Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Memorandum for the Secretary of State1

top secret


Action to be taken on Dr. Niels Bohr’s2 proposal for “Openness.”

facts bearing on the problem

See Appendix A.


See Appendix B.


Dr. Bohr’s proposal for openness should not be made by the United States at this time.
In view of the domestic political situation and the danger of “leaks”, the Department of State should not undertake an intensive study of this proposal and its ramifications until elections are over and any changes that may result therefrom have occurred.
After the elections, the Department should sound out the then-responsible political leaders on the extent of their support for a thoro-going study of the proposal in terms of its feasibility, repercussions on national security, chances and consequences of Soviet acceptance, propaganda and moral value at home and abroad in event of Soviet refusal, etc.
Further study of the proposal should be dependent upon the results of such soundings.
Meanwhile, the United States should use those elements inherent in the Bohr proposal which are also inherent in this Government’s approach to world problems in developing a dominant theme in the General Assembly. In doing so, the United States could expound on [Page 389] the kind of world in which it would like to live, a world of openness in which (a) politically independent states could work out their own destinies free of coercion; (b) problems before the United Nations and in other forums could be worked put through the free interplay of ideas, and decisions could be made and carried out on a cooperative basis; (c) persons and ideas could be interchanged on the basis of full reciprocity. In this connection:
The United States should cite its record in foreign relations which demonstrates its efforts to achieve this kind of world, the most cogent example being negotiations for the international control of atomic energy.
In citing the record, the United States should make clear, either directly or by implication, the role of the Soviet Union in preventing the development of such a world community.
The United States should call upon all nations to fulfill their responsibilities to, the world community to the extent necessary to attain effective solutions to common problems.
No “offer” in the sense of the Bohr proposal should be made: stress should be put on the past and continuing efforts of the United States to achieve an open world.
Conclusion 5 (with reference to the Bohr proposal as such omitted) and those sections of Appendix B “Discussion” pertinent thereto should be referred to UNA for consideration in preparing the line to be taken by the United States in the General Assembly.
Dr. Bohr should be informed of the action decided upon by the Department.4

