Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

top secret

This morning I called on Secretary Johnson1 at my request. I had with me the decisions reached by the Defense Ministers at their Paris meeting2 on the strategic concept for the defense of the North Atlantic area. I also had the transcript of the record of their proceedings.3 I said to Mr. Johnson that some uncertainty existed in the [Page 363] minds of some of my colleagues as to what was meant by some of his statements in regard to Paragraph 7(a) having to do with strategic bombing. I told him that the meaning of his statements seemed clear to me but that I wanted to be absolutely sure about it for the reasons which I would give him.

I then read him the original text presented by the Military Committee on the subject and also the final text adopted by the Ministers.3 I said that both texts seemed to be clear and seemed to mean solely that one of the tasks assigned by the concept and assigned to the United States was to insure the delivery in strategic bombing of all weapons. I pointed out that the text did not deal with what weapons should be delivered but provided for the ability to deliver any and all kinds. Mr. Johnson agreed that this was correct.

I then went over the transcript with him. I said that putting myself in his position and thinking over the problem which arose when the Danish Defense Minister presented his amendment to the original text, which had referred specifically to atomic weapons, it seemed plain that if the Danish amendment had been accepted without comment it might have been implied that the change in the text carried with it the implication that by this change a decision was being made not to use a particular type of weapon. Obviously, no such decision was being made nor was the question before the Ministers. Mr. Johnson had made this clear. It was not my understanding from reading the transcript that Mr. Johnson had gone further than this or intended to go further than this. I asked him whether I was right and whether it was his impression that his colleagues had so understood. He said I was right and that he was sure that all present had so understood the discussion.

I said that it was most important that he and I should understand the situation in exactly the same way because of at least two possibilities which might occur. One such possibility was that at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council called to approve the Ministers’ decisions, someone might ask whether the transcript carried with it the implication that a decision had been made or a commitment had been made to use a particular type of weapon. To that my answer would be no—that the sole decision made had been that one of the tasks in the strategic concept and the task assigned primarily to the United States was to insure the ability to deliver any and all weapons. I asked whether Mr. Johnson would [was?] clear that my answer was right. He said that he was entirely clear that it was right.

I then said that at some time on the Hill some member of the Congress might ask whether there was any commitment, expressed or implied, moral or otherwise, to use any particular type of weapon in strategic bombing. To that I would reply no—that we had scrupulously [Page 364] observed the provisions of the North Atlantic Treaty and had not gone beyond its provisions in committing either the Executive Branch or the Congress. Mr. Johnson was also clear that I was entirely right in making such a statement.

During the conversation, I thought that Mr. Johnson had said something which meant that one of the tasks assigned to the United States had been the manufacture of all possible types of weapons. I returned to this matter in order to be quite sure that he was not under the impression that the recommendations of the Committee to which the President had recently appointed him and me were in any way prejudiced.4 He made it quite clear that I had misunderstood him and that this matter was in no way prejudiced.

At another point in the conversation he made it quite clear that while in the normal conduct of hostilities the Military decided, of course under the overriding authority of the Commander in Chief, what weapons were appropriate to a particular military task, this was not true in the case of atomic weapons where the decision could be made only by the President.

I told Mr. Johnson that the conversation had been most satisfactory to me and that I was quite prepared to recommend to the Council the approval of the report of the Defense Ministers without further discussion on my part of any item.

D[ean] A[cheson]
  1. Louis Johnson, Secretary of Defense.
  2. For communiqué released to the press in Paris by the North Atlantic Defense Committee on the close of its second meeting, see Department of State Bulletin, December 19, 1949, p. 948. The communiqué included information on the November meetings of the Military Committee and the Military Production and Supply Board.
  3. Not found in Department of State files.
  4. Not found in Department of State files.
  5. On November 19, 1949, the President created a committee of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission to consider various questions including the possibility of developing the hydrogen bomb. Documentation on this matter is scheduled for publication in volume i.