Policy Planning Staff Files2

Report by the Policy Planning Staff

top secret


Atomic Energy Policy vis-à-vis U.K. and Canada

The two attached documents—the memorandum of February 3, 1949 and the notes of January 28, 1949—are not Policy Planning Staff papers, but they were prepared with the active participation of Messrs, Kennan3 and Butler.4 Consequently, they have been given a PPS number and included with the regular folders of Planning Staff papers.

[Annex 1]

Memorandum by Mr. R. Gordon Arneson 5 to the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary of State (Webb)

Subject: Atomic Energy Policy vis-à-vis U.K. and Canada.

Under the terms of the wartime Quebec Agreement of August 19436 the U.S., U.K., and Canada cooperated in producing the atomic bomb. [Page 420]The major effort, of course, was centered in the U.S. but both the British and Canadians made valuable contributions to the project, particularly in terms of scientific knowledge and talent. During this period teams of British scientists worked in this country on various phases of the project including weapons. Sir James Chadwick headed the British team at Los Alamos which—according to the Smyth Report7—made important contributions to the work.

A Combined Policy Committee was established under the Quebec Agreement to implement the arrangements concerning exchange of information and the allocation of ores. The Agreement provided that information was to be exchanged only in those areas where parallel activity was being carried on and where such exchange would hasten production of the weapon. Ores, the principal source of which was the Congo, were allocated almost entirely to the United States. These ores were made available under the terms of a tripartite agreement between the U.S., U.K., and Belgium which was signed in September 19448 and is still in effect.

Toward the close of the war the British began raising questions concerning postwar arrangements in this field. While concerting with us in the attempt to secure international control of atomic energy through the United Nations, they pressed for clarification of the provision of the Quebec Agreement whereby the U.K. would be admitted to participation in the commercial peace-time benefits of atomic energy on terms considered equitable by the President. They wished also to establish the basis on which exchange of information would proceed after the war. For a long period of time no fully responsive answers were given to these questions. The United States argued that the negotiations proceeding in the UN for international control made any firm settling of these matters undesirable at the time. We also stressed the uncertainties arising from domestic legislation establishing the Atomic Energy Commission.9 The net result was that our relations in this field with the U.K., and to a lesser extent Canada, rapidly deteriorated.

Meanwhile, the Combined Policy Committee (and its subsidiary body the Combined Development Trust, the mission of which was to secure on behalf of the three countries jointly, maximum supplies of uranium and thorium) continued to function. A temporary allocation [Page 421]formula was arrived at in May 1946 which resulted in an approximately 50–50 split between the U.K. and U.S. of ores made available principally from the Congo.10 As a result the AEC found that its planned production programs were becoming seriously jeopardized for lack of sufficient raw material. At the same time large stocks were accumulating in the U.K. far in excess of current requirements. This matter was brought urgently to the attention of the American members of the Combined Policy Committee (the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission) in the fall of 1947. After Appropriate consultations with the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, the American side CPC decided to undertake negotiations with the British and the Canadians in an attempt to secure a more favorable allocation of ores, to define possible areas of exchange of information, and to clear up past misunderstandings.11

These negotiations were quite satisfactory. All previous agreements between the Governments were superseded by a modus vivendi recorded in the January 7, 1948 minutes of the CPC.12 It provided that the total output made available from the Belgian Congo for calendar 1948 and 1949 should be shipped to the United States. It provided further that should such supplies be insufficient to meet the stated requirements of the U.S. program U.K. stocks would be drawn down to meet the deficiencies. During 1948 Belgian supplies proved sufficient for the U.S. program. Prospects are that the United States will have to call on U.K. stocks in 1949 in an amount between 600 to 1,000 tons. (Long overdue developmental work in the Congo which is now underway will result in a considerable reduction in the Congo output for 1949.) The modus vivendi provided for interchange of information in 9 general areas. These areas do not include information on the production of plutonium or the manufacture of weapons. The basic criterion followed in establishing these areas was that of mutual advantage in advancing general knowledge concerning the non-military phases of atomic energy. The modus vivendi continued the CPC as the organ to supervise these arrangements as well as the CDT under the name of the Combined Development Agency.

At the time the modus vivendi was being negotiated it was generally understood by all concerned that the U.K. planned and, indeed, was proceeding toward the production of plutonium and the manufacture of atomic weapons. The scheme of allocation arrived at took into account U.K. requirements for two plutonium production piles although [Page 422]the areas of exchange laid down sought rigorously to exclude information on plutonium production and weapons manufacture.