Appendix A

facts bearing on the problem

In the latter part of May, the Secretary of State received through Mr. McCloy5 a paper from Dr. Niels Bohr which advocated that the United States should make a broad offer to the Soviet Union to exchange all scientific and technical information with the Soviet Union on a reciprocal basis. In brief the argumentation was along these lines: (See Tab A, Bohr’s “Comments”, dated May 17, 1948, Tab B, Bohr’s letter of June 10, 1948, to Secretary Marshall, and Tab C, Bohr’s “Annotations” dated. June 19, 1948).6
Failure to overcome the impasse that now exists between the East and the West can only lead to the most terrible of wars in which no one can win.
The way out of this impasse lies in the raising of “a great issue suited to invoke the highest aspirations of mankind.”
This great issue would be an offer by the United States of complete “openness” among the peoples of the world directed in the first instance to the Soviet Union.
If such an offer were made, the United States would stand to gain whether the Soviet Union accepted the offer or not.
If the Soviet Union accepted the offer it would mean the end of the Iron Curtain and a change in the whole Soviet system of government with genuine participation on their part in the world community. The present impasse would be overcome and the world could proceed on the basis of a growing understanding to reconstruct the peace.
If the Soviet Union refused—and it is most likely that they would—the United States would have rallied the forces of liberalism throughout the world to its standard. The Soviet Union might well find itself in such a position that all hopes of extending its influence further in the world would be lost.
As to the security aspect of this proposal Dr. Bohr maintains that the security of the United States would be strengthened rather than weakened if the offer were carried through. Under present security phobias the United States is strangulating itself and is in danger of falling behind in many fields of science and technology. Moreover, giving the Soviet Union all information concerning atomic energy processes including the making of bombs (but not the bombs themselves) would probably so confuse and over-awe them that no net advantage would accrue to them. The United States on the other hand would gain much knowledge of the Soviet Union and would have breached the Iron Curtain which stands as the greatest threat to world peace and security.
If it were to make this offer, Dr. Bohr emphasizes that the United States would have to be prepared to carry it through in all honesty. This requires the most meticulous study preparatory to any final decision on the idea.
Dr. Bohr, aware that a vast educational program directed to public understanding of this problem would be required, and that the greatest popular fear which would have to be overcome concerns security, concludes that the one man who could carry conviction to the country on this matter is the present Secretary of State. This is so not only because of his unquestioned integrity, but also because he is identified in the public mind with the highest security interests of the country.
On May 20 the Secretary had dinner with Dr. Bohr and Mr. McCloy at which time the Secretary expressed concern about the security aspects of the proposal and asked Dr. Bohr to elaborate his proposal [Page 391] in greater detail. This was done in a letter of June 10, 1948. (See Tab B.) The Secretary asked Mr. Baruch for his views which were received on June 2. Mr. Baruch commented that “a great issue was raised, suited to invoke the highest aspirations of mankind” when the United States made its atomic energy proposals of June 14, 1946. (See Tab D.)
The problem was referred for follow-up to the Special Assistant to the Under Secretary. Mr. Gullion and Mr. Arneson undertook a series of discussions with key people in Government service and others who had previously been connected with atomic energy matters. These included:
  • Mr. Dean Acheson7
  • Dr. Robert F. Bacher8
  • Mr. Benjamin Cohen9
  • Dr. Paul C. Fine10
  • Mr. John J. McCloy
  • General K. D. Nichols11
  • Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer12
  • Mr. Frederick H. Osborn
The resultant Memoranda of Conversation are attached as Tabs E through M.
The consensus that developed from these conversations was as follows:
Dr. Bohr had hit upon the nub of the difficulty with the Soviet Union. Many people, however, have also perceived this.
Only a most meticulous study of all ramifications of the proposal could reveal whether it was feasible and desirable.
Such study could be effective only if the group doing it were given full access to all atomic energy and military weapons data and included highly competent personnel from the departments and agencies of government concerned, particularly the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Defense Establishment. (If the group were composed of individuals brought together under the auspices of some non-governmental organization, effective liaison with appropriate Governmental bodies would be imperative.)
Present public opinion as reflected in Congress and throughout the country generally would not support the Bohr proposal without an intensive campaign of public education. Any inkling at this time that the Government was giving serious study to the proposal would raise a frantic hue and cry from all quarters and the whole issue would be thrust—with chaotic results—into the political campaign.
It would be difficult to initiate any thorough appraisal of the Bohr proposal intra- or extra-governmentally without having it become known.
The forthcoming elections add additional complications. Whatever the outcome of the elections, common prudence would require that this matter be discussed with, and support obtained from, the leading Republican figures, including, at minimum, Governor Dewey, John Foster Dulles, Senator Vandenberg and Senator Hickenlooper before an intensive study is initiated.
On June 14, 1946, the U.S. made a sweeping offer of “openness”, supported by adequate safeguards in the field of atomic energy. As elaborated over the past two years by the UNAEC, the plan for atomic energy control would produce in this one field, and as a prototype for other fields, an atmosphere of complete openness. The majority has committed itself in the Second Report of the UNAEC to a policy of no secrecy in this field, once a fully effective system of control is established. The majority proposals place great stress on adequate safeguards. Although the issue of “no veto” received undue attention in the public press during the negotiations and blurred the focus, the elements of safeguards required are essential to the plan and would be equally required in the Bohr proposal.
The UNAEC in its Third Report, dated May 17, 1948, has come to the conclusion, after more than two years of intensive study, that the continued intransigence of the Soviet Union and its satellites and their unwillingness to participate in a cooperative world community, arises from a situation beyond the competence of the Atomic Energy Commission. Therefore the majority recommended that until such time as the Soviet Union showed its willingness to participate in the world community to the extent required by the majority proposals, negotiations in UNAEC should be suspended. The first two reports of the UN Atomic Energy Commission, which comprise the majority proposals General Findings (Part II C) and Recommendations (Part III) of the First Report, Specific Proposals (Part II) Second Report, and the Report and Recommendations of the Third Report, which contains the recommendation for suspension, have been referred to the General Assembly and will be on its agenda this fall. Present plans are for the members of the majority of the UNAEC to sponsor jointly a resolution in the General Assembly approving the majority proposals for control, and the recommendation for suspension.
As far as the diagnosis of the disease is concerned the majority of UNAEC and Dr. Bohr are in agreement: The stumbling block is the attitude of the Soviet Union. The difference lies in that Bohr proposes that we try again on a much broader and more nebulous base. The majority considers that those elements of cooperation essential not only to atomic energy control but also to eventual control of other weapons of mass destruction have been firmly established, and that it remains for the Soviet Union to agree and that, in the absence of such agreement, the peoples of the world should understand the nature of the impasse that exists.

