SCI Files

Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan) to the Secretary of State, the Under Secretary of State (Webb), and the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Rusk)

top secret

Accompanied by Mr. Fisher and Mr. Arneson, I attended this morning the meeting called by Mr. Souers to consider the President’s letter of July 26 concerning the expansion of the atomic energy production program proposed by the National Military Establishment.1 The meeting was attended by Sidney Souers and James Lay2 from the National Security Council; William Webster, John Ohly3 and General Lauris Norstad4 from the National Military Establishment; Carleton Shugg and General James McCormack, Jr.5 from the Atomic Energy Commission.

Mr. Webster, Chairman of the Military Liaison Committee and Deputy to the Secretary for Defense on Atomic Energy Matters, gave [Page 508]a brief statement of the background of the NME’s proposal, but did not attempt to go into all the various questions indicated in the President’s letter.

I stated that we would require, as a starter for the consideration of this subject, a clearer and more detailed picture of exactly what the proposal was and what it would imply with respect to operations and expenditures, in point of time as well as of quantity, and a breakdown of the NME’s justification for the proposal, according to the points mentioned in the President’s letter and additional points which some of us might wish to suggest.

It was accordingly agreed that the working group would meet again Tuesday morning, and that by that time the NME would prepare such justification, as well as a description of its proposal, and the AEC would prepare a statement of what this meant in terms of the Commission’s operations.6

There was some discussion of the timing of our deliberations in its relation to the plans of Congress and the possibility of submitting a supplementary request during the present session of Congress, and the suggestion was made from the military side that the NME’s proposal ought really to be accepted forthwith, on the basis of Mr. Webster’s statement, in order that an approach could be made to Congress early next week. I explained that this was out of the question, as far as we were concerned; that the President’s letter placed specific responsibilities on us for making a thorough and considered judgment which would take into account many different aspects of the matter; and that we would have to go into this thoroughly and carefully and with due regard to the other pressures to which our senior officials are subjected.

It was the consensus of thinking in the group that after the statements of the NME and the AEC have been submitted to us, they would be used for briefing you and the other principals of the committee, and that in due course thereafter a meeting of the three principals with the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be in order.

The President’s letter placed upon this Department the specific responsibility for making a judgment of this question from the standpoint of foreign policy, and I said that we would, in the interval between now and Tuesday’s meeting, have a preliminary look at this. I explained that we would not be able to give any definite view until we received the statements of the NME and the AEC and had a [Page 509]thorough understanding of the nature of the proposal and the reasons advanced by way of justification for it.

On the basis of this preliminary meeting, I have no reaction, pro or con, concerning the proposal itself. The factual background is still quite inadequate for such a judgment.

As to the foreign affairs significance, this much seems to be clear: If the proposal were to be adopted, it would probably not come to the attention of the public through operations undertaken by the AEC at their plants since this would probably be pretty well absorbed, outwardly, into what people conceive as the normal activities of the Commission. The proposal would, however, presumably leak after presentation to the Congressional committees, and quite possibly in a fairly sensational form. Although actually it has no particular relation to the state of international affairs at this juncture and probably would have no appreciable effect on production in the short run, the public would not appreciate this, and the move would appear as a stepping up of the atomic bomb program, presumably in anticipation of some early expected emergency, unknown to the public. While we have not yet given this careful study, I can think of no reason why it would be desirable to produce this reaction, and of several reasons why it would be undesirable—unless further study brings to light new factors.

A proposal was made by the representative of the AEC that a member of the Budget Bureau be included in the working group. I stated that since no provision was made for this in the President’s letter, I could not accept the suggestion off-hand, and would refer it to Mr. Webb.7

George F. Kennan
  1. Ante, p. 501.
  2. Assistant Executive Secretary of the National Security Council.
  3. Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.
  4. Lieutenant General Lauris Norstad, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, U.S. Air Force Headquarters.
  5. Director of the Division of Military Application of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  6. In a memorandum to Acheson, Webb, and Rusk, August 4, Kennan stated that Souers had telephoned during the morning to report that the National Military Establishment had reconsidered the possibility of getting the proposal for expansion of the atomic weapons program before Congress at the present session and had decided that it would not be worthwhile to attempt to do so. The meeting of Tuesday, August 8, would therefore be postponed pending further consideration of the subject by the interested parties. (SCI Files)
  7. In a marginal notation, the Secretary of State wrote “I would not add to the group.”