In carrying out technical cooperation under the modus vivendi it has been found exceedingly difficult to furnish information for use in other areas which did not contribute useful knowledge to plutonium production or weapons manufacture. The essential reason for this lies in the fact that the British already possess a great fund of knowledge much of which was gained during the period of wartime collaboration. It is fair to assume that the British have all basic information concerning the fabrication of the weapon itself and a considerable fund of knowledge in all other phases of atomic energy. While no British scientists were stationed during the war at Hanford and they may, therefore, be assumed not to have detailed knowledge of the engineering and technical problems of Hanford-type piles, yet their basic knowledge is such that they should not meet any insuperable obstacles in erecting and operating plutonium production piles of their own.

In September 1948 Admiral Sir Henry Moore13 presented to Mr. Forrestal14 on behalf of the British Minister of Defense, a memorandum proposing complete interchange of information on weapons.15 The immediate U.S. reaction was negative, but no final answer has yet been given to the request.

Meanwhile the Soviet Union and other countries are proceeding on independent atomic energy programs. A number of non-Curtain countries are pressing for assistance in advancing rather modest research and experimental activities.

The situation shown by the foregoing recital of events recently was discussed by staff members of State, Defense, and AEC who came to the conclusion that a general re-examination should be made of this Government’s atomic energy policy with regard particularly to the U.K. and Canada. In order to facilitate such re-examination a group was called together on a purely informal, individual basis at Princeton on the 24 and 25 of January. Those attending were:

James B. Conant16

J. Robert Oppenheimer17

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National Military Establishment

  • William Webster18
  • Lt. General Lauris Norstad19
  • Maj. General Kenneth Nichols20

Atomic Energy Commission

  • Carroll Wilson21
  • Joseph Volpe22

Department of State

  • George F. Kennan
  • George Butler
  • R. Gordon Arneson

This group was made up of individuals representing various shades of viewpoint and possessing extensive information concerning the subject at hand. It was asked to consider various alternatives that might be suggested with regard to our relations with the U.K. and Canada on atomic energy matters and the subordinate problem of our relations with other countries in this field. The attached paper represents the consensus of view of this group. It represents a remarkable area of agreement forged from a completely frank and straightforward presentation of viewpoint on the part of all participants. While the group has no official status it does represent a fair selection of informed opinion which it would be hard to duplicate.

The Princeton group did not attempt to outline the steps that should be taken to secure Governmental approval for the position suggested: it recognized that this was a matter to be worked out by State, Defense and AEC. The group felt strongly, however, that the problem of atomic energy no longer can be safely dealt with under the present severe restrictions of secrecy and that it would be dangerous and unsound to undertake any revision of present arrangements without full public disclosure of the relevant facts and proposed arrangements. Final decision on the question of publicity must, of course, take into account the reactions not only of the U.K. and Canada but also of those countries with which we have secret agreements on raw materials, especially Belgium.

The following sequence of steps, based on the assumption of publicity, is suggested for your consideration:

When the responsible officials of the three agencies come to a consensus of view on the suggested solution in Tab D23 (the problem is [Page 424]scheduled for Commission discussion on Thursday, February 3,24 and is presently the subject of intensive soundings throughout the National Military Establishment), a meeting of the American side CPC should be called to arrive at a method of procedures which might take the following form:

Steps should be taken soon to inform the President of the line of action proposed by the three agencies.
The proposed program should be discussed with appropriate Congressional leaders. These would include at minimum the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, and the leaders of the Foreign Affairs Committees.
Until the support of the President and Congressional leaders has been obtained the American side CPC would not be in a position to propose any specific basis for negotiation with the U.K. and Canada, but as soon as such support is obtained, the U.K. and Canada should be sounded out as to their views on an appropriate solution to the problem. In particular, the United States should ascertain first whether the U.K. and Canada are willing to accept a commitment (as suggested in III 2 (b) of Tab D) to consult on the location of production facilities in terms of strategic considerations, the coordination of programs in such a way as to make the most effective use of joint resources, specifically raw materials and of effort, and the coordination of the disclosure of information to other government, and, second, whether the U.K. and Canada have any specific suggestions as to how these plans should be implemented. As regards relations with non-Curtain countries, the U.K. and Canada should be urged to accept the principle (VI and 2 of Tab D) that the three nations are opposed to the development of atomic energy at this time in other countries. If they are willing to give these undertakings and indicate their willingness to implement these principles in a way acceptable to this Government, negotiations should be begun on the basis of the position suggested in III 2 and V 1 and 2 of Tab D.
It has been suggested that the proposed arrangements with the U.K. and Canada should be related to the North Atlantic Security Pact.25 Consideration should be given to the question whether the President in presenting the Pact to the Senate for ratification should make reference to this problem. In asking for Senate ratification the President might review our efforts in the United Nations to secure collective security, the development of regional arrangements in view of the failure to achieve collective security arrangements on a universal basis, citing the Rio Pact,26 the Marshall Plan,27 and the proposed North Atlantic Security Pact. He might then draw a parallel [Page 425]between this broad development and the history of events in atomic energy. He could stress that while international control remains our first objective and that the U.S. offer still stands, the United States is forced by world developments to take some action in this field parallel to those represented by the Rio Pact, the Marshall Plan, and the North Atlantic Security Pact. He might make clear that Congressional approval for the last would be taken as an indication by the Congress of its support for expanding present cooperative arrangements with the U.K. and Canada to cover the whole range of atomic energy, including atomic weapons. In doing so the stress would have to be laid on the fact that the U.K. would soon be in a position to have atomic weapons by her own efforts and that a major objective of concerting efforts would be to secure the most efficient use of joint resources.

