Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Record of the Meeting of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, Washington, July 20, 1949, 2:30 p. m.1

top secret


The Executive Branch Congress
The Secretary of State Senator McMahon
The Secretary of Defense Senator Connally
General Dwight D. Eisenhower Senator Hickenlooper
Chairman Lilienthal of the Atomic Energy Commission Senator Johnson6
Senator Knowland
Commissioner Pike Senator Millikin
Commissioner Strauss2 Senator Russell7
Commissioner Smyth3 Senator Vandenberg
Commissioner Dean4 Congressman Durham
General Manager Wilson Congressman Cole
Mr. William Webster Congressman Elston8
Mr. Joseph Volpe Congressman Hinshaw9
Mr. Ernest A. Gross Congressman Holifield10
Mr. Adrian S. Fisher5 Congressman Jackson11
Mr. R. Gordon Arneson

The Committee voted by a narrow margin at the outset not to have a transcript of the meeting. Secretary Acheson began the discussion by stating that the proposals which would in due course be read had emerged from many months of study in which the three agencies directly concerned and the President had been involved. He stated that the President had agreed to the proposals and to the recommended procedure whereby consultations would be had with the Joint Committee before any negotiations with the British and the Canadians were begun.

The Secretary reviewed the salient facts of our war-time cooperation with the British and the Canadians and explained how this cooperation had ground to a virtual halt after the war. Whereas all available ores had been allocated to the United States during the period of war-time cooperation, in May of 1946 inasmuch as the United States [Page 491]was not in a position to continue technical cooperation with the United Kingdom and Canada, available ores were distributed on an approximately 50/50 basis. This resulted in an accumulation of stocks in the U.K. far in excess of current use and a starving of our own program. It was to overcome this difficulty that a modus vivendi was entered into early in 1948. Under it the United States received all the ores made available from Belgian Congo production. The modus vivendi provided moreover for a drawing down of British stocks to the extent this was required to keep our program going at full speed. It was expected that by the end of this year, actual transfer of ore from the U.K. stockpile would take place on the order of 600 to 1,000 tons. As part of the modus vivendi it was agreed to exchange information in nine limited areas. As a result of learning with certainty that the British were indeed proceeding to produce plutonium, not for use in power but for use in weapons, the American side members of the CPC met last July to review the situation.12 It was decided that cooperation in the nine agreed areas should be continued but that no move should be made by our side to expand these areas.

The Secretary pointed out that events were moving along in many countries in this field. The best intelligence estimates available indicated that the Soviets might have a bomb by mid-1951 and, in three or four years’ time thereafter, a fairly serious quantity. Such countries as France, Norway, Sweden, and Belgium were proceeding in a modest way to develop atomic energy programs. The U.K., of course, was farthest advanced. It was quite certain that the British would in due course have weapons of their own, although their use of raw materials might not be particularly efficient. Assistance from us would doubtless bring about a more efficient use of uranium and thereby save material for the common effort.

Senator Knowland interjected to ask whether in the opinion of the Department of State the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 permitted the proposed arrangements. The Secretary said that he would propose to develop this point in greater detail later but his brief reply would be “yes.” He went on to say, however, that there was no intention to enter into a secret Executive Agreement, the terms of which would be unknown to the Committee.

At Secretary Acheson’s request, Mr. Lilienthal reviewed the AEC’s needs for raw materials. He stated that the Commission was operating at peak level and needed to continue to do so if it were to come anywhere near meeting the requirements of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for weapons. In the event that we should be obliged to revert to the status quo ante at the end of the year, namely a 50/50 split on raw [Page 492]materials, the AEC production program would begin slowing down within three months. In response to a question from Senator Vandenberg, Mr. Lilienthal said that the Commission did not have a stockpile in the true sense of the word; it did have an operating reserve which might carry the operations for one year. If faced with a curtailment of supply, however, the Commission would consider it more prudent not to run at full blast until all stocks were gone, but rather to begin tapering down gradually in order to string them out for a longer period. That tapering would become evident within three months. As to the information aspect of the problem, Mr. Lilienthal said that the considered opinion of the scientists with whom this matter had been talked over was that it would be valuable and useful to the United States program to have U.K. scientists and technicians available to work with. He pointed out for example that as regards new model weapons which merge into the classification of the super bomb, it was the view of our scientists that U.K. scientists could be of considerable assistance. It was also felt that British talent in the sphere of chemical extraction would be of help to us.

