Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee 67a

top secret

Guidance as to the Military Implications of a United Nations Commission on Atomic Energy

Report by the Joint Strategic Survey Committee in Collaboration With the Joint Staff Planners After Consultation With the Commanding General, Manhattan District68

the problem

1. To develop conclusions as to the military implications of the creation of a United Nations Commission on Atomic Energy.

2. To provide guidance to the representatives of the United States Chiefs of Staff on the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations as to the military advice to be given the United States representative on the Commission on Atomic Energy.

3. J.C.S. 1567/2569 was considered by the Joint Strategic Survey Committee and the Joint Staff Planners in connection with this study.

facts bearing on the problem and discussion

4. See Appendix “A” (page 131).

[Page 739]


5. It is recommended that the Joint Chiefs of Staff agree that:

Rapid resolution by the Congress of the United States as to the governmental machinery for handling matters connected with atomic energy and the security thereof is desirable in the interest of sound action in the international field.
The production of atomic energy for industrial and scientific use by any nation will place that nation within a short step of the immediate capability of production of the atom bomb. Information essential to such use of atomic energy must be therefore regarded as in the same category as the “know how” of the atomic bomb itself.
No realistic system of inspection and control is as yet apparent which will ensure against the production of atomic bombs for military use in a nation which possesses such capability. However, in view of the certain alternative that failure of international regulation and control will result in an atomic armament race, every effort must continue to be made to develop and establish such a system.
Atomic weapons can be most effectively used against highly developed nations having centralized industries. The United States is such a nation. Consequently it is to the interest of the United States to assume active leadership in establishing international means to control atomic weapons. So long as the United States is the sole nation actually having atomic bombs and is furthest advanced in the field of atomic energy, it holds a preeminent position for the exercise of such leadership. This preeminence will wane with the passage of time. Therefore, all possible action should be taken under United States leadership before other nations develop their own atomic weapons.
The United States is committed to the establishment of a Commission on Atomic Energy under the United Nations in accordance with and for the purposes defined in the declaration on atomic energy of 15 November 1945, issued by President Truman and Prime Ministers Attlee and King and in the communique of 27 December 1945 from Moscow following the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom.
The work of the Commission is of vital interest to the United States from the standpoint of its national security.

6. It is not possible to state categorically in specific and comprehensive terms the military implications of the creation of a United Nations Commission on Atomic Energy, and the consequent opening of this matter to consideration and action by that Commission. While it is not possible to furnish a firm and complete list of objectives to be sought by the U.S. representative, it is apparent that any revelation of atomic information now held alone by the United States accelerates the rate at which other nations reach equality in respect to atomic weapons. The degree of agreed safeguards must thus be the criterion of the amount of information disclosed.

7. Much reliance will have to be placed on step by step analysis of [Page 740] problems as they arise in committee. The representatives of the United States Chiefs of Staff on the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations should be given a position advisory to the United States Representative on the Commission. Furthermore, there should be available, both as an assistant to the United States Member on the Commission and as one of the United States Military Staff Committee organization, an individual cognizant of matters of atomic energy and with a broad military background.

8. As a statement of implicit limitations on the functions of the Committee, the Representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the Military Staff Committee should be guided by the following principles:

It is essential that any action contemplated in the Commission be not prejudicial to the security of the United States.
Progress should not be hurried. Painstaking examination and thorough coordination of each step within the United States Government are required.
A satisfactory solution from the United States’ point of view of the problem of effective controls and safeguards must be arrived at before any disclosure or exchange of specialized technological information is agreed.
Normal reciprocal peacetime interchange of basic scientific information and the restricted interchange of scientists and students is acceptable only under the limitations imposed in paragraph 17 of Appendix “A” and in subparagraphs a and b above.
Exchange of information on raw materials should not be undertaken at the present.

9. A copy of this paper be transmitted to the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee for consideration in formulating the State Department’s instructions to the United States Delegation to the United Nations Organization.

10. This paper be transmitted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to their representatives on the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations for their interim information with the caution that it is a highly classified document and should be discussed only with United States personnel authorized to deal with matters concerning atomic energy.

