Department of State Atomic Energy Files2

Memorandum by Mr. R. Gordon Arneson 3 to the Secretary of State

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Subject: Policy Planning Staff Draft Paper on the International Control of Atomic Energy.4

The attached comments on the subject paper have been prepared at the request of Mr. Kennan. These comments are directed primarily to the basic premises and the specific recommendations of the S/P paper. Inasmuch as the S/P paper was sent to you in draft form, I thought you might wish to see the comments that I have felt necessary to make on it.

There are many points of detail both as to fact and as to interpretation which need to be corrected. I will bring these to the attention of the Policy Planning Staff in due course.

R. Gordon Arneson
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Memorandum by Mr. R. Gordon Arneson, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State (Webb)5

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Comments on Policy Planning Staff Draft Paper on International Control of Atomic Energy

The following comments are directed to the basic approach and the recommended course of action in the Policy Planning Staff paper.

In my opinion, the S/P paper is based primarily on a fundamentally incorrect assumption; namely, that it is possible to achieve prohibition of atomic weapons and international control of atomic energy that has any meaning, without a basic change in Soviet attitudes and intentions, and, in fact, in the Soviet system itself.

The history of the debates and discussions on international control in and outside the U.N. have revealed that the Soviet Union not only refuses to accept those elements which are necessary for effective control, but, far more important, it refuses to accept any system which would require it to cooperate with the rest of the world in the maintenance of peace. The very idea of a cooperative non-Communist world community is foreign to Marxism, especially as interpreted by the Soviets. It is almost axiomatic that effective international control of atomic energy is inconsistent with the Soviet system and Soviet intentions. So long as this remains true, there can be no solution to the problem of international control until we find a solution to the problem posed to the world by the Soviet Union. Any control system in the field of atomic energy, be it the United Nations plan or some other scheme, must bring about or await a fundamental change in the Soviet system. Otherwise, it would fail to accomplish its purpose, however limited.

The U.N. plan, by putting its emphasis upon effectiveness and security, meets this criterion. This, in itself, is significant. It should be noted here that the U.N. plan was never intended to provide absolute security. What it does offer is a system which would give unmistakable and adequate warning in cases of violations. This is the minimum that we can afford to accept. The suggested solution in the S/P paper does not meet the criterion of opening up the Soviet Union unless the inspection system proposed becomes so thorough that the iron curtain is effectively shattered. In this case, the control established would be more onerous than that of the U.N. plan and equally unacceptable to the Soviet Union.

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It seems to me that before we can move in any other direction than our present one we must get an answer to the question of just what the eventual possession of significant quantities of atomic weapons by both the West and the Soviet Union adds up to. If we can get a reasonably accurate answer to this question we can then tackle the more difficult question of what we can do about it, or, in other words, what we can do about the problem of the Soviet Union. Barring some answer to the second question, we may be effectively estopped from doing anything regarding the first that would make any difference at all.

Therefore, I agree with the point made on page 126 that if we do not wish to see atomic weapons removed from national armaments in the foreseeable future, barring such a basic change in Soviet attitude as would be implied through acceptance of the U.N. plan, then our existing position on international control is adequate. I would add, however, that this position is also adequate if we do wish to remove these weapons from national armaments. The assumption, also made on page 126 of the S/P paper, that we can have international control and prohibition of atomic weapons, even in the light of the existing Soviet attitude, is, to my mind, completely unfounded.

Until we get an answer to the question of what atomic weapons are really worth, and in the light of this answer, determine what can be done about the Soviet Union we should subject the S/P suggestions to the following criteria:

1. Do they jeopardize U.S. security?

If they do, we would be remiss in our responsibilities in putting them forward. While there may be some doubts expressed regarding the attitude of the military and the Congress regarding supporting the U.N. plan if the Soviets were to accept it, on balance, the chances of acceptance are good. That cannot be said for any alternate scheme yet advanced, including the S/P suggestions. (Mr. Osborn7 has testified in the past before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and that body had a man on Mr. Osborn’s staff during the writing of the Second and Third Reports.8 This Committee indicated its approval of the work being done.)