Senator Knowland asked whether the Commission considered that the proposed course of action could be taken without formal action by Congress. Mr. Lilienthal replied that the Commission was guided by a positive finding by the Executive Branch that the proposed arrangements were consistent and indeed contributed to the common defense and security. Once the President had so decided on competent advice, the Commission of course fell in line with that conclusion. Senator Knowland then asked what the view of the Commission would be if this Committee disagreed. Mr. Lilienthal said that in that event, he thought the Commission would be in favor of securing the necessary legislation to permit the course of action proposed.

Secretary Acheson then went on to characterize the interdependence of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada in broad fields of foreign policy. He stated that our actions were so closely interlinked in so many phases of world relations that the matter of the proposed arrangements could only be understood in true perspective in the totality of those relationships. The Secretary then asked the Secretary of Defense for his views, who in turn called upon General Eisenhower as one who had lived with this problem for a number of years to express the military point of view.

General Eisenhower stated that it was the considered view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States should endeavor to take whatever steps were necessary to have access to, and use of, all uranium available in the free world, to produce bombs from this uranium, and to keep those weapons in the Western Hemisphere. As to weapon production in the United Kingdom, he felt that upon the going into effect of the Atlantic Pact, which would greatly strengthen the common [Page 493]defense and security of its signatories, it would be appropriate to allow the U.K. to produce a token amount of plutonium in the British Isles. No government in the U.K. could stand which eschewed work on atomic weapons. He did not consider that present U.K. production plans constituted a major effort but rather a token effort. Specifically, in response to a query from Congressman Hinshaw, General Eisenhower stated that he considered British production pegged at one-tenth of ours to be a token operation.

Senator Vandenberg pointed out that one of the objectives sought under the Atlantic Pact was the prevention of competition among its members as regards the production of weapons. He asked whether the proposal to allow the U.K. to produce plutonium for weapons was not in conflict with the intent of the Pact. General Eisenhower replied that the Pact contemplated that each nation should produce those weapons which it can best produce. He did not think that token manufacture in the U.K. was inconsistent He went on to say that there was so relatively little further information which we had to give to the British as regards atomic weapons that he considered cooperation on atomic weapons with the British to be about the same as cooperation on any other weapon.

Senator Millikin stressed the psychological aspect of the problem, commenting that he thought that the American people would be greatly disturbed at any move to make weapon information available to the U.K. Right or wrong, American public opinion assumed that our monopoly possession of the weapon gave us a real advantage in an uncertain world. He for one felt that the State Department should use every other ace it had in order to secure uranium and that it should not use information as the price of getting uranium.

General Eisenhower stressed that the U.K. and the U.S. were complete associates in nearly all fields of military planning. It did not seem to him sensible to exclude atomic weapons from that association. Senator Vandenberg expatiated at some length to the effect that the American people would never stand for the proposed arrangement. He felt that the time had come to convince the U.K. that in view of all of the assistance we had given them in the past and were still giving them, they should now do something for us. It seemed to him that the atomic weapon afforded the British perhaps the only real opportunity they would ever find for a generous gesture toward the United States. He suggested that whatever the negotiators might have to come out with in the end, they might at least start out as an initial approach to the idea of persuading the British to give up their atomic weapon aspirations in the U.K.

On the question of public opinion, Senator McMahon said he felt that public opinion needed to be given close attention, provided it were informed opinion. He felt, however, that in the event public [Page 494]reaction were based on ignorance and if, on the basis of knowledge available to him, that public opinion was mistaken, he felt that it should not stand in the way of sound solutions to this sort of problem. After one had decided the best course of action in the light of all the facts, then public opinion could be educated to the necessity for the solution proposed.

Senator Hickenlooper asked General Eisenhower whether he thought that there might be a tendency on the part of the British once they had atomic weapons to use them as a means of staying neutral in the case of war with the Soviet Union. General Eisenhower said he thought this quite unlikely. Global wars of the future would be ideological in nature and in such event the U.K. and ourselves would be the fullest of partners.

Senator Millikin asked whether the presence of plutonium production plants in the U.K. would not be an invitation to Soviet attack. General Eisenhower said he doubted this, particularly if one had in mind a scale of operation in the British Isles which was not of major proportions. Senator Connally interjected that the U.K. certainly seemed justified in wanting to have some atomic weapons at hand in order to counter any intial blitz that might fall upon them. General Eisenhower commented that if the U.K. developed full faith in the Atlantic Pact, it might not insist on having bombs of its own. He felt that British public opinion would require that some token production of plutonium be carried on in the British Isles. In response to a question from Congressman Elston, General Eisenhower said he felt that a 10% effort in the U.K. should represent about the maximum that we should allow. He went on to say that the core of the bomb should be stored in the Western Hemisphere. The British might require, and should be allowed to have, a few of the finished products to use for training purposes.

