IO Files: US/A/1158, also US/AEC/21

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John C. Ross, Deputy to the United States Representative at the United Nations (Austin)


Subject: Atomic Energy

Participants: General McNaughton, Canadian Delegation
Mr. Ignatieff, Canadian Delegation
Dr. Philip Jessup, United States Mission
Mr. John C. Ross, United States Mission

We had lunch today, on their invitation, with General McNaughton and Mr. Ignatieff and discussed a wide range of Assembly topics (see [Page 381] separate memorandum of conversation, US/A/1157)1 spending a particularly long time, (on the General’s initiative), on the subject of atomic energy, as follows.

General McNaugton referred to the recent British aide-mémoire2 (which we had not yet seen) and went on to discuss two possible alternative courses open to us at the General Assembly this Fall.

The first alternative is: To explain patiently what atomic energy is all about, the principles and objectives to which fourteen of seventeen members at various times of the Atomic Energy Commission are committed; to educate the other members of the General Assembly and get them to understand these principles and objectives and commit, themselves thereto; to leave the door open to take advantage of any opportunity (which would be a fleeting one) of getting the Russians to go along with the effective control of atomic energy, implying the continued work of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The second alternative is to choose the occasion of the Assembly for a pitched propaganda battle with the Russians, demonstrating that they have ruined the chances of attaining any effective international control of atomic energy and in effect suspend the work of the Atomic Energy Commission.

General McNaughton clearly favored the first alternative although he indicated that there might of course be factors of a broad political character which would indicate that the second alternative would be preferable. In any event, he thought it was essential to choose immediately one or the other of these alternatives, prepare actively for the General Assembly along the lines indicated, and stick to this line. The worst solution would be to get the two alternatives mixed up. If there were ever a time when clear cut decisions are needed, this is the time.

Mr. Jessup observed that negotiations now in progress in Moscow with regard to Berlin and Germany might have a bearing on which course was chosen and it therefore might not be possible to make an immediate decision. McNaughton admitted this point and said he thought we should therefore develop two clear cut alternative plans along lines indicated and decide upon one or the other, if not immediately then at the earliest possible moment.

On the “propaganda approach” McNaugton felt that we could not possibly beat the Russians at this game. Moreover, our objective should be to get as much support as possible from the other members of the United Nations. If we engage in a propaganda battle with the Russians many members of the General Assembly, desiring to keep out of a [Page 382] Russian-American fight, will take no part in the discussion and simply abstain on any vote. The most important of the arguments against the propaganda approach was, the General feared, that it would close the door on any hope of eventual agreement with the Russians with regard to atomic energy.

On the latter point, the General said that as an engineer and military man, and one who had devoted much time to atomic energy over the past three years, he was more than ever convinced of the formidable character of the atomic bomb which had unleashed a new era of warfare. He did not at all share the view of some that the significance of the atomic bomb had originally been exaggerated. Because of his view, he thought it would be a tragic error (I gathered leading inevitably to war) to close the door on any possibility, however slight, of agreement with the Russians. If the door were clearly left open, he did not anticipate any immediate change in the Russian position merely because a majority of the Assembly had endorsed the Atomic Energy Report. It might be five years or even ten before the Russians would see the light, but we should at least keep on trying.

To simplify his view of the Russian position in the world with particular reference to atomic energy, the General classified the possibilities in three categories, namely: evolution, revolution and war. War of course is what we are trying to avoid.

Under the heading of evolution, the General has in mind the wearing effect of internal and external pressures leading to the gradual modification of policy by an “imperialistic” power. Given enough time, perhaps five years, perhaps ten, this evolutionary process might lead the Russians to come around to our way of thinking with regard to atomic energy.

Under the head of revolution, it was not inconceivable that because of internal dissensions not only within the Eastern European area but also within the Soviet Union itself, the death of Stalin or some similar incident, might lead to the coalescence of anti-Communist forces. The Western Powers would presumably wish to help such a coalition and might well lay down as a condition of such help, agreement on the effective international control of atomic energy.

In any event, whether the processes were evolutionary or revolutionary, any opportunity which we might have to achieve Russian agreement would be a very fleeting one; we must therefore keep all doors open and be ever keenly alert to take advantage of any such fleeting opportunity.

On the “educational” approach, McNaughton’s idea seems to be that without any polemic we should clearly and patiently explain to the members of the General Assembly exactly what is involved in the [Page 383] effective international control of atomic energy as set forth in the three reports by the Atomic Energy Commission. These reports stand unassailable on their merits. The character and necessity of the sacrifice of sovereignty required for the effective control of atomic energy should be stressed in terms of a broad concept of international organization. Our efforts should be two-fold: first, to educate the other members of the United Nations and get the maximum number of them committed; two, in effect to “plead” with the Russians to see that their ultimate security rests on a collective effort based on their willingness to make the necessary sacrifice of sovereignty.

On the specific question of what sort of action might be taken by the General Assembly, McNaughton felt that there should be a resolution which would in the first place endorse the three reports of the Atomic Energy Commission and would in the second place request the Atomic Energy Commission to continue its efforts in such ways as in its judgement it considered feasible. It was not entirely clear to me whether McNaughton would also favor as an additional point consultations among the Powers which sponsored the original General Assembly Resolution on atomic energy.

The General thought that General Osborn’s views were close to his own. He doubted whether the British had really thought the problem through or really knew enough about it. He urged further United States, Canadian discussions as a first step towards concerted policy at the Assembly on this subject.

John C. Ross
  1. Not pointed.
  2. General McNaughton’s views on the British aide-mémoire of August 2, p. 375, were further set forth in a memorandum transmitted to Osborn on August 9, not printed.