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2. Is there any prospect of Soviet acceptance which would involve more than a paper agreement?

If we were to suggest the idea of a moratorium on atomic energy, there is no reason to believe that the necessary safeguards would be any more acceptable to the Soviet Union than those in the U.N. plan. Neither is there any reason to believe that the Soviet Union would accept the suppression of atomic energy. Such a proposal could also lend substance to a very damaging charge, already being made, that the U.S. is trying to deny the use of atomic energy to nations deficient in power.

3. Is the procedure and solution acceptable to our closest friends, particularly the United Kingdom, Canada and France?

As the S/P paper points out, an apparent by-passing of these countries and the U.N. could be disastrous, and doubly so, should there be another such “leak” as occurred in the Smith-Molotov conversations.9 If we avoid these dangers and do make an approach, it should be on a much broader base than that of atomic energy. The approach should be on the general problem of the Soviet Union, and, specifically, it should not, as the S/P paper suggests, exclude the problem of conventional armaments. Although the solutions to the problem of atomic energy control and the problem of the regulation and reduction of conventional armaments are necessarily separate and different, the implementation of both systems must be coordinated. There must be some redressing of the existing imbalance between the Soviet armed forces and those of the rest of the world. The U.S. position on this point has never, to my knowledge, been thought through.

I do not believe that the suggested procedure contained in Part VII (pages 57-67) and the suggested possibilities in paragraph 6, pages 62-6410 in the S/P paper meet these criteria at all adequately.

I do not believe that, much as we desire to have atomic weapons really prohibited, the U.S. should unilaterally renounce this weapon. It is difficult to see what possible effect this renunciation might have on the Soviet Union, other than being interpreted as a revelation of weakness with all its implications. Its effect on Western Europe might well be disastrous. The same considerations apply to the super-bomb, although a clear distinction must be drawn between possession and [Page 5] use of either atomic or super-bombs.11 This distinction is not always made in the S/P paper.

Taking up seriatim the various possibilities for sounding out the Soviets as listed under paragraph (6), pages 62-64 of the S/P paper, I have the following comments:

“(a) A plan which would be temporary, and in the nature of a technical and political modus vivendi, rather than permanent.”

There is no apparent virtue in a temporary arrangement per se. Short of an arrangement embodying the principal features of the U.N. plan, I cannot envisage any temporary scheme that would meet the criteria listed above. We could, of course, accept a temporary truce along the lines of the Romulo and Quaker proposals,12 which would freeze U.S. supremacy for the duration of the armistice. The Soviets would hardly accept this idea.

“(b) complete prohibition of atomic weapons of every sort.”

This has been our goal in international control negotiations from the beginning. It is provided for in the U.N. plan. The Soviet Union states that this is its goal also. It is fair to say that the entire U.N. debate has hinged on this point. If we bear in mind that to all intents and purposes nuclear fuel is atomic weapons, it becomes obvious that complete prohibition of atomic weapons is inconsistent with national possession of nuclear fuel. It is this fact that the Soviet Union chooses to ignore. Control and prohibition are two sides of the same coin, or, as Sir Alexander Cadogan13 stated in this last General Assembly, effective control is prohibition. To talk of prohibition as distinct from control is technically meaningless.

“(c) the abandonment of large reactors for this period.”

This idea is not new. It is provided for in the U.N. plan which limits the production of nuclear fuel to the quantity consistent with known beneficial uses, including research and development. For example, if [Page 6] that plan were accepted now, Hanford14 would be shut down. At one time the Soviet Union did not oppose this provision and, in fact, expressed considerable interest in its corollary, the idea of national quotas for peaceful uses. Now that it is presumably no longer a have not nation, Vishinsky,15 in the last General Assembly stated:

“The requirements of the Soviet Union of atomic energy for peaceful purposes are tremendous, and the attainments of the Soviet Union in the utilization of atomic energy for peaceful ends are also tremendous. All this must be borne in mind when mention is made of quotas and rationing.…16 At the same time, however, we insist that no one must prevent us from utilizing atomic energy to the maximum extent for peaceful purposes.…” He also stated that the U.N. plan was designed to make impossible the development of atomic energy for peaceful ends. It seems clear that the Soviet Union would accept no restriction on its development of atomic energy, i.e., manufacture of nuclear fuel with all its implications.