It is evident that the foregoing program calls for considerable niceness of timing. It is hoped that a meeting of the American members of the Combined Policy Committee may be called at an early date in order that the techniques can be worked out with precision.

R. Gordon Arneson

Approved by: George F. Kennan

[Annex 2]

Notes on a Meeting at Princeton, New Jersey, January 24–25, 1949

I. The following working hypotheses emerged from an all-day discussion on January 24: (No significance should be attached to the order in which points are listed.)

1. By at least the following criteria the atomic bomb is a unique weapon.

Today we alone have them.
Plans for their use form a central core of our offensive capabilities.
When the USSR has any atomic bombs a critical reexamination of our war plans will probably be required.

2. The position as to the supply of uranium ore if allocated in relation to needs for the U.S. and U.K. programs is about as follows:

If used to supply the contemplated present U.S. program and present U.K. program it is expected that there will be sufficient production from the Belgian Congo, Canada, U.S. and South Africa to supply both programs for the period 1949 through 1955 (and probably beyond), assuming benefits from Redox28 are felt in the U.S. program by 1952.
In the unlikely event that Redox fails there will be insufficient supplies for more than the U.S. program.
The next two or three years will be tight and especially so during 1949 when we expect to have to draw on reserves in the U.K. to the extent of 600 to 1,000 tons in order to maintain the U.S. program.

3. Extension of U.S. cooperation with the U.K. in the U.K. program for the production of fissionable materials and weapons has no determinable bearing on the rate of progress of the USSR program. (In any event, it was not believed to be significant.)

4. Effect of U.S. cooperation in relation to the progress of the U.K. program, assuming no expansion of U.K. program for producing fissionable materials beyond present two piles plus modest diffusion plant, is estimated to be as follows:

No extension of U.S. cooperation to the fields of production and weapons— ....
Full U.S. information and general cooperation—might allow U.K. to get the first bomb in two and one-half years and to make 50 in seven to eight years. (Principal effects of U.S. assistance would probably be to increase reliability of production of fissionable material and economy in the use of raw materials and effort.)

5. Belief as to the reasons for the U.K. program:

Freedom of action in terms of national self-sufficiency in terms atomic weapons.
National prestige and position in regard to atomic energy in connection with future peacetime applications require a program for production of fissionable material and for reactor development.
Uncertainty and apprehension as to the attitude (and continuity of attitude) of the U.S. towards the U.K. in atomic energy matters.

6. U.S. objections to the existence of a program for the production of fissionable materials and weapons in the U.K.: (While indefinite retention of U.S. monopoly in this field was recognized as desirable, it was evident to the group that this was wholly impracticable.)

Greater vulnerability in the event of war to destruction of installations in the U.K. as compared to those in the Western Hemisphere and hence loss of productive capacity in terms of our common defense. (The destruction in time of war of the present U.K. project will not have an important effect on the total output of weapons.)
In terms of raw materials, the expectation that more efficient conversion of U3O8 to weapons might occur if done in U.S. plants.
Uneconomic diversion of U.K. technical and economic resources.

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7. Technical benefits to the U.S. of sharing in the fruits of U.K. effort:

As to new technical ideas there is a reasonable presumption that important advances will be made by the U.K.
As to industrial technology there is probably not much to gain because their practice is not readily adaptable to our use.

8. In view of the large amount of classified information already known to the U.K., it will be impossible to separate further information they may gain from the U.S. into two categories—one useful for production of fissionable materials and weapons and one not useful for such purposes.

II. Objectives of the U.S. in regard to atomic weapons:

To obstruct Soviet progress as much as possible, both as to the time of securing the first bomb and the subsequent rate of production.
To improve the position of the U.S. as much as possible vis-à-vis Russian position.
To reduce vulnerability of productive capacity and stockpiles to destruction by Russian action.
To improve the means of delivering atomic bombs against Soviet targets in the event of war.
To have our policy in this field consistent with our general foreign policy.

