Policy Planning Staff Files

Minutes of a Meeting of the Policy Planning Staff, Department of State, November 3, 1949, 3 p. m.1

top secret

Present: George Kennan Robert Hooker
Paul Nitze2 Carlton Savage
John Davies Harry Schwartz
Adrian Fisher, L
Dean Rusk, G
Llewellyn Thompson, EUR
The Under Secretary
The Secretary

Mr. Kennan explained that this meeting should be considered in the nature of an interim discussion on the general subject of international control of atomic energy as the Staff has not yet completed its study on this subject and is, therefore, not in a position to make final recommendations. He considered, however, that in the light of such progress as the Staff had made on this subject to date, plus certain new information recently acquired, it was worthwhile to discuss the matter with the Secretary now, particularly as there are pressures building up due to the new information which may make it necessary for the Secretary to express an opinion to the President at any time.

Mr. Kennan outlined as follows the predicament which he fears we are now facing: In his opinion there is a dialectical connection between military and foreign policy in that, given the situation which faces us, we must maintain a strong military machine whose principal purpose should always be to prevent our getting into a world war where we would have to use it. We are so behind the Russians in conventional armaments, and the attraction of the atomic bomb to strategic planners has been such, that we are in danger of finding our whole policy tied to the atom bomb. The question, then, in his mind is what we accomplish if we go in for the development of the super-bomb without [Page 574] showing the Russians any ray of light as far as their own policy is concerned; or, putting it another way, wouldn’t we be pushing the Russians against a closed door and demanding that they go through it? What door can we leave open for them to go through with a certain degree of grace if we are able to push them back to it? Politically, the key to this situation is Germany. We cannot expect the Russians to withdraw from eastern Europe so long as (a) there is no place for those eastern European countries to go, if they leave the Russian orbit, except into the U.S. camp, and ((b) there is no settlement on Germany on the basis of some mutual accommodation between Russia and the United States.

There was general discussion of the advisability of tying limitation of conventional armaments in with any agreement on the control of such things as the atom bomb. Mr. Rusk stated his view that our aim in any such negotiations should always be to make it impossible for any power to start an aggressive war.

Mr. Fisher expressed the opinion that as far as public opinion was concerned the ghost of the Acheson-Lilienthal plan and the Baruch plan would always haunt any proposals made by this Government which differed from those plans—from which he concluded that any new U.S. proposal must be made by a group of elder statesmen so as to possess a hallowed aura sufficient to lay such ghosts.

After considerable discussion of the pros and cons of various means of international control from the point of view of the amount of warning one would get under various possible plans that Russia was violating them and building up a stockpile of atomic or other weapons, the Secretary summed up the unanimous conclusion that regardless of the kind of mechanism of control or prohibition of such weapons, when you do have a war it will eventually (between one and one-half to two and one-half years after its inception) be an atomic war.

Considering the obvious difficulties of obtaining both a general overall agreement with the Russians and specific agreements on armaments, the atomic bomb, relative positions in Europe, etc., the Secretary advanced the following suggestion as a possible tactical means of arriving at agreement: There are a number of subjects on which you need agreement and on each of these subjects you attempt to draw up a treaty. The subjects and the treaties will obviously be interdependent; but, instead of working them all out together or trying to reach an overall agreement prior to specific agreements, why not work on each treaty individually, one at a time, with the idea of putting each aside before attempting to obtain completely hard and fast agreement or ratification, and then proceeding to the next. To begin with, and in order to establish some semblance of an atmosphere of confidence in which these individual matters could be worked on, you might have an agreement to take a two-year vacation on development of the super-bomb. [Page 575] During that period each side might have four persons who would be placed in the country of the other for general observation; or, if that proposal caused such difficulties as to make proceeding to the other agreements impossible, then have no inspection on the general theory that they can’t develop this thing during that time and we don’t want to. Now, having started with that and having reached some tentative agreements, you proceed with working out another agreement on the atomic bomb. When you have accomplished something there you put that aside and work on an agreement on conventional armaments designed to prevent either side from starting an aggressive war with them. Put that aside and plunge into the details of a German peace treaty, then a Japanese peace treaty, then an agreement by which both sides agree to refrain from using subversive tactics on the other. In each of these you can of course point to the U.N. Charter as the gospel on aggressive warfare. Finally, when you are through you take a look at what you have done from an overall point of view and see what you would have if you put them all together. During all the time that it takes to work out these things, at the very least you are talking and exchanging views and attempting to do something constructive rather than just sitting and exchanging glassy stares.

The Secretary acknowledged that all of these things were matters on which we had made no progress in the past; they were all extremely difficult individually and collectively; but he felt that this might be one way of tackling them with hope of accomplishing something.

Mr. Thompson suggested that to the list be added an economic agreement providing for trade between the east and the west which would start the Russians on a path of cooperation, more helpful to them than to us at the beginning, but which eventually might set patterns which would be difficult for them to change.

In discussing the pros and cons of the advantage to us of developing the super-bomb, the only complete agreement was that we would have to start with the assumption that the Russians were working on it also. There were no final conclusions as to whether the Russians would be able to develop it and the atomic bomb at the same time. Nor is it known how much effort it would require for us to develop both. Mr. Nitze felt that the burden of proof should fall on those who say that there would be no power advantages to the country developing it; but further study obviously is called for on the answers to the Secretary’s question as to whether we would really be at a disadvantage if they developed it and we did not and why.

The Secretary said that it might be possible to make a secret decision to go ahead with the development, although the probability of being able to do so was not very great. He said that we certainly could not make a secret decision not to go ahead with it. To go ahead with overall development of both the super-bomb and the atomic bomb [Page 576] requires resolution and confidence on the part of the people and a sound economic situation both in this country and throughout the western world. Therefore, perhaps the best thing is an 18–24 month moratorium on the super-bomb—bilateral if possible, unilateral if necessary—during which time you do your best to ease the international situation, come to an agreement with the Russians, put your own economic house in order, get your people’s minds set to do whatever is necessary to do, and if no agreement is in sight at the end of that time—instead of dropping a bomb on the Russians as one school advocates—then go ahead with overall production of both, backed up by your economy and your people, having made your best effort to do otherwise.

  1. For text of minutes of a series of meetings of the Policy Planning Staff devoted to discussion of the international control of atomic energy, which commenced on October 12, see pp. 191 ff.
  2. Paul H. Nitze, Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Staff.