“(d) disposition of stocks of dangerous materials in such a way as to give reasonable assurance against any one-sided advantage by seizure.”

This, too, is not new, being an integral part of the U.N. plan. The Soviet Union has not expressed disapproval of this feature and is not expected to, so long as it is U.S. stocks that are to be redistributed. I fail to see how we can seriously put this forward except as part of the U.N. plan. In the context of the proposed temporary modus vivendi, it can only mean an almost immediate equalization of U.S. and Soviet atomic capabilities, with little to show in return.

“(e) non-dangerous activities to be left in national hands, but only on the condition of complete ‘openness’ of research and development activity.”

This is provided in the U.N. plan, subject to such licensing and inspection as are deemed necessary by the nature of the research and development, and the quantities of nuclear fuel used or produced. The Soviet Union objects to this, as, in fact, they do to any requirement for real “openness”.

“(f) No international authority and no veto provisions.”

This is somewhat obscure. If it means no international body, it is inconsistent with subsequent provisions for U.N. custody and supervision over large reactors, nuclear fuel and raw material sources, an inspection system, periodic observation of non-dangerous activities, etc. These activities must be carried on by some, presumably a U.N., organ. If what is intended is the denial of positive managerial, research, and development functions on the part of the international agency, it should be emphasized that such functions make control easier, would attract more competent personnel, and could mean the difference between success and failure. It might be noted that even the Soviet proposals take this factor into account and provide for research by the international agency in its own laboratories.

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I interpret the “no veto provisions” to mean that the United States modify or drop the provisions in the U.N. plan on the subject of the veto. As the S/P paper points out, this subject has not been recently debated in the United Nations. The real debate has been on effectiveness of control, which would make prohibition itself effective. I would emphasize, however, that under the U.N. plan, with international operational personnel in the large plants, the veto loses its importance because evasions, violations and seizures cannot be hidden. In such circumstances, the real question is whether the law-abiding nations, under Article 51 or some other arrangement, will take the necessary corrective measures in case of violation. Under any plan which denies the continuous physical presence of operating international personnel, the veto, which can be used to delay or to deny access, becomes very important.

“(g) Stages so arranged that termination of activity in large reactors, establishment of formal U.N. custody of large reactors and stocks of nuclear fuels, establishment of U.N. supervision over raw material sources and prohibition of the weapon, would all take place simultaneously.”

Now that more than one country has something physical to give up, the problem of stages may be easier to tackle than in the past. The time and conditions under which reactors and nuclear fuel, for example, are to be given up, would be the same for all nations and none would appear to be placed in an advantageous or disadvantageous position. However, in establishing any control system, there are a certain irreducible number of steps, such as signing the treaty, establishing some international organ, recruiting, training and physically locating personnel, declaring all materials and facilities, and, finally, turning them over to the control of the international body in accordance with the terms of the treaty and as that body acquires the necessary competence to perform its duties.

I do not see how it would be physically possible to bring into being simultaneously the various points in paragraph (g) above. Moreover, the establishment of supervision over raw material sources is not a one-shot affair, but a continuous operation. I would like to point out, also, that the point on the prohibition of the weapon is technically meaningless, because the turning over of large reactors and stocks of nuclear fuel to U.N. custody would remove the essential ingredient of atomic weapons from nations and would be prohibition in fact as well as in name.