III. Proceeding from the above hypotheses, discussion on Tuesday, January 25, led the conferees to the following common view of the appropriate position of the U.S. in relation to the U.K. and Canada:

After examination of the alternative courses of action, there was no advocate either for continuation within the present modus vivendi or the alternative of attempting to stop the U.K. program by U.S. pressure.
The following position appeared to offer the greatest assurance of serving the common defense and security:
Provide for complete interchange of information in all fields of atomic energy, including weapons.
Provide for consultation among the parties on policy and program with particular reference to the following principles:
Production facilities should be located with due regard for strategic considerations, and
The programs of the three parties should be coordinated in such a way as to make the most effective use of joint resources, specifically raw materials, and of effort, and
The establishment of effective coordination with respect to the disclosure to other governments, including the Dominions, or authorities or persons of classified information in this field.
Provide for full freedom of action on the part of the three parties with regard to their respective atomic energy programs.
Provide for the continuation of the CPC with its present ratio of membership from U.S.–U.K.–Canada to carry out and supervise these arrangements.

IV. Implementation of U.S. position:

It would be dangerous and unsound to undertake any revision of present arrangements without full public disclosure of the relevant facts and proposed arrangements.
In presenting it publicly it should be related to the North Atlantic Pact but not made a part of that Pact.
There should be Congressional action in some form to confirm the course of action chosen.

V. An attempt was made in the discussion on Tuesday to define some principles which might be useful as a guide to a position vis-à-vis friendly countries outside the U.S., U.K. and Canada. It was the common view that:

The three countries should establish that they were opposed to the development of atomic energy at this time outside these three nations.
That they would be agreeable to giving certain scientific assistance to other nations. This might take the form of:
Welcoming and facilitating study by scientists of such nations so that they might work in universities and unclassified scientific laboratories in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.
Encouraging interest in and assisting in connection with the development of accelerator projects and other activities in nuclear science not related to atomic energy for making fissionable materials or weapons.
That it would be undesirable for CPC countries to take the initiative to provide assistance beyond (a) and (b). However, it was proposed that we consider the declassification and publication of the design and how to make a simple heavy water reactor of the Zoe type (French reactor). The wisdom and feasibility of this proposal was questioned. There was a difference of view as to whether an effective line could be held if there were any cooperation in relation to reactors. It was agreed that preservation of secrecy in relation to such matters is a “rear-guard action” and there is difference in judgment as to where and how the line should be held and when changed. It was concluded that prior to attempting a decision the proposal required careful study by a qualified group of technical experts.

  1. Lot 64D563, files of the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State, 1947–1953.
  2. George F. Kennan, Director of the Policy Planning Staff.
  3. George H. Butler, Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Staff.
  4. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State, James E. Webb, for atomic energy policy.
  5. For documentation on the First Quebec Conference, August 14–24, 1943, including the text of the Quebec Agreement signed August 19, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Washington and Quebec, 1943.
  6. Henry D. Smyth, “A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes,” the official report on the development of the atomic bomb by the United States, 1940–1945, prepared by the Chairman of the Department of Physics of Princeton University, a consultant for Manhattan Engineer District (the U.S. atomic energy development program); released by the War Department on August 12, 1945, and published as Atomic Energy for Military Purposes (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1945).
  7. For the text of the Memorandum of Agreement, September 26, 1944, between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium relating to uranium, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, p. 1029.
  8. Reference is to the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, Public Law 585, 79 Congress, 60 Stat 755.
  9. The text of the allocation agreement and other documentation on foreign policy aspects of United States development of atomic energy during 1946 appear in Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. i, pp. 1197 ff.
  10. For documentation on this subject, see ibid., 1947, vol. i, pp. 781 ff.
  11. For text, see ibid., 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 679.
  12. Head of the British Naval Mission in Washington; Adviser to the British Members of the Combined Policy Committee.
  13. James Forrestal, Secretary of Defense.
  14. For text of the memorandum, September 1, 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 750.
  15. Dr. James B. Conant, President of Harvard University; Member of the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Commission.
  16. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Chairman 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.
  17. Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense on atomic energy policy; Chairman of the Military Liaison Committee to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
  18. Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, United States Air Force.
  19. Member of the Military Liaison Committee to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
  20. General Manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
  21. Associate General Counsel, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
  22. Reference is to Annex 2, which was attached to Arneson’s memorandum as Tab D. Other tabs, not included in PPS/48, were the Quebec Agreement (Tab A); the Modus Vivendi of 1948 (Tab B); and a résumé of the status of British atomic energy projects (Tab C), not printed.
  23. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Meeting of February 3 is described in Hewlett and Duncan, pp. 297 298.
  24. For documentation on the North Atlantic Pact, see vol. iv, pp. 1 ff.
  25. Reference is to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, concluded at the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security, August 15–Septemiber 2, 1947. For text of the treaty, see Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS), No. 1838; for documentation on the conference, see ibid., vol. viii, pp. 1 ff.
  26. For documentation on the political and economic crisis in Europe and the United States response (The Marshall Plan), see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. iii, pp. 197 ff.
  27. This process for the recovery of uranium is described in Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The New World, 1939–1946: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, vol. i (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962), p. 630.