Appendix B


A. Need for Thorough Study

The Bohr proposal is admittedly made only in general terms. Bohr feels that the details, while exceedingly important, are beyond his competence and must be considered by those more familiar with the political and military aspects involved. No one can quarrel with what might ideally be achieved under his proposed offer. One must raise sharply, however, queries concerning methods and tactics of implementation. These queries can be answered only by most thorough-going study, which would require imaginative people from many areas of Government, notably the Department of State, the National Defense Establishment and the Atomic Energy Commission. What the net conclusions of such a study would be, no one can say at this time.
The crucial ingredient in any complete examination of the proposal is knowledge. This can come only from people in the various agencies who would have full access to their particular phases of information. This involves key people who could not take part in such a study without making its existence known. It appears likely that knowledge of the existence of such a project if initiated now would be used in the election campaign with resulting jeopardy to the study itself.
On so important a matter as this, it is evident that it could succeed only if—after having been determined to be feasible in a technical sense—it secured not only the support of key figures in both political parties but the overwhelming understanding support of the U.S. public. While the bi-partisan approach in foreign affairs has been eminently successful during the war and since, and might in fact prove possible on this matter, the current build up of the election campaign makes a coordination of viewpoint on this proposal exceedingly complicated. At minimum, the Administration would need the support of [Page 394] Governor Dewey, John Foster Dulles, Senator Vandenberg and Senator Hickenlooper. It may well be that these gentlemen would not wish to indicate any reaction to the idea in its present general terms in the absence of a thorough study and in the expectation of a Republican victory at the polls this fall. It is reasonable to assume that they would prefer, if any study is to be undertaken, that it be done under a new Administration.

B. Probable Soviet Reaction to Offer

Apart from the specific technical aspects of the problem there are certain points that can now be made in advance of a full examination of all phases. These deal primarily with probable Soviet reactions. Dr. Bohr has stated that the United States would stand to gain whether the Soviet Union said “yes” or “no.” It seems evident that real moral and psychological advantage would accrue to the United States should the Soviet Union give a flat “no.” It may be presumed, subject to further study, that the United States would stand to gain if the Soviet Union accepted the offer. There is, however, a twilight zone which appears to be the most likely contingency. It is very much to be doubted that the Soviet Union would give either a flat “yes” or “no” answer. In all probability the Soviet Union would do something in between giving only the appearance of acceptance, coupled with counter proposals and demands, similar to, if not identical with, their actions in the UNAEC negotiations. The Soviet Union would probably mount a terrific counter-attack along the following lines:

The United States has sought continuously to gain control over the affairs of other nations through ECA, through atomic energy control, and many other actions since the end of the war. The United States seeks to dominate the world. Further evidence of this is their proposal for “openness”. Such a proposal is a crude attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of states. It is a gross assault on national sovereignty of nations. It is an attempt to obtain intelligence the United States has been unable to obtain by other means. One need only observe that while the United States is making what it calls a sweeping proposal of openness it continues to manufacture, stockpile, and intimidate the world with, the atomic bomb. If the United States is serious in its protestations for a peaceful world why then do they not give up the weapon, outlaw its use, and destroy the present stockpiles?