“(h) an inspection system involving:

a complete showdown on existing operations including full accounting and verification of raw materials utilized to date, existing reserve and pipe line stocks, nuclear fuels produced, etc.;
adequate U.N. observation over all known and declared raw material sources and facilities for investigation, and if necessary, observation over all alleged ones;
U.N. supervision of large reactors during deactivation or dismantling stage, followed by periodic observation over sites of such reactors;
complete openness of laboratories for serious scientific visitors on an international scale; and
periodic observation of non-dangerous activities.”
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Point (1) above is contemplated under any system of control so far advanced and needs no further comment. Point (2) does not go far enough in that it makes no provision for locating either unknown or undeclared raw materials sources. The provision in Point (3) for periodic observation over sites of dismantled or deactivated reactors is either unnecessary if the reactors are completely removed, or insufficient if the reactors can in fact be reactivated without much difficulty. Point (4) is provided for in the U.N. plan. Its requirement for complete openness of national laboratories is not acceptable to the Soviet Union. Point (5) may or may not be adequate, depending on the nature of the so-called non-dangerous activity. In certain reactors, which need not be very large, it is possible to conduct certain activities surreptitiously which are not readily detectable and could be dangerous. This is particularly true if the super-bomb becomes a real possibility.

It would be my recommendation that the United States make a complete assessment of the role of atomic weapons in the cold war and in a possible hot war. We should, at the same time, reexamine all possibilities of bringing the Soviet Union into the community of nations. If any useful course of action is indicated by the above studies, we could then make an approach to the Soviet Union on the broader basis, into which international control would fit.

Pending the results of such studies we should use the existing forum of the permanent members of the UNAEC as the point of contact with the Soviet Union. In the closed, informal sessions of that body we can, without undue risk, put forward desirable or appropriate explanations, suggestions, or even modifications on such matters as the veto and stages. This forum also provides a point of contact for the necessary consultations with our allies and for detecting or exploiting any changes in the Soviet attitude.

  1. Lot 57D688, a consolidated lot file in the Department of State containing documentation on atomic energy policy, 1944–1962.
  2. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State, James E. Webb, for atomic energy policy.
  3. The draft paper does not accompany the source text and has not been specifically identified. However, the paper, prepared by the Counselor, George F. Kennan, appears in its final form (January 20), on p. 22. Kennan also held the position of Director of the Policy Planning Staff until January 1, 1950.
  4. Transmitted to Kennan and to Deputy Under Secretary of State Dean Rusk on December 29, 1949, as well as to the Secretary of State.
  5. See Kennan memorandum of January 20, p. 22.
  6. See Kennan memorandum of January 20, p. 22.
  7. Frederick H. Osborn, Deputy United States Representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission.
  8. United Nations, Official Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, Second Year, Special Supplement, The Second Report of the Atomic Energy Commission to the Security Council, September 11, 1947 (hereafter cited as AEC, 2nd yr., Special Suppl.); United Nations, Official Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, Third Year, Special Supplement, The Third Report of the Atomic Energy Commission to the Security Council, May 17, 1948 (hereafter cited as AEC, 3rd yr., Special Suppl.), or Department of State Publication 3179 (July 1948).
  9. For documentation on the conversations between U.S. Ambassador Walter Bedell Smith and Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov at Moscow in May 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iv, pp. 788 ff.
  10. See Part VIII of the Kennan memorandum of January 20, p. 40.
  11. For documentation on United States policy regarding the employment of nuclear weapons and on the question of developing the hydrogen bomb, see pp. 493 ff.
  12. For the proposal by Carlos P. Romulo of the Philippines, President of the Fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, see Romulo’s letter to Warren R. Austin, U.S. Representative at the United Nations, November 3, 1949, in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, p. 207. Regarding “the Quaker proposal,” see The United States and the Soviet Union: Some Quaker Proposals for Peace, a report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), which included the following among its specific recommendations: “As an interim step we suggest that the present stockpiles of atomic bombs in the United States and in the Soviet Union be put under United Nations seal for a specified time, and that the concentration of fissionable material be halted and verified—pending the conclusion of the conventions mentioned above [which provided for comprehensive international control of armaments, the destruction of stockpiles of atomic bombs, and the outlawing of nuclear weapons.]”
  13. Permanent British Representative at the United Nations.
  14. The plutonium production installation of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission at Hanford, Washington.
  15. Andrei Y. Vyshinsky, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union; Chairman of the Soviet Delegation to the Fourth Session of the General Assembly.
  16. Omissions indicated in the source text.