Department of State Atomic Energy Files1

Memorandum by Messrs. Adrian S. Fisher 2 and R. Gordon Arneson3 to the Secretary of State

top secret

Subject: Tripartite Atomic Energy Talks

We are now at a point where we are unable to set down a firm Administration position on our atomic energy relations with the British and the Canadians without having a general discussion of the main issues among yourself, the Secretary of Defense,4 and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. Furthermore, it would seem to be unprofitable at this time to have any further informal discussion with Sir Oliver Franks5 until the three principals have had a chance to touch base with each other.

The position of the Atomic Energy Commission is that while a full partnership with the British and the Canadians would appear to be a good thing, its primary justification lies in terms of the general fabric of our relations with the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as in terms of the military advantages with respect to which we must turn to the Department of Defense for evaluation. To elaborate, the benefits of combining the programs rather than running them as independent programs, if stated solely in terms of increased explosive power obtained by mixing British plutonium with United States uranium, is extremely small—in the neighborhood of 1 percent. The real advantages to the production program must therefore be sought in terms of the catalytic effect of introducing British scientific personnel with their new ideas and fresh point of view into a program which might otherwise become stale. While the AEC is prepared to give some quantitative description of the numbers of people involved and the nature of their scientific attainment, any evaluation of the benefits achieved from this sort of arrangement must of necessity be highly subjective.

From the point of view of the Department of State, a mutually satisfactory full partnership in the field of atomic energy is consonant with our general relations with the British and the Canadians. An effective partnership in this field would increase our collective [Page 500] strength. The Department, however, in maintaining the necessity for such an arrangement, would wish to have the agreement and support of the Department of Defense and the AEC to the extent of their respective legitimate interests.

It must be recognized that in the field of weapons research, development and production, with the exception of the duration of the agreement—which still is open for discussion—it would appear that the British position is very near the position which we were authorized to explore with them in the National Security Council paper of March 2, 1949,6 as approved by the President. The British seem to have met us very closely on the questions of base rights, joint training programs, and other such military arrangements as the Department of Defense has thought desirable. This also is in line with the March 2 NSC paper on the U.S. objectives. As regards the question of storage of weapons, although the U.K. and U.S. approaches are different, the end result may well turn out to be the same.

The areas in which, at the present at least, the explorations have indicated that the British position may differ substantially from the objectives outlined in the March 2 NSC paper are (1) research, development, and production in the area from raw materials to fissionable materials and (2) the area of further development (atomic power) not directly related to atomic weapons. In these areas the March 2 paper indicated that the U.S. interest lay in securing both complete exchange of information and complete collaboration throughout the entire program with the major production effort being in this country and all decisions with respect to the program being considered from the point of view of what will lead to the maximum advance in the combined program. The position of the U.K., on the other hand, is that while they are prepared to meet our point of view in this field to the extent of limiting those production operations which might hamper ours because of a competing drain on raw materials, and while in fact they do not contemplate a great deal over and above that which they would do if the principle of maximum combined effort were adopted, they are not prepared to accept that principle as a guide for their future decisions in the areas other than that of atomic weapons. The British are of the view that they should be free to undertake work in the ore-to-fissionable-materials area so long as such work does not [Page 501] detract from the major weapons effort in this country, either in terms of raw materials or scientific manpower.

Before proceeding to analyze our interest and intent in these negotiations, it should be pointed out that all U.S. participants are in agreement that a limited or particularized exchange of information has many shortcomings. Based largely on the experience under the modus vivendi,7 it is agreed that the exchange of information to provide maximum advantage should be across-the-board.

At the outset, we must consider what the U.S. interest is in obtaining from the British an assurance that they will not engage in additional production activities in the U.K.—even though those production activities do not compete for essential raw materials—if these production activities are of such a nature that they might more efficiently be conducted in the U.S. This constitutes one of the negotiating objectives of the March 2 paper, which the exploratory talks have indicated the U.K. will not accept. It must be assumed in considering this question that there have been constructed in the U.S. all the production facilities considered essential for the combined weapons program. In particular terms the question is, assuming that this is the case, what objection does the U.S. have if the U.K. construct in England a low separation diffusion plant and later is in a position to supplement it with a high separation diffusion plant, which would put them in possession of facilities for producing uranium-235 similar to, but smaller than, those now in existence at Oak Ridge. On the basis of the proposals made by the U.K., it is assumed that these plants would not have an adverse effect upon U.S. requirements for raw material and that the sending of British scientists to help in the combined program centered in the U.S. would not be interfered with. It must be recognized of course that there is always a question whether, in view of a substantial program existing in the U.K., it would be a second team that would come to this country. It is likely, however, that those scientists who would be engaged in the LSD and HSD operations in the U.K. would not have much to offer to U.S. operations in this area in which the U.S. already has a full-blown program.