The foregoing theme with infinite variations would, in all probability, be played by the Soviet Union to the point where the “great issue suited to invoke the highest aspirations of mankind” would become a very sorry thing indeed. The issue would become so confused that even those great numbers of people who would have been greatly lifted up by the original offer would begin to have doubts about the motives of the United States. The result predicted [Page 395] by Dr. Bohr that the Soviet Union would alienate all liberal thought and put itself in a hole, would not be realized.
In corroboration of the foregoing one need only to recount the history of the atomic energy negotiations in the United Nations. As Mr. Baruch rightly points out in his letter to the Secretary, the original United States proposals for atomic energy control constituted “a great issue suited to invoke the highest aspirations of mankind.” It did indeed lift the hopes of men when it was made. There is perhaps in history no greater offer and it was generally recognized as such by all thinking people. But what happened? It is significant to note that the Soviet Union has never claimed that the proposals evolved from the United States offer, namely, the present UNAEC majority proposals, were unsuited to the task of controlling atomic energy for peaceful purposes only. The Soviet Union has never laid stress on the merits of the proposals themselves but have sought—and to a degree succeeded—in confusing the issue by appeals to national sovereignty, independence of states, charges of imperialism and monopoly against the United States, and demands that atomic bombs be outlawed and destroyed. As a result the challenge of the great issue has become so blurred that the man on the street doubts whether the offer ever should have been made and many do not realize that the United States has offered to give up its atomic bombs when an adequate control system is in effect.

C. The Problem of Stages

Mr. Baruch in his reply to the Secretary of June 2 (Tab D) points out that Dr. Bohr had stated “a number of truisms, but he does not say how we can arrive at them.” Bohr’s proposal lacks any spelling out of stages although he does suggest the following general approach: a preliminary conference to determine whether the proposition were acceptable “in principle”. [Here one must point out that the Soviet Union has already accepted many propositions “in principle”, including “strict international control of atomic energy”.]13 This conference would be followed by a balancing out of information and access that nations would be willing to provide. Once a rough balance had been struck and found to be mutually advantageous to all, a regime of openness would be implemented immediately. In commenting upon time scale and the problem of stages in connection with the UNAEC plan of atomic energy control, Dr. Bohr considers that failure to achieve agreement on that plan demonstrates the necessity of “a line of policy, directly aimed at mutual openness on a still broader and more immediate basis than contemplated in the, American proposal” (Tab B. [Page 396] Underscoring supplied). Moreover, he stated in his brief “Annotations” of June 19, that: “Altogether, the eventual acceptance of an offer of full mutual openness and the actual admittance of observers may, in fact, be said to be an irreversible step.” (Tab C).
The issue of stages is a crucial one. It cannot be assumed that any country would be prepared to enter into a regime of openness at one leap. In working out what would appear to most reasonable men to be a fair and just sequence, one can be sure that the Soviet Union would find much material for propaganda charges. They could haggle, delay, and accuse ad infinitum, ad nauseam, in the working out and the implementation of stages. This might indeed be the method they would employ in sabotaging the whole offer even if they agreed initially to the general idea, in principle.
It is in working out this aspect of a great issue that the issue itself tends to be lost sight of in the welter of grubby detail and step-by-step caution.

