Minutes of a Meeting of the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, Washington, January 29, 1947, 10:30 a.m.

top secret
Participants: Secretary Marshall
Under Secretary Acheson
Secretary Patterson
Assistant Secretary Petersen
Secretary Forrestal
Assistant Secretary Sullivan
General Eisenhower
Major General O. P. Weyland1
Admiral Nimitz
Captain Dennison
Mr. Matthews


General Marshall said that Senator Austin two days ago had informed him of the unanimous opinion of the other members of the Security Council that we should proceed to a discussion of general disarmament simultaneously with, the report of the Atomic Energy Commission. He said that Senator Austin quoted Mr. Baruch as feeling that it would be a serious mistake to conclude an agreement with respect to atomic energy before considering general disarmament. The other members of the Security Council, Senator Austin reported, could not understand our position in declining to discuss general disarmament until after consideration of the Atomic Energy Commission report. The British Ambassador also left with Secretary Marshall a communication advocating that we proceed with simultaneous discussion of general disarmament along with atomic energy.2 Senator Austin felt that we have been put in a position of opposing general disarmament and he favored parallel simultaneous discussions and the setting up of a general disarmament commission for the purpose. The British note likewise said that they are setting up within their Government [Page 382] a commission specifically to follow the disarmament problems. We have a February 4 deadline for Senator Austin to meet and he must be given a chance to consult other members of the Security Council before that date. Therefore the matter is urgent. A State Department draft resolution suggests that a country other than the United States introduce the resolution.3

Mr. Forrestal said that he fears the public may get the impression that disarmament is really on the way.

General Eisenhower said he was not clear on one point. He thought our position at first and that of the others had been that we wanted to put disarmament problems all in one pot. General Marshall said that Senator Austin’s plan keeps atomic energy separate from general disarmament. Mr. Petersen referred to the question of what are “weapons of mass destruction”. Would they include strategic air bombing, for example. General Eisenhower said it was easy to say that the atomic bomb was a mass destruction weapon and one armed soldier was not. But a mass of soldiers with guns is likewise a weapon of mass destruction.

Mr. Patterson thought that President Truman’s declaration made it clear that biological warfare is the only other weapon of mass destruction then contemplated4 but the qualifying words had been left out in the January (1946) resolution of the General Assembly.5

General Eisenhower said that from the Staff point of view and disregarding political aspects, if a general disarmament commission sets up methods of verification and compliance in the field of conventional weapons he thought this would help in reaching agreement on atomic energy. General Marshall agreed and said no plan was realistic unless it was enforceable: if we can get agreement on atomic energy in this respect we could probably get it on other matters.

Mr. Patterson said it was obviously to Russian interest to outlaw all scientific weapons. This would mean that the country with the highest scientific development would in security matters be reduced to the level of a barbaric country. He thought that the Russians had injected the broader question of general disarmament just to confuse the public, as it was a curious reversal of what their interest seemed to be. Mr. Acheson said that the USSR had been much embarrassed by the pressure it was under with respect to inspection and control of atomic energy. To escape from this embarrassment Molotov had [Page 383] resorted to his New York speech in favor of general disarmament.6 He thought that Molotov’s purpose had been (1) to confuse the public on an issue embarrassing to it before the public, (2) to obtain a strong propaganda position and (3) to bring about the abolition of weapons they do not possess. They have already proposed the abolition of the atomic bomb. He thought they would soon propose the abolition of strategic bombers. Finally, he thought they would suggest the abolition of larger naval vessels, thus strengthening their own relative position.

General Eisenhower thought that the principle of verification and how you are going to accomplish it is the place to start. We might start with regard to sea, land and air forces. The Russians presumably would have in the NKVD alone the equivalent of all our ground forces.

Mr. Patterson thought it was sound procedure to stick first to the atomic bomb. That was the first business decided upon, but he supposed we couldn’t avoid discussing other questions in view of the considerations set forth in the paper before them. Mr. Forrestal thought that the difficulty lay with our own public opinion. General Marshall did not feel that our public opinion had yet been aroused against our position but it was the opinion of other countries which opposed our position. Mr. Forrestal asked why we should not use our veto. General Marshall replied that world public opinion wants to discuss general disarmament. Mr. Forrestal inquired whether we could not resist this. General Marshall pointed out that Senator Austin had said Mr. Baruch had thought it would be a tactical mistake to settle the atomic bomb question before other matters.