Appendix “A”

facts bearing on the problem and discussion

On 15 August 1945, the President issued the following memorandum … to the Secretaries of State, War and the Navy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development: [Page 741]

“Appropriate departments of the Government and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are hereby directed to take such steps as are necessary to prevent the release of any information in regard to the development, design or production of the atomic bomb; or in regard to its employment in military or naval warfare, except with the specific approval of the President in each instance.”

On 30 August 1945, the President modified his memorandum of 15 August 1945, … to permit:
  • a. Identification of individuals and organizations now or formerly associated with the project together with disclosure of the general nature of their project activities, subject to rules already laid down by the War Department. These rules prohibit the release of any information of value to any foreign government which that government could not easily obtain without recourse to espionage.
  • b. Release by the War Department of information of general interest which in the opinion of the Department will not jeopardize national security.”
The question as to how matters related to atomic energy will be controlled within the United States has not yet been settled. There are several bills before Congress now under consideration by the Special Committee on Atomic Energy of the U.S. Senate. It appears probable that a commission on the Cabinet level will be established to oversee all matters related to atomic energy and that the legislation establishing this commission will impose definite security regulations and some measure of Congressional control upon the commission.
On 15 November 1945, the President of the United States and the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Canada jointly issued a declaration on atomic energy which suggested the establishment of a Commission on Atomic Energy under the United Nations. The full text of this declaration is attached as Appendix “B” (page 144).70
On 27 December 1945, the Foreign Ministers of the United States, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the United Kingdom jointly issued a communiqué outlining the agreements reached by them at their meeting in Moscow. In Section VII of this communiqué, the Foreign Ministers agreed to recommend to the General Assembly of the United Nations at its first session, that a commission be established to consider problems arising from the discovery of atomic energy and related matters. The full text of Section VII of the communiqué is attached as Appendix “C” (page 148).71
The above mentioned declaration and communiqué established [Page 742] as major missions of the proposed commission the preparation of recommendations for control of atomic energy to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes; for the elimination of atomic weapons and all other major weapons of mass destruction; and the provision of adequate safeguards against use of atomic weapons. Atomic weapons as presently known consist primarily of the atomic bomb. Radioactive by-products of the manufacture of atomic bombs also have a potential military use. “Other weapons of mass destruction” such as gas and biological warfare are not discussed herein since it is considered that their elimination is a somewhat separate problem.
The precise military characteristics and effects of atomic weapons have not as yet been fully developed, but the following general points may be assumed as factual:
The explosive effect of the present atomic bomb is roughly equal to that of 20,000 tons of TNT. As the development of the new weapon progresses, it is reasonable to expect that its effectiveness will increase.
The explosion of the bomb is accompanied by heat of solar proportions and the creation of radio-active material which, if the bomb explodes on or very near the surface of the ground or water, impregnates a limited area of that surface to such an extent that lethal effects may for sometime result to humans moving through the area affected.
The bomb is presently best transported by aircraft but could in anticipation of its future use be transported piecemeal to the target in secret, assembled on the spot, and exploded by remote control. In the future, it might be delivered by rockets and guided missiles, launched alone or from subsidiary airborne, surface or sub-surface carriers.
There are no defensive measures now envisaged which will guarantee protection of vital points from atomic weapon attack.
The elements presently utilizable for manufacture of the bomb are uranium and possibly thorium. All major powers have access in some degree to the necessary raw materials, but control of areas of rich deposits and assured communications thereto will assume increasing strategic importance.
Radio-active materials can be produced as a by-product to either production of atomic bombs or power in an atomic energy plant. Consideration has been given to the utilization of such radio-active materials to force the evacuation of vital points or to deny sizeable areas of terrain to any enemy armed force. Present indications are that such use would not be of extreme military importance because of difficulties attendant to their proper utilization and to the fact that they probably are no more effective than existing known gases under many conditions. Moreover, such utilization of radio-active materials probably would be considered to be in the same category as gas warfare and therefore barred by existing agreements.
The “secret” of the atomic bomb is not so much a scientific secret as it is one of scientific, industrial and engineering “know how” and [Page 743] particularly “top notch” American management and the ability to produce in quantity the intricate instruments, equipment and machinery required.
