Department of State Disarmament Files

The Department of State to the British Embassy


United States Views on the United Kingdom Aide-Mémoire of August 2, 1948 on Atomic Energy

We agree with the United Kingdom view expressed in the memorandum of August 2, 1948 that the fundamental issue underlying the impasse on atomic energy is much broader than the atomic energy issue itself; that in fact, it includes the whole attitude and actions of the USSR toward the world community. This, indeed, is a fundamental tenet of the Third Report. But it is not clear from the United Kingdom memorandum whether the United Kingdom plans a frontal attack on the USSR on this broad basis or whether it merely plans to merge the issue of atomic energy in the discussion of Soviet obstructive tactics with respect to voting.
To follow the tactic suggested by the United Kingdom of inviting a wide-open debate on atomic energy rather than restricting the discussion to the concrete record already developed is to play right into the hands of the Soviet Union. Such a tactic will give the Soviets an opportunity for a general discussion and debate of their positions, in which kind of propaganda they can be more effective than the rest of us. We feel that by holding them down to a debate on the specific proposals submitted by the AEC after two years of work they will be forced to debate realities while at the same timé the great majority of the other nations will vote approval rather than repudiate the findings of their own Commission.
In view of the short time before the General Assembly in September, it is extremely desirable to concert plans with friendly Governments at once. The atomic energy issue is unique in its complexity and it will take all the time we have to prepare non-AEC members for an informed debate. The quickest and surest means through which the UNAEC majority can lay plans to provide concerted leadership on the atomic energy issue in the General Assembly is through a continuation of the informal conversations in New York—tentative conclusions of which will, of course, be subject to review by the Governments concerned. The informal discussions in New York are simply a continuation of the discussions which have been held by the permanent members represented in the UNAEC majority during the past two years and which have made our work in this field possible and successful. The purpose of such meetings is not to bind the five Governments to any particular plan of action but to keep them mutually informed of proposed action as a basis for preserving their solidarity. It should also be pointed out that these conversations were not primarily initiated by the United States Delegation any more than by any other Delegation.
The atomic energy record of the majority is their strongest point in the security field. Failure to make it a major issue and to have an informed debate on it would not only run the danger of losing the results of two years of work on the part of the UNAEC but would quite possibly make it impossible to obtain a General Assembly vote of approval on the UNAEC plan, a plan which is the only firm basis for a resumption of UNAEC activities. Such a tactic would also make it possible for the Soviets to shift the blame for the present difficulties in the UNAEC to other Governments since atomic energy would be merged with other issues.
If the United Kingdom is not weakening in its support of the majority’s position, as is stated in paragraph 6 of the August 2 memorandum, and if the United Kingdom is prepared to vote for a resolution of approval on the three reports, the United States wonders why [Page 385] it is necessary for it to withhold sponsorship. (The French and Chinese Delegations have already informed USUN that their Governments are prepared to support joint sponsorship of the Resolution.)
The United States does not wish to ignore the importance of conventional armaments, but it wishes to subordinate this issue to atomic energy because the record of the majority in the CCA is none too strong and because of the danger of confusing and thus weakening the strong UNAEC record.*
The repeated references of the United Kingdom memorandum to a United States plan to handle the atomic energy question “as an isolated issue” needs further clarification. It is to be presumed that atomic energy, conventional armaments, and the Article 48 agreements will appear on the GA agenda as separate items. They will, therefore, have to be considered in the order in which they are given. This does not mean that they must be treated as though they were in water-tight compartments. Each of these items will inevitably be related to the broad problem of establishing international security.
Some of the apparent differences between the views of the United Kingdom and the United States may be more verbal than real. A very useful way of determining the exact nature of the differences between ourselves and the United Kingdom would be to find out precisely what course of action the United Kingdom wishes to have eventuate from its proposed tactics. Such a concrete answer might offer a genuine basis for a meeting of minds.

  1. Since this was written, the French and Canadians have indicated that they believe that it is premature to attack the Soviet Union in this GA on the basis of its CCA record. [Footnote in the source text.]