Admiral Nimitz asked whether we are not being forced from one position to another and suggested we consider first how to regulate armaments and then when to do it, which he assumed should be after the peace treaties. He believed we should make sure of our new position, specifically how to check on inspection. We should seek a firm commitment by the Commission that disarmament measures should not become effective until after the peace treaties. He thought that the “how” and “when” should precede “what” we are going to do. This also might have the effect of speeding work on the peace treaties.

Mr. Patterson said he did not see how the Russians could insist on disarmament until after the peace treaties. For instance, there is always the question of a possible German resurgence.

General Marshall thought Senator Austin would agree that any measures should not become effective until later.

Mr. Forrestal again expressed anxiety about our public opinion and thought our press had been full of what amounted to Russian [Page 384] propaganda for disarmament. General Marshall pointed out that Senator Austin in his recent statement carefully tied any disarmament on our part to universal military training and the fact that disarmament should not be unilateral on our part. Mr. Forrestal was afraid that we will not be able to get universal military training.

Mr. Patterson inquired whether it had been a mistake for us to take up the atomic bomb question first. Mr. Acheson thought that that had been a wise step and that our mistake came later in permitting the general disarmament resolution to be adopted by the General Assembly in New York. We should, he thought, have fought our propaganda battle there. Secretary Byrnes had, however, been won over in New York to the other view and Mr. Acheson thought we had made our slip when we agreed there to discuss general disarmament. Mr. Forrestal was afraid that we would continue to make similar mistakes.

General Marshall referred to Admiral Nimitz’ statement which he thought was a sound one. He believed it would be a good plan for us to enunciate those principles at the start.

General Eisenhower agreed. He felt there was a danger of our being put in a false position: We had segregated the atom bomb from the rest; Russia wished to make many things weapons of mass destruction and this might prove embarrassing to us. General Marshall said that according to Senator Austin’s statement we must agree to simultaneous discussion but he did not see how we could be forced to go along with unsatisfactory proposals. How far are we committed in the General Assembly resolution to the establishment of a general commission. Assuming that the general commission is established he supposed he could take our own position on its report. Mr. Patterson thought we could veto any objectionable report in the Security Council and General Eisenhower pointed out that this would not break up the United Nations. The danger, he thought, lay in public opinion.

Mr. Petersen suggested we might take other mass destruction weapons out of the atomic commission. General Marshall asked if our position on the Atomic Commission wasn’t a strong one. General Eisenhower thought “mass destruction” was an undefinable term. He agreed that it would be all right to let bacteriological warfare remain in the Atomic Commission but he would not want other weapons of mass destruction left there. He said that all this discussion has as its object the abolition of war. Why not have the Commission study means of abolishing war. Mr. Patterson said we must discuss ways and means of accomplishing disarmament before discussing the limits. General Eisenhower thought that this was the essence of our position. Mr. Patterson asked whether we could hold it or whether we would be outvoted. Mr. Forrestal again expressed his fears concerning American public opinion. General Eisenhower said our position was so [Page 385] logical that people must see that you have to discuss ways and means first. General Marshall thought we have a good propaganda base out of what happened after the last war. We disarmed unilaterally and the results are still fresh in American memory. It is important for us to prepare our proper propaganda.

Mr. Patterson inquired as to just where we could dig in our heels and hold. Whether the position was in this one of declining further discussions until the matter of ways and means of inspection and compliance had been decided. Mr. Acheson did not think we could hold to any fixed position but that we must work continuously on this problem and keep public opinion informed.

General Marshall said that as set forth in par 3 of our proposed resolution it is important to get consideration of Part III of the Atomic Energy Commission recommendations. If we start on this by announcing our position along the lines suggested by Admiral Nimitz, it might be better if we introduced the resolution ourselves with a statement explaining what we mean rather than to have it introduced by some other country. He also thought it was important that we should get together leading columnists and radio commentators and tell them what we have in mind. Mr. Patterson said that he agreed that we should introduce the resolution ourselves and tell our position. Mr. Petersen thought we should reiterate our position that we are not going to disarm unilaterally. Mr. Patterson said we should make it clear that nothing was any good without strict provisions to insure inspection and compliance. General Marshall said we should enunciate first that our purpose is to find what gives security,—inspection and compliance safeguards; second, that no disarmament plan should be put into effect until treaties are signed.