The manufacture of fissionable elements for use in atomic explosives is a gigantic undertaking. Any great power, starting from scratch with presently available information and determined to produce atomic explosives, can be expected to do so within five to seven years, if it received assistance in the procurement and use of specialized equipment and machinery from nations best able to produce them, and within fifteen to twenty years without such outside assistance.
Atomic weapons increase the incentive to aggression by enhancing the advantage of surprise. They can most easily be used in such fashion by authoritarian or totalitarian nations. They would be most effective against highly developed nations where industries are centralized, the national mode of life would not easily accept the cost and disruption of decentralization, and where complete military preparedness is difficult to maintain. The United States falls in this latter category of nations, and, consequently, it is highly to its advantage to take the lead in establishing means to control atomic weapons. To this end, it is most desirable that the proposed commission on a Cabinet level, mentioned in paragraph 3 on page 131, be established at an early date so that international negotiations may be adequately directed.
Enemy states in possession of atomic weapons can deliver destructive force thousands of times more effective than previously possible. A nation attacked with such weapons must be highly courageous and disciplined to withstand the mass killings that would result, and still be able to continue to fight. Its most effective use would be against cities and industrial concentrations, and a relatively few bombs successfully delivered could kill millions of people and destroy a large percentage of the total critical industrial capacity. The implications of atomic warfare, so long as no effective international safeguards exist, emphasize the necessity for the United States to maintain:
Forward bases from which aircraft could intercept attacks against the United States and in counter-attacks could deliver bombs against possible enemies.
Balanced armed forces, including highly perfected air forces, in a state of readiness, capable of: holding these bases; maintaining sea and air communications to them; retaining control of the land, air and sea spaces around the United States; providing instantaneous defense against air attack or sea forays against the United States; delivering offensive action by a striking force to the limit feasible.
Additional forces capable of very rapid mobilization to provide full defensive organization against atomic weapon attack and to provide further augmentation to offensive or holding forces in the field.
Adequate plans for complete mobilization of the country, including the civilian population, in order to carry on production in the face of great destruction, to prevent sabotage and secret delivery of atomic weapons, and to avoid hysteria and panic.
Future peacetime uses of atomic energy are considered possible, but the threat of military use will overshadow them until a system of effective world-wide control of military use is established. Highly important in this connection is the fact that materials used in atomic-energy plants as presently envisaged could rapidly and comparatively easily be converted into bombs. Furthermore, atomic-energy plants could produce fissionable materials as a by-product of producing controlled energy. Any system of inspection for the purpose of controlling war-like use of atomic energy will be greatly complicated should industrial use be authorized and in practice. Therefore, international disclosure of technological information even for peaceful use should be withheld until effective inspections, controls and safeguards against military use are established.
Effective international control to guarantee that atomic weapons could not be used by an aggressor nation is virtually impossible under the present concept of a world divided into nations maintaining their full sovereignty. No system of inspection can be expected to be one hundred per cent effective in such a world, and ninety-nine percent effectiveness is no guarantee. The best possible system of inspection is a necessary adjunct to any effort at control but effective sanctions, should inspection uncover violations, are equally vital. Since such sanctions probably cannot be applied by the United Nations, at present, because of the veto provision, immediate consultation and agreement of nations other than the offending state will be necessary. Obviously the United Nations system will then have broken down as such. The final solution, as yet apparently unattainable, is the creation of a world state in which all nations surrender sufficient of their sovereignty to assure the rule of law and the prevention, if not of war itself, of illicit means of waging war.
The prospective negotiation of atomic energy matters by representatives of the United States must be done with the nicest balance between the requirements for international cooperation on the one hand and an enlightened understanding of the demands of national interest and national security on the other. In this regard, the probable intent of Congress to hold close control over atomic energy matters must be kept in mind. The United States is in fact the sole power which holds the necessary scientific knowledge and has existing manufacturing plants which permit the production of atomic weapons. The United States thus holds a position of pre-eminence in the field and by virtue of this position and the part played in developing the [Page 745] weapon has a great responsibility to the world to maintain enlightened leadership in formulating: the international controls and safeguards required.
The declaration by President Truman and Prime Ministers Attlee and King, issued on 15 November 1945 (Appendix “B”) states that they are of the opinion that a commission under the United Nations should be established to prepare recommendations on how to attain the most effective means for entirely eliminating the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes and promoting its widest use for industrial and humanitarian purposes. The commission should, according to the declaration, make specific recommendations:
  • “(a) For extending between all nations the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends.
