SCI Files

President Truman to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Souers)1

secret

My Dear Mr. Souers: On April 8, 1949, pursuant to Sec. 6(a)–2 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, I approved a joint recommendation by the National Military Establishment and the Atomic Energy Commission with respect to the level of the Commission’s program for the production of fissionable materials and atomic weapons.2 At that time, I was informed that new objectives were under study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff looking toward accelerated production schedules and increased weapon requirements.

It has been brought to my attention recently that the National Military Establishment will soon come forward with new proposals which, if approved, would increase very substantially the presently-approved program of the Commission and would entail major expenditures over the next three years by the Commission for which no provision has been made in the budget. A conservative estimate of the cost of constructing the required new plant facilities is $300 million, and the increase in annual operating costs in the near future would be about $60 million. The National Military Establishment has fixed January 1, 1956, as the target date for realization of the revised objectives.

The National Security Council is now reviewing the national defense and international programs, including the program of the Atomic Energy Commission, at my request. I regard it as essential that the revised objectives and requirements for the fissionable materials and atomic weapons program, as formulated by the National Military Establishment, be thoroughly studied and evaluated against the Council’s perspective of our total defense requirements. It is equally important that the proposed sharp acceleration of this program be considered from the standpoint of its relationship to the foreign policy of the United States.

To assist me in reaching a judgment with respect to the forthcoming proposals, I desire advice as to the necessity for expansion of the Commission’s program along the lines to be recommended by the National Military Establishment. For this purpose I am designating the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission as a special committee within the framework of the Council to prepare a recommendation upon this matter. I suggest that they should each furnish appropriate staff from [Page 502]their respective agencies to work under your direction in the preparation of the necessary staff studies. Without in any way intending to limit the committee’s range of inquiry, I would particularly value its opinions on such matters as the following:

1.
The adequacy of the present program for production of fissionable materials and weapons to safeguard our national security through January, 1956.
2.
The relative gain in terms of national security to be derived from the proposed increased expenditure versus the degree of security resulting from a continuation of the program at its present level (including development of improved atomic bombs and applications in the field of guided missiles).
3.
The soundness of the timing of the proposed acceleration, from the standpoint of (a) the stringency of the over-all budgetary situation, (b) the status of the Commission’s research and development looking toward a smaller and lighter atomic bomb which might significantly improve existing deliverability considerations, and (c) the effect upon the international situation of so great an acceleration of visible effort in this area of our national defense program.
4.
The effect of making offsetting reductions in other areas of the national defense program to permit the proposed acceleration in the atomic Weapons area without a net increase in the budget.

Other factors to be considered by the committee in arriving at a judgment are (a) the calculations underlying the National Military Establishment’s revised estimates of requirements for fissionable materials and weapon production levels, and (b) the prospects of an adequate supply of basic raw materials to support the production rates deemed desirable by the National Military Establishment.

The committee will recognize that, while the problem is complex, my needs will be best served if preoccupation with technical details is avoided. The committee’s judgment should be based upon identification of the central issues which, taken together and properly evaluated from the standpoint of public policy, constitute the core of the problem.

I assume that it will be necessary for the committee to inform itself upon a number of matters which heretofore have been reserved, for reasons of the highest security, to a limited number of persons. It is very important, of course, that this number continue to be held to a minimum in connection with the committee’s study. However, in order that the committee may have the benefit of full and complete information as its study proceeds, it is my desire that both the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Military Establishment afford the committee all the assistance which it requires.

I am advising the Department of State, the National Military Establishment, and the Atomic Energy Commission of my decision to place this matter before the Council by sending copies of this letter to Secretary Acheson, Secretary Johnson, and Chairman Lilienthal.

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I desire to be kept informed of the progress which the Council makes on this assignment and will anticipate its recommendations at the conclusion of its study.

Sincerely yours,

Harry S. Truman
  1. The White House transmitted a copy of this letter to the Secretary of State on July 26.
  2. The joint letter for the President authorizing 1949 production has not been found in the files of the Department of State. Information on the production program appears in Hewlett and Duncan, Chapter 6.