USUN Files1

Memorandum by the Deputy United States Representative at the United Nations (Gross) to the Under Secretary of State (Webb)2

Subject: Atomic Energy—Public Relations Aspects of International Control

On the morning of Friday, February 10, I had a long discussion with a group of newspaper editors in Chicago, and on the afternoon of the same day I addressed a luncheon meeting of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.3 The luncheon was attended by a large number of people of various interests from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. They included journalists, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, university professors, and business and civic leaders. One of the main topics which they desired to hear discussed as well as to discuss themselves was the question of international control of atomic energy.

I thought that it might be of interest to you to match the impressions I received from this area of the country against the reports which you are undoubtedly obtaining concerning reactions on the same subject from other areas. There appeared to be two major lines of interest and concern.

First, a surprisingly large number of individuals of various backgrounds and lines of occupation inquired whether it was the Administration’s policy to discourage, rather than encourage, public discussion of the problems which have aroused such public interest since the President’s announcement concerning the hydrogen bomb. The impression appears to have become widespread that (whether for reasons of military security or other reasons) the Administration is anxious to avoid a full public debate on the implications of the problem. It appears to me that some definite indication might well be made by the Administration—or carefully selected spokesman for it—to the effect that we encourage public debate on this momentous issue. This might, for example, be done by some such device as a radio program of the scope and reach of “America’s Town Meeting of the Air”.

The second major question which I repeatedly encountered on the subject of international control of atomic energy was one which I think will require careful explanation. This question was (broadly stated) Why need we insist upon international ownership and management of “dangerous materials and facilities”, if it were shown possible to [Page 54] obtain agreement upon an “effective” inspection system under an international authority? In other words, the question frequently asked of me (and particularly by newspaper men in the area) was whether we were wise in insisting upon international ownership and management.

The explanation which I take it has been the standard exposition on this subject is that an inspection system in itself will not serve the purpose inasmuch as inspection (even assuming it were of an effective variety) would do no more than disclose the existence of stockpiles of atomic fuel or of facilities for converting it. Inasmuch as it is relatively simple to “package” atomic fuel in the form of a weapon, it would do little good by way of assuring a peaceful state to know that atomic fuel exists in established quantities without at the same time having assurance that the atomic fuel will not be secretly converted into a weapon for destructive uses.

Specifically, in terms of the question which I was repeatedly asked, our problem appears to be to give a clear public demonstration of the fact that an inspection system, in itself, no matter how “effective”, cannot be sufficient to assure our national security. The confusion which appears to me to be most prevalent, and therefore most in need of clarification, is based upon an assumption that it would be of some advantage to us—as compared to the present situation of ignorance—to have some information concerning the stockpiling by the Soviet Union of dangerous materials and facilities.

In my own judgment, this point has been frequently and adequately discussed. However, it seems certain that the explanations have not received widespread public understanding and, if they ever were understood by a large number of people, these same people have long since forgotten the explanations. The questions concerning this aspect of the problem are closely related to the general desirability and necessity for a public discussion of the sort referred to in the first paragraph above.

  1. Files of the United States Mission at the United Nations.
  2. Transmitted to Webb through Hickerson and Arneson.
  3. For the text of the address, see Department of State Bulletin, March 6, 1950, pp. 372–377.