  • “(b) For control of atomic energy to the extent necessary to insure its use only for peaceful purposes.
  • “(c) For the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.
  • “(d) For effective safeguards by way of inspection and other means to protect complying states against the hazards of violations and evasions.”
The declaration goes on to say that the work of the commission should proceed by separate stages, the successful completion of each one of which will develop the necessary confidence of the world before the next stage is undertaken. Work by separate stages is interpreted to mean that affirmative action along any fruitful lines is permissible so long as effective safeguards are in force before information contributing to the production of atomic weapons is revealed.
The communiqué from Moscow (Appendix “C”) repeats almost verbatim the above missions for the commission and, in addition, clarifies its composition and competence and proposes to place it, for matters affecting international peace, under the Security Council of the United Nations. Neither in the declaration nor in the communiqué is it clearly stated in which order the separate stages shall be considered, except perhaps by implication.
The matter of the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends as a possible first step, has raised considerable controversy, particularly if it is envisaged to mean completely free exchange visits of scientists. As stated above, the “secret” of the atomic bomb is less a matter of restricting the dissemination of knowledge related to nuclear physics than it is in retaining information as to the application of this knowledge to the mass production of essential ingredients and their assembly in the bomb. Pure science is international in times of peace and complete control of atomic research is virtually impossible. The interchange of scientific information and advances in scientific [Page 746] thought existed before World War II through the medium of technical journals and through conventions of scientists and their normal travel and study. Any restriction on such an interchange would meet great resistance and might slow down appreciably advance in peaceful fields. However, the interests of national and world security are jeopardized when scientists holding either the theoretical or the practical knowledge of production are given authority to exchange this knowledge with others who may, through lack of effective controls and safeguards, be free to apply the knowledge gained towards selfish individual or national aims not in consonance with the world effort to abolish all use of atomic weapons. In paragraphs 5 and 6 of Appendix “B” this problem is discussed and the answer there suggested appears sound, i.e., that detailed information concerning the practical application of atomic energy can be shared only so soon as effective, enforceable safeguards against its use for destructive purposes can be devised. Therefore, no interchange of information other than basic theory and no interchange of numbers of scientists holding detailed information regarding production and application of fissionable materials should be permitted until definite progress has been made in the field of safeguards and controls.
As for the control of atomic energy to the extent necessary to insure its use only for peaceful purposes, this is inevitably only a phase of the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and the provision of adequate safeguards to protect complying states from the hazards of violation. As stated above, the materials used for the peaceful industrial applications of atomic energy are precisely those which are used in atomic weapons, and the problem of their production is more difficult than their final adaptation to form the bomb. Once produced, they can be relatively rapidly, easily, and secretly diverted from peaceful use and made into atomic weapons. Even the most extensive and effective inspectional machinery might find it impossible to detect on all occasions such a diversion, particularly if it were done bit by bit over an extended period of time. The surest guarantee against such action could only come from the basic conviction by all individuals and all nations concerned that atomic energy should not be used in weapons. This conviction must be recognized as impossible of attainment, certainly, at any rate, under the present world order.
Inspection can be relatively effective only if the inspecting teams are fully cognizant of the processes for manufacturing and applying atomic energy to warlike use. No great power is likely to trust the reports of inspectors of other nationalities. Furthermore, to admit inspectors of alien allegiance into U.S. industrial installations, let [Page 747] alone into U.S. plants producing fissionable materials, would be to violate all present day concepts of patent rights and the rights to secret commercial processes. To apply the concept of completely free inspection in all other nations of the world would be equally revolutionary and equally unlikely to be accepted. Therefore, to establish an even partially effective inspection system will be an unprecedented and most difficult task. One variation of the inspectional scheme envisages dependence on national inspection forces, each inspecting within its own country and being inspected in turn by an international inspection force. This is comparable to the present international system of controlling narcotic drugs and has, in that field, been relatively successful. However, it is a well-known fact that quantities of narcotic drugs are still sold in all parts of the world to those willing to pay the price demanded. Therefore, in view of the potentialities of the atomic energy, it is believed that such a system of control would be entirely unacceptable.