General Weyland suggested it might be desirable to keep the handling of mass destruction weapons in the Atomic Energy Commission if they could be separated from the question of the carriers of such weapons. Mr. Patterson said he did not agree. The Atomic Energy Commission should handle only the atomic bomb otherwise we would get into the old business of arguing what was an offensive or a defensive weapon. General Marshall thought we were in a stronger position on the basis of General Weyland’s suggested and he favored letting the Atomic Energy Commission hold the powers it now has. Mr. Patterson inquired what they are: Is the heavy bomber a weapon of mass destruction? If the question is handled by the broader committee we could tie bombers to the strength of standing armies. Mr. Forrestal did not think that we could. Mr. Patterson did not think it was in our interest to discuss the banning of specific weapons separately.

Mr. Patterson said that in his view the problems should be settled [Page 386] in the following order: (1) treaties with Germany and Japan; (2) agreement on the atomic bomb; (3) ways and means of inspection in the broader disarmament problems; and (4) abolition of weapons and demobilization of armed forces. General Marshall thought that control and inspection should precede any decision on the atom bomb.

Mr. Peterson said that the commission on general disarmament is a control commission whereas the commission on the atom bomb is an abolition commission. General Eisenhower said he did not see that any harm would come if both commissions acted on the same weapons, for example, submitting separate recommendations on the strategic bomber. Mr. Patterson asked whether we were bound by the General Assembly resolution in the Security Council. Mr. Acheson said he thought we were in view of the unanimity of the General Assembly resolution and the fact that Secretary Byrnes had made a speech in favor of it. He said he agreed with General Eisenhower that there is no need now to define the powers of the two commissions or what constitute weapons of mass destruction.

The proposed draft resolution was then read and after discussion it was decided to make the following changes:

In the first sentence the words “fulfillment of its responsibilities under” were changed to read “in consideration of”.
In paragraph 1 after the words “practical measures” the following words were inserted: “including the provision of effective safeguards”.

Paragraphs 2 and 3 were agreed as drafted. The whole resolution was approved.

General Marshall stated that it was important that Senator Austin be informed immediately: (1) that the text of the draft resolution as revised above had been approved; (2) that he should introduce the resolution himself: ‘and (3) that he would be given an accompanying statement which would explain our position.

Mr. Forrestal emphasized the importance of getting important editors and publishers together and explaining our position. General Marshall agreed that this should be done. It was also agreed that the Secretary of State should issue a statement emphasizing that the United States after its experience following unilateral disarmament after the last war had no intention of repeating that mistake. It was suggested that the President might make some similar statement at his next following press conference. Admiral Nimitz thought that in the explanations of our policy we should point out that the whole purpose of disarmament is to outlaw war, not just control arms. This would involve a study of conditions which produce wars, for example, the Soviet thesis that a Capitalist and Soviet system cannot exist peacefully side by side.

[Page 387]

After some discussion of the paper on the establishment of a United States Committee on the Regulation of Armaments it was decided that a permanent committee to deal with disarmament should be set up to operate full time and with a full time secretariat of its own. It was agreed that the relation of this committee to the JCS, SWNCC and the three Secretaries should be defined.

[Here follows discussion of other subjects.]

  1. Assistant Chief of Air Staff–5, Army Air Forces.
  2. Reference is to the British aide-mémoire printed as Annex 1 to Acheson’s memorandum of his conversation with the British Ambassador, January 27, p. 376.
  3. Reference is to Acheson’s memorandum of January 28, supra. For the text of the draft resolution proposed in that memorandum, as amended and approved at the present meeting, see the annex to the Secretary of State’s memorandum to Acheson, January 30, infra.
  4. For elaboration of Secretary Patterson’s contention, see the Minutes of the Three Secretaries’ Meeting of January 8, p. 345.
  5. GA (I/1), Resolutions, p. 9.
  6. Reference is to Molotov’s address before the General Assembly on October 29, 1946; for text, see GA (I/2), Plenary, pp. 832–847.