D. The Basic Difficulty

The Bohr proposal strikes at the heart of the difficulty between the East and the West only in a limited sense. The Iron Curtain is a major symptom of the disease that infects the Soviet Union. That disease would appear to be primarily mental. The Soviet state is characterized by a fanatical materialist ideology. It has effectively harnessed Czarist Russian imperialism, traditional Russian xenophobia, modern propaganda techniques, Marxian ideology, and a police state so that its ability to impose its will on its own people and those of other nations is tremendous.
All nations are guilty of a certain egocentrism. This is an easily understood psychological and sociological phenomenon. Among nations, however, with certain common traditions, culture patterns, institutions, and ways of thought, this egocentrism need not give rise to basic misunderstandings and conflict. Western nations may quarrel with their friends but, in most instances at least, they have a sufficient working knowledge of what their friends’ thought processes, ambitions and needs are to give effective accommodation to them. The Soviet Union, however, is not in this community of nations. It has deliberately turned its back to it and suppressed those elements and forces that would tend to foster Soviet participation in the world community. It emphasizes its different history and its long-standing isolation. Words, morals, and a code of ethics do not mean the same to them as to us. Actions have different meanings. Aspirations are of a different character. It is as though the Western world considers that two and two make four, while the Soviet Union considers that these two numbers add up to different totals at different times. And this is [Page 397] more than mere analogy. Soviet philosophy in the fundamental sense rejects the Aristotelian concepts of form and discreteness and is based on theories of interaction and merging of identities along the lines of Bergsonian creative evolution. One may indeed say that when the basic tools of thought are different one can conclude that there can be no real meeting of minds.
Complete openness would not in itself change this hard core of difference. It would have, to be sure, positive effects. If the West were able to make its thought and action known directly to the people of the Soviet Union, the comparisons that the Soviet people might make would not be invidious to the West. A long period of full intercourse might bring about gradual changes in the basic premises of the philosophy of the Soviet State and its tenets of faith. Most important, it would be in the long run permit the masses of the people to exert their influence on large issues. Openness would also wipe out many of the physical paraphernalia of the police state and lay it open to the fresh breezes of common sense and appreciation of the nature of the rest of the world.
But because the police state paraphernalia is not the core of the Soviet State itself but a manifestation of its different orientation of thinking which is as real to the Soviet mind as Western thought patterns are to Western peoples, it is inconceivable that the Politburo could be induced to accept the offer in good faith. They could not do so and continue to exist as they are. As has been indicated above, such an offer would in all probability give rise to a furious attack on the motives and objectives of those making it.

E. The General Assembly: Soviet Peace Offensive

There has been much speculation, and our Embassies abroad have been queried on this point, as to what line the Soviet Union may take in the next General Assembly. Thus far the plurality, if not the majority, opinion is that the Soviet Union will launch a peace offensive. This might take many forms. The Soviet Union may offer crumbs of concessions in Germany, in Korea; it may blandly suggest that certain commercial air rights be granted in the Soviet Union, that some increase in travel be permitted, that more consulates be established. To accept such offers as moves toward openness would be dangerous, for they would in all probability not indicate a change in heart but a temporary tactical maneuver.
It has been suggested that such a Soviet line makes it necessary for the United States to appear more peaceful than the Soviet Union. This would not be difficult to do, since the contrast is evident. But peacefulness must not be equated with docility.
The United States is a member of the majority which has recommended that, the nature of the impasse being what it is, negotiations in the UNAEC should be suspended. Fear of the Soviet peace offensive has caused some doubts to be raised whether the United States should hold firm on this recommendation.