The provision of rapid and effective counter-action, including war, against any nation using or taking steps to use atomic weapons might be easier to attain. Under this concept the violation of the atomic agreement by any nations would be considered by all others as a prima facie act of war and all possible effective action against the aggressor would be enforced. The application of such measures would, it is true, be an admission of failure and would most probably mean the plunging of the world into atomic warfare. Nevertheless, such a system seems vital. The danger of any one nation electing to use atomic weapons should be measurably lessened if it were realized that all others capable of using atomic weapons or any other means of force would effectively apply these means against the aggressor. This is an extension of the present basis for the enforcement of world peace as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, with one notable difference, i.e., no offending nation, whether it be one of the five permanent members of the Security Council or not, would be free from the threat of the use of force by all others. The whole concept of effective action against a great power intent on violating its agreement is a highly theoretical and controversial matter which can only be resolved, nationally and internationally, after much discussion and negotiation.
The United States already has available atomic weapons in some quantity, has used them, and is making more of them. Consequently, it would be logically difficult to forbid other powers from developing and making ready atomic weapons unless the United States ceases production and destroys all its bombs or unless all other nations agreed to make the United States the trustee of the weapons; [Page 748] agreed further that no others should manufacture them and that if any attempted to do so, it would be proper that U.S. atomic bombs, in conjunction with the forces of the balance of the United Nations, should be used to destroy the unauthorized manufacturing plants. The United States should not destroy its bombs, and as to the second alternative, it seems unlikely that other major powers, as for instance the USSR, would agree. However, appointment of the United States as a trustee of the bomb might profitably be explored, since, if universally accepted, it would provide an interim means for enforcing the safe development of atomic energy.
Whether or not such an interim step be feasible or even desirable, the important situation to plan upon is the ultimate one where some or all nations are using atomic energy for peaceful purposes. This implies that they have then readily available the basic materials for conversion to atomic weapons. Under this hypothesis and by that time the necessity for agreement on effective action to be taken against a violator is apparent, and the United States should take the lead in establishing provision for such action. It is not to be envisaged that the United States would ever use the atomic bomb except against an aggressor state. Therefore, the national interest of the United States would coincide with that of other non-offender nations and the threat of the use of the atomic bomb would be a great deterrent to any aggressor which might be considering embarking on an atomic war. A pool of atomic weapons under the Security Council, with provisions prohibiting the existence of any other atomic weapons, has been proposed. Were it not for the veto power this procedure might be of value, but, with the failure of the Security Council to operate, no legal means of using this pool against a major aggressor appears available. Again, the location and trusteeship of the pool present difficulties. The Council has no inviolate territory of its own; agreement as to custodianship of all weapons by any one nation seems impracticable to achieve. Division of them among several, or many, nations will be dimply furnishing those trustee nations with ready-made surprise weapons. The realistic working out of a scheme whereby such a pool could be established is therefore exceedingly difficult since the location of the pool, the means of using the pool, and its protection against capture by an unscrupulous power are matters hard to resolve.
A system of inspection should not be considered as a completely reliable solution to the problems raised by the development of atomic energy. Correlative with the establishment of such a system, the United States should support, realistically and vigorously, development of education throughout the world, to push towards the establishment of the regime of world law and order wherein lies the only hope for a [Page 749] more permanent removal of the dangers inherent in atomic weapons.
The great complexity of the problems discussed above leads to the conclusion that progress can be expected to be slow. The United Nations in the first days of the existence of their organization will be hard put to solve the problems involved. Close integration of action proposed by the United States representatives on the Atomic Commission with the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee, appropriate Congressional leaders, and finally with the President, is essential.
  1. Reproduced in SWNCC 253, January 24, 1946.
  2. The Joint Strategic Survey Committee, a wartime inter-service body established on November 7, 1942, made recommendations to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on global and theatre policy. The JSSC continued to concern itself with national policy and world strategy in 1946. It frequently drafted JCS positions on matters pending before the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee; its members sat on SWNCC’s Ad Hoc Committee on United Nations Security Functions. With respect to SWNCC and its Ad Hoc Committee, see footnote 73, p. 754. The Joint Staff Planners was similarly an inter-service group created in 1942 which continued to advise the JCS on strategic matters. Manhattan District was the wartime code name for the atomic bomb development program commanded by Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves; the designation continued to be employed after the nature of the project became public knowledge.
  3. Not printed.
  4. For text, see Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 1504, or 60 Stat. (pt. 2) 1479.
  5. For the full text of the Communiqué, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ii, p. 815; for Section VII, see ibid., p. 822.