Department of State Disarmament Files1

Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of War (Petersen) to the Secretary of War (Patterson)


Subject: Regulation of Armaments.

1. The recent General Assembly Resolution on the Regulation of Armaments is expected to come before the Security Council this week. The State Department, in consultation with War and Navy staff officers, has developed the position indicated in the attached paper2 as a basis for instructions to Senator Austin and Herschel Johnson for use in the Security Council. The attached paper:

gives first priority to Security Council action on atomic energy;
gives second priority to consideration of “other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction;”
gives last priority to conventional arms and armed forces;
indicates that the Security Council might take action to speed up the allocation of forces under Article 43 of the Charter;
recommends that no additional U.N. machinery be established at this time to deal with the regulation of armaments;
points out the necessity for prompt agreement on the organization and procedure with which the U.S. position on “other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction” and conventional weapons and armed forces might be reached in preparation for future discussions in the Security Council;

2. The big question at the moment is how far we should insist that the Security Council get in its consideration of atomic weapons before it moves into the problem of “other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” State, War and Navy are thus far agreed that the general principles and the main framework of atomic weapons control satisfactory to the United States must be adopted before we proceed to the next stages. It is reported, however, that the British, Australians and French will oppose us on this on the ground that completion of the work on atomic energy is not needed as a prerequisite to work on other major weapons. It is understood that the British are strongly opposed to the United States’ surrendering atomic weapons before certain other weapons capable of neutralizing the U.K. from across the Channel are brought under firm international control. The State Department agrees that the United States cannot take an active part in discussing other major weapons at this time, principally because we have no agreed U.S. position; they are very much concerned about what might happen if the other members of the Security Council insist upon discussing the subject.

3. The State Department will shortly propose interdepartmental machinery to deal with the general subject of regulation of armaments. It is informally understood that they are thinking of a special SWNCC3 full-time committee to work intensively on the problem for the next sixty days, with full freedom to consult other agencies of the Government as well as private organizations and individuals. They are troubled about the handling of atomic weapons through such a committee, however, because of the relation which must be established with the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and because the State member (General Hilldring4) is probably not their candidate on the atomic weapons aspect. Pending recommendations to the three Secretaries on such machinery, an informal SWNCC committee is now meeting to deal with the situation as it arises in New York.

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Senator Austin arrives in Washington Tuesday morning5 and the attached position paper will be discussed with him. If he and the Secretary of State are agreed on the paper, it will be forwarded by the latter to you and Mr. Forrestal for your views, suggesting that you also get any expression of views which the Joint Chiefs of Staff might wish to make.

I believe the attached statement is all right as far as it goes but we may find the situation changing rapidly under the pressure of events in New York. If discussion in the Security Council goes faster than is expected and the United States Representative must take a position before approval by the State, War and Navy Departments of the attached position paper, the U.S. Representative will undoubtedly be instructed to adopt the position outlined therein on a tentative basis.

4. As soon as we know what sort of machinery the State Departments wants to handle the general subject of Regulation of Armaments, I will submit for your approval a comprehensive plan for dealing with the many aspects of the subject in the War Department.

Howard C. Petersen
  1. Lot 58D133, a consolidated lot file in the Department of State containing documentation on armaments, regulation of armaments, and disarmament, 1943–1960.
  2. The paper is printed as the enclosure to the letter from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of War, January 8, p. 341.
  3. For information on the functions and organization of the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. i, footnote 15, p. 1118.
  4. John H. Hilldring, Assistant Secretary of State for Occupied Areas; Department of State Representative on the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee; Chairman of the Policy Committee on Arms and Armaments, Department of State.
  5. January 7.