Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Statement by the Under Secretary of State (Lovett) Before the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, January 21, 1948 1

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Mr. Chairman—Gentlemen. I am pleased to be able to report to you that we have successfully concluded negotiations with the British and the Canadians with respect to cooperation in atomic energy matters.

You will recall that in these talks we had the following objectives: First, to terminate certain secret war-time agreements which appeared to place unwarranted restraints on our course of action. Second; to secure a redistribution of available uranium ore which would be more favorable to us; this meant that the stockpile in Britain had to be reduced and most of it dispersed outside the British Isles. Third; to insure an increase in the supplies of uranium available to the United States in the next few years, or at least until such time as new methods and techniques could reduce our dependence on imports; Fourth, to remove sources of misunderstanding and friction among ourselves and United Kingdom and Canada.

From its point of view the State Department’s chief concern was to close out the anomalous war-time agreements in such a way as to [Page 689] preserve some basis for cooperation in procurement of raw materials; we especially wanted to get rid of some of the political overtones and commitments in these agreements, particularly such clauses as those which appeared to bind this country to consult with the United Kingdom before it could use the atom bomb.2 For its part, the Atomic Energy Commission naturally addressed itself to the raw materials problem which was the heart of the negotiations. Mr. Lilienthal, Mr. Carroll Wilson, and his helpers worked out what I consider to tea very ingenious and satisfactory formula on raw materials which they will report to you.

I am happy to report that all the Departments represented in these negotiations—State, Defense, and the Commission—consider that we have attained our objectives; in fact, I think we have achieved more than we might have expected before the talks were begun, and certainly more than appeared possible after the first day of the talks.

First, as to the war-time agreements—these have been terminated by mutual consent except as they relate to procurement and other functions which all of us wish to see continue. All embarrassing political provisions such as that in the case of the bomb have been eliminated. This has been done informally but in a manner which clearly registers the intent of the participating governments. I have here a piece of paper, rather tentatively entitled a “Modus Vivendi” which is in the form of a Minute of a Meeting of the U.S.–U.K.–Canada Combined Policy Committee.

(This may be read or passed around—it is hoped not to have to distribute copies to each member.)

My legal advisers tell me that a modus vivendi is an informal arrangement which, in the United States, has not been considered to require Senatorial confirmation, and which is interim in character—that it is a means of operating, pending conclusion of a permanent international agreement which, in this case, would be a convention on international control of atomic energy. This device seems to suit our book. It has the merit of putting everything in one package, and yet is not a treaty, nor is it one of those mysterious under-cover arrangements of no definable status under which our atomic energy program was run during the war.

There are annexed to this paper, or minute, some reports of these sub-groups of the Combined Policy Committee which dealt with the question of interchange of information and with the allocation of raw materials. These reports record the agreements reached on these [Page 690] subjects. They will be discussed more fully by the representatives of the Commission here present but, insofar as the State Department is concerned, I may say that the paper on information sets forth a pattern for interchange which is by no means disadvantageous to us; in fact it seems to be heavily loaded in our favor. We stand to learn more than we give. The criterion for exchange of information will be the degree to which such an interchange would promote the national security of this country in the terms of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. There will be a permanent sub-committee to consider such interchange. Our representatives will be Dr. Vannevar Bush3 and Dr. Fisk4 of the Atomic Energy Commission. They will of course at all times be responsible to the Commission, the Defense Establishment, and the American Side of the Combined Policy Committee.

With respect to raw materials you will note that we will get all of production from the Belgian Congo for the next two years. We also get a quantity of 250 tons which was enroute to the United Kingdom. The formula for future allocation, which Mr. Wilson will explain, will assure our operating needs for the next few years.

When we started these negotiations the British had a stockpile on the order of 3200 tons. Under the arrangement which we have worked out, any idle stockpile in the United Kingdom in excess of a minimum operating requirement will be brought down to a small fraction of its present size. Moreover, I am impressed with the fact that the quantity which is to be removed from the United Kingdom under the operation of this formula will actually be available to our own use and not merely stored in Canada, or split up with Canada.

I think that this arrangement goes far toward satisfying a recommendation made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in March of 1946 [1947] in the early stages of our consideration of the problem.5 The Joint Chiefs stipulated that any disadvantage to the United States of the maintenance of an atomic energy program in the United Kingdom could be minimized if consumption were to balance imports and if the British stockpile were to be brought down to the lowest prudent reserve. I think that is what we have achieved.

When the British representatives arrived here to begin the talks it was apparent that they were under instructions from the British Cabinet not to agree to ship a single pound of the British stockpile. We were able to change their minds by laying on the table very frankly the facts of our situation and making it perfectly clear that no part [Page 691] of the Western world could feel secure if the United States bomb production program was to be handicapped. Midway during the talks the British representatives went back to England to present the hard facts to their superiors. When they came back they were prepared to reach an agreement which will have the effect of taking uranium out of their country. Politically this must have been a hard decision for the British. I believe we all know just how difficult since uranium has come to have such a symbolic value, bound up with national prestige.

Finally, I should report that a genuine mutual comprehension and a remarkably good atmosphere was established in these talks with the British and Canadians. The Canadians sat on the same side of the table with the British and were scrupulous members of the British Commonwealth. Nevertheless, we know that they put in some good words for our side of the argument in London. I think it is very important that this atmosphere be maintained, and, for my part, I am very happy that now, as was not formerly the case, the U.S. position with respect to this cooperation has been taken with the knowledge of the individual members of this Committee, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and of the White House, and is broadly based on the combined judgment of all the executive departments concerned.

  1. The file copy is titled “Mr. Lovett’s remarks to JCCAE,” and is labeled “draft.” No other version of the Under Secretary’s testimony has been found in the files of the Department of State.
  2. Reference is to the Quebec Agreement, which specified that atomic weapons would not be used against third parties by the United States or the United Kingdom without the consent of the other.
  3. Chairman of the Research and Development Board.
  4. Dr. James B. Fisk, Director, Research Division, United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  5. The views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were conveyed to the Secretary of State in a letter from the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy; for text, see Foreign Relation, 1947, vol. i, p. 798.