This country would appear to have three interests in this regard. The first is, that both the U.S. and the U.K. suffer to the extent that men and materials are expended by the U.K. in England for the construction of what are essentially duplicate facilities if those men and materials might have been utilized either here or in the U.K. on some other phase of the program which is complementary to the existing program and hence would advance the combined program to a [Page 502] greater degree. In view of the nature of the scientific personnel and the materials utilized in this type of design construction and production activities, it is doubtful whether they would be needed in this country. We should scrutinize very carefully the suggestion that there are alternative lines of endeavor in the atomic energy program in which this effort might more profitably be expended in England.

The second interest grows from the fact that in matters of high strategic and military importance, it is very seldom possible to have a “surplus.” While we may now say that our program in the U.S. takes care of our full strategic requirements, these requirements were not computed by any magic formula. We know that in time of emergency the combined program would rely on all production facilities which could produce the material to go into weapons and, to that extent, the combined program is worse off if portions of it are conducted in the relatively vulnerable England. But the alternatives are not construction of these production facilities in the U.K. or in the U.S. They are the construction of these facilities in the U.K. with British resources or not at all. In view of the fact that the atomic bombs that can be effective in war are those which are in existence at the outbreak of hostilities, and unless we are prepared to resume a wholesale evacuation of the British Isles of all production facilities of strategic importance, it is hard to see how an objection based on this point can be pressed very strongly.

A third point of view that has been expressed is that in giving the U.K. information in all fields of atomic energy, the U.S. has an interest in obtaining from the British an agreement to keep their program to a minimum, so that they will not be given a free ride by the U.S. in the industrial field and be in a superior competitive position with respect to the U.S. in the field of industrial application of atomic energy at some later date.

It must be recognized that what is immediately at issue are not industrial applications of atomic energy which are immediately useful in the production of power, but rather the production facilities necessary to assure supplies of uranium-235 (as well as plutonium), which would be essential for industrial applications if any should be developed. Information is valuable only if the recipient is in position to use it, and it is not much of an informational exchange which says to the British: “We will give you information concerning industrial uses, but you must not construct facilities to assure you an adequate supply of uranium-235, for use in any practicable benefits which might be obtained in the industrial field.” This country might well expect allocation of effort on the basis of the maximization of advantage to the combined program. Such a requirement might be justified to prevent them—in a sense—from developing a program designed to “skim the cream” off the large amount of past U.S. research. But it is clear [Page 503] that the British could never agree to forego the production plants which would be necessary to support a production of industrial application should any be developed on a combined basis, and insistence on this by the U.S. representatives would appear to have the sole effect of making any collaboration impossible.

Adrian S. Fisher
R. Gordon Arneson
  1. Lot 57D688, a consolidated lot file in the Department of State containing documentation on atomic energy policy, 1944–1962.
  2. Legal Adviser, Department of State; General Counsel, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1948–1949.
  3. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State, James E. Webb, for atomic energy policy. Arneson was the ranking officer of the Department devoting exclusive attention to atomic energy matters. Although administratively an assistant to the Under Secretary, he frequently reported directly to Secretary Acheson.
  4. Louis A. Johnson.
  5. The British Ambassador in the United States.
  6. On March 2, 1949, a Special Committee of the National Security Council consisting of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, submitted a report to President Truman recommending negotiations with the United Kingdom and Canada looking toward regularization of cooperation in the field of atomic energy, cooperation which had been sporadic and which rested on an uncertain basis since the conclusion of the Second World War and the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (PL 585, 79 Cong., 60 Stat. 755). For the report of the Special Committee and documentation on efforts pursuant thereto, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, pp. 443 ff.
  7. Reference is to the modus Vivendi for tripartite cooperation, concluded by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada and recorded in the minutes of the Combined Policy Committee, January 7, 1948; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 683.