501.BC Atomic/10–2446

Mr. Fred Searls, Jr., of the United States Delegation to the Atomic Energy Commission, to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: You will have heard from Mr. Baruch, who has also reported to the President, the status of negotiations within [Page 964]the Atomic Energy Commission and the high lights of efforts that have been made during your absence. No doubt, you have already formed some opinion as to the degree of success likely to attend further attempts at a unanimous agreement to a treaty, or recommendations to the Security Council.

It is assumed very generally indeed, not only by Mr. Wallace and the Communist-scientist group, but by almost everyone else who has spoken or written on “The Atomic Bomb,” that failure to reach an agreement by the Atomic Energy Commission or some other creature of the United Nations, means acceleration of an atomic armament race, which most—but not all—of the writers and speakers believe will lead to war. Laurence of California,1 who is one of the realists, suggests that if the Russians do not soon agree, we should increase production of fissionable material, speed up the program for bases and B–36 planes, and in effect give notice that we are the future police force of the Security Council.

However, my efforts in trying to assist Mr. Baruch have been chiefly in the field of “raw materials” and the contacts I have had with the Russians, particularly with Alexandrov,2 and with the Manhattan District activities, convince me that there is perhaps another, less openly belligerent route that we can follow—indeed are following—which, if handled with great wisdom and not made subject to interference by radicals, can accomplish years of delay in competitive atomic weapon production, even if the Atomic Energy Commission fails of agreement.

This procedure of growing importance lies in the field of continuation and stimulation of preclusive and cooperative contracting in the field of raw materials, particularly, of course, of the ores of uranium and thorium but also of some other metals.

I know that, as a member of the Combined Policy Committee,3 you are familiar with the May 13th and previous agreements and, generally speaking, with the activities of the Combined Development Trust.4

These activities have been of great importance but, if the Atomic Energy Commission fails, it appears to me that they may become of surpassing importance. It is, therefore, of the very greatest interest that they shall remain in the most competent hands.

The attitude, questions, desires, and general behavior of the Russians, of which I can give you details, support intelligence reports of declarations by Alexandrov at Bikini of the lack by them of workable high-grade deposits, and references to their consequent feverish activity in development of processes for treatment of their abundant very [Page 965]low-grade ore. It now seems to me that it may well be ten years before they can become possessed of an adequate supply, if we can prevent their obtaining it from other countries. Ten years may well mean everything in relations with the Russians since, surely, it is only a question of time before internal opinions will force a change in their government’s behavior to its own people and to foreign nations.

What I am afraid of is that this most delicate and important series of negotiations will fall into the wrong hands. So far, I think it has been very well done; but if the Atomic Energy Commission fails, it will need to be expanded wisely and promptly, particularly in the thorium field, and particularly in Asia and the East Indies. It is for this reason that I asked Donald Russell5 to send Bain of the Manhattan District with the delegation to the London Tin Conference.

It will be a tragedy if, just at the time this activity needs the greatest care and wise expansion, it becomes a bureaucratic prize, or subject to change of policy and public criticism or even knowledge because of ideological theories. This can easily happen, and probably will happen, if wrong appointments are made to the commission created by the McMahon Bill. As you doubtless know, the transfers agreed to by the Combined Policy Committee by the compromise agreement of May 13th have been held up until the new commission is appointed and acts. It is certain, even required, that the new commission will have “cognizance” (in the naval sense of the word) of all of the Combined Trust’s activities, even in dealing with foreign countries.

Nothing has been made quite so clear in the discussions of the Atomic Energy Commission as that no nation is willing to surrender actual ownership of deposits of these ores. With the possible exception of the United States, it is, I believe, indisputable now that all nations will vigorously resist any attempt to have an international agency actually take over ownership and operation of such deposits. One by one, the delegations of Canada, Brazil, Australia, France, United Kingdom, and China have expressed their relief at our willingness to depart in this respect from the original proposals of the Acheson-Lilienthal report. There is clearly distinguishable to anyone now engaged in the metal business, a new interest and growing determination on the part of all nations to regard as essential to sovereignty all metal deposits—not only metals with the very high atomic numbers—but all metals. As C. K. Leith6 says, there is little metal crossing the water these days, save by government action or, at least, with government approval.

The most stubborn advocate of international ownership of atomic energy ores has been Lilienthal. If surrounded and encouraged by other left-wingers … , I think we can probably fold up the newborn [Page 966]hope that little by little we can draw other nations in with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, to form a group that will control atomic energy through possession of such an overwhelming proportion of the raw materials, that those nations left without the circle must pay the price of admission—real arrangements for permanent peace—or, failing that, realize that they will be hopelessly behind in an atomic energy race for many years to come.

I do not say that this is a permanent solution. There is too much uranium and thorium available for that. But it may well provide a delay of many years beyond the date, at which the Russians can make an atomic bomb or two. I am convinced they already know how to make them, and that they are bending every effort to get the material for many of them; but if the work initiated by the District and furthered by the Trust is let alone and wisely handled, it could provide the way to peace.

And it may be wise to include certain other metals in such a program. There are several others important in the peaceful application of atomic energy; and there are others still that will be needed, beyond the limits of stockpiles plus production, when the next war comes. In view of the growing importance of raw materials, it would be well if one member of the new commission were a man like Leith or some younger man, approved by Groves, who is experienced and informed on this subject.

It is not evident that Mr. Baruch has so far been successful in exercising influence in the choice of the members of the new commission and, while my fears may be founded on rumor, I think the importance warrants the anxiety. Could you yet get Baruch another hearing, or intervene yourself, or, if it is too late for that, could you get a Presidential edict, to which the appointees must accede before their appointment, which would be so worded as to leave this raw material program heading up to you and Patterson and Forrestal? If something is not done, I fear we may throw away one of our best approaches to the solution of an important segment of the world’s difficulties.


Fred Searls, Jr.
  1. Presumably Ernest O. Lawrence of the University of California, inventor of the cyclotron and participant in Manhattan Engineer District.
  2. Mr. S. P. Alexandrov, Adviser, Soviet Delegation to the Atomic Energy Commission.
  3. See footnote 14, p. 1205.
  4. See footnote 15, p. 1205.
  5. Donald S. Russell, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration.
  6. Charles K. Leith, a United States trustee, Combined Development Trust.