Department of State Atomic Energy Files

The Under Secretary of State ( Lovett ) to the Ambassador in Sweden ( Matthews )

top secret

Dear Doc: In considering our policies toward Sweden, we must at all times recall that it is, both relatively and absolutely, an important potential source of uranium. When and if present pilot processes of extraction from oil shale are executed on an industrial scale, Sweden will probably be in the second or third rank of producers of uranium concentrates. Moreover, we have certain other important atomic energy desiderata in Sweden.

It is yet too early to say whether these facts will influence our efforts to get Sweden to budge from its “neutral” position. However, I should like you to have a recapitulation of our atomic energy interest now, to be sure that we do not lose sight of it.

I also enclose for your information a copy of a note from the Swedish Foreign Office of September 11, 1945,1 in response to our efforts during the war to acquire any potential Swedish production. In it the Swedes announce their intention not to permit any uranium exports to any destination. A summary of our negotiations with them is also transmitted. You will observe from these accounts that even in 1945 the Swedish attitude toward our requests was determined by their neutrality concepts and their fear of the Soviet Union; then as now Unden2 was the spokesman. However, since then, other conditions which shaped the negotiations have altered considerably: (a) The prospects for international control of atomic energy have diminished almost to the vanishing point; (b) although the United States is not [Page 717] in a position to give defensive assurances to the Swedes, something like that result would be measurably nearer if a Western collective defense organization in conformity with the UN charter were established, and if the Swedes and the United States were members, or affiliates.

The following are our atomic energy objectives in Sweden, briefly stated:

The Department and the Atomic Energy Commission are now considering whether we should approach the Swedes for as much uranium as we can get, or whether our interest is best served by maintaining a low level of production in Sweden and continuing present arrangements, including transmission to us by Sweden of information about their processing of oil shale. In any case we will shortly begin by asking the Swedes for information about the purposes and progress of their project. We may contend that such cooperation was provided for in the 1945 talks. Sweden is potentially an extremely important source of uranium concentrate. Her production might compare with that of any one country under USSR control. At the time when we first approached the Swedes in August 1945 with a view toward procuring some of this ore, the possibility of Swedish methods for the treatment of oil shale had not yet been established. It now appears that this method is feasible and on the way toward realization. It might be argued that it would be to our interest not to encourage production in Sweden. The answer will depend on how much we need the uranium. We should also recall that Swedish science and resources are adequate to enable them to produce it on their own account within a short time. We do not believe, however, that they would attempt to produce large quantities or that they would go further and attempt to construct in Sweden large-scale atomic reactors on the Hanford3 plan which would probably be beyond their means and, in any case, would be a temptation to an aggressor.
Sweden is one of the few countries in a position to export items of industrial equipment suitable for atomic energy applications. As you know Sweden has already indicated some willingness to cooperate with us in this matter (which was foreshadowed in the September 1945 talks) and has on two occasions stopped orders on shipments at our suggestion. In the near future you will receive an extensive list of items for which we will suggest that the Swedes institute a special export control. It would be possible to claim that the Swedes have an obligation to institute this control under the terms of Section 117–D of the Economic Cooperation Act, but we consider that for the present this would be unnecessary and undesirable for a number of reasons which, I am sure, are obvious to you. Similarly subsection 9 of Section 115–B might be held to give us some special privileges with respect to the uranium process. However, in the course of the negotiations with respect to our agreement with the Swedes on August 5, the Swedes gave us oral assurances that they would furnish information [Page 718] on their resources and exploitation and production.4 We should be reluctant to use ECA to “pressure” the Swedes unnecessarily.
Sweden is obviously an important center of atomic energy intelligence, not only on the matters cited above, but because it is strategically placed for reporting on heavy water developments in Norway, the work of Professor Niels Bohr at Copenhagen, and work in the Soviet areas. We wish to continue existing cooperation in this field and to extend it, if possible.

As I have indicated, the relation of these atomic energy questions to our policy on Swedish “neutrality” is not yet clear. The National Security Council paper5 in its present form does not yet take account of uranium procurement.

I believe that your effective efforts have already made very clear to the Swedes (and their concern is evident) our disapproval of their neutrality policy. However, if we are to make a request for uranium it would be unfortunate, if the Swedes had been forced into a reaffirmation of their neutrality position so categoric as to preclude their making it available to us. On the other hand, an ill-timed request for uranium might merely result in strengthening Sweden’s “neutrality” inclination. In any case, I do not believe that relaxation of our pressure is feasible, desirable or that it would advance our chances of getting uranium.

Until such time as we know what we will ask with respect to atomic energy development and procurement in Sweden and until this objective is fitted to over-all policy formulations, such as that embodied in the National Security Council paper, I would propose that we consider export from this country of items in the atomic energy field apart from the general restriction on military exports. For the present, relatively unimportant items only would be approved; but we have on hand applications for items of importance in atomic energy development and which indicate serious progress in Sweden. Our action on these will be determined with reference to our decision on procurement but in the meantime you may be asked to verify the background and affiliations of prospective consignees.

If we do make a uranium bid and if it is turned down it would give us cause for increased vigor in our campaign on Swedish neutrality. It seems to me that the Swedes may now claim that their estimate of the effect of Swedish neutrality on world security is at least entitled to as much credence as ours, or put another way, that it is a matter of [Page 719] opinion whether our interests are best served by their staying on the fence. However, a request for uranium is a demand for a definite contribution by the Swedes, the significance of which they would have to recognize.

I should be grateful for any views you may have or suggestions for putting the uranium problem into its correct perspective.… We have now made arrangements with the Commission, as well as budgetary provision, for the nomination of a Scientific Attaché to Stockholm who is now being selected, pending confirmation by you of his acceptability to Swedish Government. He should be of considerable help in this field. You will have already received, or will shortly receive, a cable about this.

However, I want to be sure that our missions are at all times cognizant of the political aspects of atomic energy. I should be glad to hear from you currently and directly on these subjects at any time.

Sincerely yours,

Robert A. Lovett
  1. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ii, pp. 4647.
  2. Östen Undén, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Reference is to the United States Atomic Energy Commission’s installations at Hanford, Washington.
  4. With respect to the Swedish “oral assurances” under reference, see memorandum by Maj. John E. Vance of the Staff of General Groves, 25 September 1945, which describes the negotiations with Sweden in August and September 1945, Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ii, p. 53. The Vance memorandum accompanied the present letter as Enclosure 2.
  5. For information on the document under reference, see Hickerson’s memorandum to Lovett, June 18, p. 712.