operations. We do not wish to open this whole affair up until we are assured that the inspection system is really going to work. Hence we should approach the matter gradually, and should state our intention to do so at the outset. There should hence be a deliberately restricted scope of the Inspection Commission’s function at the outset, with the provision that further disclosures shall be in accordance with a definite schedule prepared in advance, stating dates and categories, each extension, however, being subject to certification by the Assembly of the UNO that the inspection system is operating satisfactorily. It would be hoped that the scope might ultimately become extended to the point where secret preparations for war would be sufficiently difficult to avoid a secret arms race, on atomic bombs or anything else.

The first definition might include merely the materials, that is the mining and processing of ores of uranium and thorium, and all international and internal movements of these.

This might soon be extended to include the extent and capacity of plants for concentration and separation of products capable of sustaining chain reactions.

All of this the Russians now know, or can readily determine. The next step should include work being done on commercial applications directly. Note that we would require a strong law on internal controls before taking this step. It assumes that secret commercial development, and private patents, would have little meaning in this field, but this is a small price to pay. I believe we should indicate at the outset that we plan to go at least this far, if Russia really collaborates.

The Commission should publish summaries from time to time showing the exact extent to which activity is being carried on everywhere. If it is blocked in getting data, or in assuring itself adequately that this is complete and reliable, it should place its situation before UNO and hence before the world.

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(3) Step Three.

This step can only be taken after the second has been worked, and its scope has been greatly extended.

There should then be proposed that all nations agree that they will hold materials capable of atomic fission, beyond a stated amount necessary for processing operations, only when it is in use in producing power for commercial purposes.

This would be subject to the inspection system, by then presumably mature and operative.

We would thereupon be called upon to distribute our stock of atomic bombs into power plants, and to make no more, except as the material could be thus further distributed. Admittedly we do not now know how to build such plants, but presumably we will by the time we are ready for this third step. There would need to be allowed a period of years to accomplish the full distribution, after the arrangement went into effect.

Fission materials thus distributed could of course be recalled and made into bombs. The point is that this would take time, and would be a fairly obvious procedure if it resulted in shutting down large power plants. If the distribution were known to be effective, therefore, the threat of surprise atomic bomb attack by one nation on another would be largely removed. This threat, hanging over the world, would be appalling. Certainly we do not wish to be in a position to make such an attack, if we are sure no one else is. We would make the move indicated in this third step only if we were convinced that the inspection system was actually effective. Certainly our statement at this time that we plan this third step would remove a great deal of fear from the world, and fear is a breeder of wars. Incidentally there would be a benefit to humanity by having power plants instead of stores of bombs.

Many years would be necessary to carry out all three steps above. The important point now is to make it clear to the world that this is the way in which we would like to proceed.

Certainly, if these steps were taken, not outlawing the bomb, but in the direction of removing its worst threat in a practical manner, it should be possible to proceed from there toward further effective understanding and controls, on other weapons, and finally on war itself. This is the path that can finally lead to a climate of opinion in which a United Nations Organization fully implemented to regulate international relations of all sorts, and prevent war, can be brought to pass.

  1. Concerning the establishment of the Interim Committee, see The New World, 1939/1946, p. 345.