F. United States Line in General Assembly

A possible Soviet peace offensive should be met with firmness. Peaceful protestations on the part of the Soviet Union can readily be tested. The record on many issues in the United Nations is clear. Most of the members of UN have been able to compose honest differences, to work out honorable compromises, and to propose effective solutions to outstanding problems. Throughout its history the United Nations has been faced with “the everlasting no” of the Soviet Union. The most vital example in this connection is the majority control plan for atomic energy. If the Soviet Union intends to show a face of sweetness and light in the next General Assembly, it should be asked politely but firmly if this means it is ready to agree to the majority plan of control. If its answer is “yes,” there is ground for restrained optimism. If its answer is “no,” the peace offensive can be shown to be lacking in substance.
Throughout the history of the United Nations and the postwar period, the record clearly shows that the United States has sought to arrive at fair solutions to outstanding problems. In this endeavor it has been joined by a preponderant majority of the nations concerned. While not making an offer of openness along the lines of the Bohr proposal, the United States can properly cite the record over the past several years which demonstrates its efforts to foster the development of the peaceful, cooperative world in which we want to live. This is a world in which politically independent states can work together to reach common solutions to common problems. This is a world in which views can be freely exchanged and information required for the solution of problems is made freely available (it was the United States which gave to the UNAEC a large bulk of technical and scientific information—properly declassified—which was required for a proper understanding of the nature of the problem of atomic energy control and the soundness of the United States proposals). This is a world where decisions can be made on the basis of the combined thinking of the nations concerned.
The record is clear that throughout these endeavors the Soviet Union and its satellites have stood in the way of just and equitable solutions. The record can be cited at great length. It is appropriate that the blame for the impasse on many issues be placed where it belongs.
An opening speech in the General Assembly along the lines of the foregoing would meet frontally any Soviet peace offensive. It would be possible with this approach to ask the Soviet Union again and again precisely what it means, to point out that words are of little consequence unless they are substantiated by deeds, and that the way to demonstrate good faith in the interests of peace is to cooperate not only in the solution of common problems but also in the implementation of the decisions reached. The bellwether of this approach can very well be atomic energy control, for it is in this field that the record of the United States is clearest, the issues are sharpest, and the intransigence of the Soviet Union is most evident.
Whatever may be the ultimate decision on the Bohr proposal, a General Assembly theme along the lines of the above would in no way jeopardize either rejecting the Bohr proposals or accepting them in full at a later date after they have been given the closest study. Indeed Dr. Bohr himself in the closing paragraphs of his letter to the Secretary (Tab B) has the following to say on this point.

“If the international and domestic situation favored it, the most direct step would be a concrete proposal of universal openness, aimed at prompt realization. Yet, if such a procedure would not be deemed timely, it might be found suitable, after proper preparations, to use an early occasion, when re-stating the general lines of American policy, to stress the urgency of fullest mutual openness and express readiness to entertain proposals to this effect.

“Even the preliminary approach, consisting of a declaration of aspiration and intent, might perhaps elicit an answer which could serve as a further stepping stone. But irrespective of such response, this initiative should contribute decisively to clarify the situation; it would greatly strengthen the moral position of all advocates of genuine international cooperation and bring adversaries everywhere in rapidly increasing difficulties.”

  1. Presumably drafted by R. Gordon Arneson, who in July succeeded Edmund A. Gullion as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for atomic energy policy.
  2. Danish theoretical physicist and pioneer in the development of nuclear physics; adviser, Manhattan Engineer District (United States atomic bomb development program), 1943–1945.
  3. The Secretary of State initialled his approval of conclusions 1–6.
  4. In a marginal comment opposite this conclusion, Marshall stated “I am not yet clear in my own mind on this.”
  5. John J. McCloy, President of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; Assistant Secretary of War, 1941–1945; Member, Secretary of State’s Committee on Atomic Energy, 1946.
  6. The accompanying tabs, A–M, are not printed.
  7. Under Secretary of State, August 1945–June 1947.
  8. Member, United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  9. Counselor, Department of State, September 1945–July 1947.
  10. Adviser, United States Delegation to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission.
  11. Maj. Gen. Kenneth D. Nichols, Director of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project; Member, Military Liaison Committee to the United States Atomic Energy Commission; District Engineer, Manhattan Engineer District, 1943–1945.
  12. Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey; Chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission; Director of Los Alamos Laboratories of Manhattan Engineer District, 1943–1945.
  13. Brackets appear in the source text.