Senator Millikin inquired whether the British Air Staff was aware of our strategic war plans based on the use of the bomb in the initial phases. General Eisenhower replied that the top echelons of the British Air Staff were familiar with these plans.

At this juncture, Secretary Acheson requested that he be permitted to develop the discussion in a somewhat more orderly way and in so doing would like to read verbatim the proposed negotiating position. By way of preface, he stressed the fact that what he was about to read represented a negotiating objective and, in advance of having talked with the British, we could by no means guarantee we could do this well. He pointed out that the basis of allocation of effort was raw materials and that there was not involved here any real problem of giving or not giving to the British weapons information inasmuch as they already had this knowledge. The Secretary then proceeded to read the conclusions contained in the Report to the President dated [Page 495]March 2, 1949. Various questions were interjected as he proceeded, so that he never quite finished.

Senator McMahon asked whether it might be feasible to offer to duplicate existing British facilities in Canada in exchange for which the U.K. would dismantle the plants it now has in being or in contemplation in the British Isles. Secretary Acheson felt that this was quite an impossible thing to do, that the British would never agree to it, in large measure because they understandably enough felt there was a considerable element of assurance to their people in having plutonium production facilities in their own Islands.

Senator Knowland stated in the strongest terms that he would oppose any negotiations being undertaken unless there were advanced commitment on the part of the State Department to secure Congressional approval for whatever arrangements might evolve from such negotiation. He said that his view might be a minority view, but that he felt so strongly about it that in the event such assurances were not forthcoming, he would feel obligated to take the matter up on the floor of the Senate.

Senator Hickenlooper said that he felt that the U.K. was only a real estate broker in this whole situation and that he did not feel we should have to bargain with them for the uranium which indeed was not theirs in the first instance but rather belonged to the Belgians.

Congressman Cole asked whether the proposed arrangements contemplated any commitment to consult with the other party as to the use of weapons in its possession. General Eisenhower replied that there was not. The United States would be free to use the product of its operations in any way it saw fit. This would also apply to the U.K. Congressman Cole asked whether this new arrangement might provoke the Soviet Union to war. General Eisenhower felt that it would not any more than existing arrangements were likely to do.

Congressman Hinshaw wished to know how much public information there was as to presently existing cooperation between the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. Mr. Lilienthal mentioned that there had been some information at least about a year ago on the existence of the Combined Policy Committee and a general statement of cooperation in certain limited areas of information and on problems of raw materials supply common to the three governments.

Senator Millikin emphasized that he would propose to go to the Congress immediately if there were any disposition on the part of the State Department to go ahead with negotiations without prior assurance that any arrangements that might be agreed would be subject to Congressional approval. Congressman Hinshaw pointed out that Senator Millikin’s objection related only to the question of exchange of information. He did not see how efforts to continue an adequate supply of uranium could be objected to.

[Page 496]

Secretary Acheson then developed the view of the Executive Branch as to legal questions involved. After referring to the relevant sections of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 he stated the view that the Act permitted such arrangements as would be formed after due deliberation to promote the best interests of the common defense and security. In his view, the guides to policy laid down in Sections 10A and B of the Act were subject always to the overriding policy consideration of the common defense and security. He stated that the responsible authorities in the Executive Branch had found that the arrangements were indeed calculated to promote the common defense and security and therefore these arrangements were held to be permissible under that Act. He stated that the question of permissibility had been raised in connection with the modus vivendi and this Committee had agreed at that time that the modus vivendi arrangements were permitted under the law. If it were now to be claimed that the proposed new arrangements were not legal, then serious doubts would have to be raised about the legality of the 1948–49 arrangements to which this Committee had agreed.

Senator Millikin stated that negotiations could not be started without the consent of the Congress. Congress had pre-empted this field. He was opposed to any negotiations being entered into with the intent to violate the law. Senator McMahon pointed out that there could not in fact be any violation of the law until exchange of information under a new arrangement actually began. Senator Connally disagreed with Senator Millikin’s point of view and stated that in his judgment the Congress had not and could not pre-empt this field. He expressed full support for the point of view developed by the Secretary of State.

Senator Knowland expressed the view that if the Department of State would inform the British and the Canadians that any arrangements that were agreed upon would be subject to Congressional approval, our negotiating position would be greatly strengthened. He repeated that any attempt to negotiate without a prior commitment to secure Congressional approval would force him to raise the whole problem on the floor of the Senate.

Congressman Elston took violent exception to the point of view expressed by the Secretary of State and related some of the legislative history of the Act. He recalled that the Conference report on the Bill, portions of which he read, made it quite clear that no secret whatever in this field, whether with regard to industrial uses or weapons uses, should be exchanged with any other government.

In response to a question from Senator Hickenlooper, Mr. Lilienthal stated that as of the date the President expressed his approval of the recommendations which had been submitted to him on March 2, the attitude of the Atomic Energy Commission was determined by [Page 497]that approval of the President. He went on to say that there was complete agreement in the Commission on the objective to be sought. One member, Commissioner Strauss, had recommended that pending the establishment of new arrangements, present interchange under the modus vivendi should be terminated, primarily because it had been learned that the British effort was directed primarily toward weapons production.

Senator McMahon, in commenting upon the form of agreement, said that one of the difficulties that arose in connection with passing a Joint Resolution of Congress was that all details of the agreement would necessarily become known. Congressman Hinshaw commented that perhaps this could be avoided by amending the law in respect to Section 10. Senator McMahon, however, felt that any attempt to amend the law in this particular would in due course bring about complete revelation of the details of the proposed agreement.

Secretary Acheson proposed that in view of the complexity of this problem and the need to give the most meticulous study, he would like to suggest that the group might meet again with the Committee at a later date to discuss the matter further. He hoped that the presentation that had been made to the Committee would prove useful and expressed the hope that the Committee would bear in mind that the proposed arrangements that had been laid before it had not been arrived at cursorily but only after long and careful study on the part of the appropriate agencies in the Executive Branch.

Senator Vandenberg said he hoped that reconsideration would be reciprocal. He hoped that the Department of State would take into full account the views that had been expressed by Committee members with particular emphasis on the public relations problem. He felt that the United States weakened its hand in any future international negotiation the moment it gave up its atomic secrets. He expressed his strong opposition to having negotiations entered into which required us to pay for uranium with vital secret information. Secretary Johnson said he concurred in the suggestion made by Secretary Acheson that the group meet with the Committee again. He suggested such a meeting be held two weeks hence. Meanwhile he would see to it that the Defense Establishment reviewed its entire position in the light of what had been said at the meeting, having particularly in mind the views of Senator Vandenberg as they related to the question of what the reaction of the American people would be. Meanwhile, he hoped that all participants in the meeting would suspend judgment and would undertake to say nothing further to the press on this subject.

Senator Knowland charged that leaks to the press had come from the other end of the Avenue. The Committee members were placed in an intolerable position by being forced to learn about the Blair House [Page 498]meeting only through the public press. Both Secretary Johnson and Secretary Acheson assured the Senator and the Committee that neither agency had given any information to the press about the Blair House meeting. Secretary Acheson went on to say that it was his impression that if any leaks had occurred, they must necessarily have come from among the Congressional participants. Senator McMahon then said that unless he heard objection, he would propose that the only statement he make on behalf of the Committee and this group about the present meeting would be that it had been called to discuss the question of future relationships with the United Kingdom and Canada in the field of atomic energy, that the discussion was exploratory in nature, no decision was reached, and that further conferences would be held. No objection to this statement was voiced.

It was finally agreed at the suggestion of Secretary Acheson that the group would meet again with the Committee on call of its Chairman.

R. Gordon Arneson
  1. This record was prepared by Arneson on July 20. A memorandum by the Secretary of State of his conversation with President Truman on July 21 indicates that he reported on the present meeting at that time (Department of State Atomic Energy Files).
  2. Senator Edwin C. Johnson of Colorado.
  3. Lewis L. Strauss.
  4. Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia.
  5. Henry D. Smyth.
  6. Gordon E. Dean.
  7. Representative Charles H. Elston of Ohio.
  8. Representative Carl Hinshaw of California.
  9. Representative Chet Holifield of California.
  10. General Counsel of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1948–1949; appointed Legal Adviser, Department of State, June 22, 1949.
  11. Representative Henry M. Jackson of Washington.
  12. Reference is to the meeting of the American Members of the Combined Policy Committee on July 6, 1948, the Minutes of which are in Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 719.