At the direction of the President, the enclosed copy of a memorandum from the
Joint Chiefs of Staff on the subject, which has been transmitted to the
President by the Secretary of Defense, is furnished herewith for information
in connection with the study on this subject by the Special Committee of the
National Security Council.
Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of
Staff to the Secretary of Defense(Johnson)
Washington, 13 January
Subject: Request for Comments on Military Views of
Members of General Advisory Committee.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have studied the memorandum from your Deputy
for Atomic Energy Matters dated 14 December 1949,4 together [Page 504]
with the enclosures thereto. They note that these enclosures include a
report prepared by the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy
Commission at its 18th meeting in which its position regarding the
development, production, and use of the thermonuclear (Super) weapon was
set forth. In addition, they have noted the views of the individual
members of the General Advisory Committee as expressed in their letters
in the Annexes to the subject report.5 The
Joint Chiefs of Staff understand that other agencies of the Department
of Defense have been asked to comment on this matter.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the interest of clarity and conciseness,
have consolidated the major points raised in the subject report and in
the letters by the members of the General Advisory Committee into five
categories, namely, General, Military Value, Diplomatic Value,
Psychological Value, and Moral Value, and have made their comments
responsive to the following interrogatories which comprise the points
raised under each category. In this connection, it should be pointed out
that the tenor and the emphasis of the questions are such as to assume
public knowledge of the development of the super bomb by the United
States. The Joint Chiefs of Staff reaffirm their view that “any
decisions or actions pertaining to the United States’ effort to develop
a thermonuclear weapon or any determination of its feasibility
constitute a military secret of highest classification”.*
Question: Is it necessary now to launch a “crash”
program for the development of a super bomb?
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff at this time
believe that it is not necessary to launch a “crash” program. However,
they consider the following program to be the minimum effort which
should be undertaken at this time:
- The determination of the technical feasibility of a
thermonuclear explosion as a matter of top priority.
- Studies of the necessary delivery vehicle and ordnance
problems should proceed concurrently with (1) above and should
not necessarily await trial of a thermonuclear assembly.
- Decisions pertaining to the production of thermonuclear
weapons in any quantity should be deferred pending further
determination of the ultimate feasibility of a thermonuclear
explosion and the feasibility of an appropriate weapon
b. Military Value.
(1) Question: What would be the effect upon a
possible enemy of the United States if it became known that the United
States had undertaken the development of a super bomb?
Comment: Just as the known development of the
atomic bomb is considered to have been a deterrent to aggression on the
part of a possible enemy so would it be the case with the super bomb as
well. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are convinced that the United
States is not the only nation interested in the development of a super
weapon. They are aware of the possibility that even the secret
development of the super bomb in the United States may, by devious
means, assist a possible enemy in the development of a similar weapon.
However, they are constantly reminded, because of their responsibility
for the military security of the United States, of the fact that failure
on the part of the United States to proceed along normal lines of
development of nuclear physics to the goal of a super bomb would not
deter a possible enemy from such development but, on the other hand,
United States success, if known, might have a sobering effect in favor
(2) Question: What effect would possession of the
super bomb have upon the defensive power of the United States?
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff realize that a
balance between the defensive and the offensive aspects of warfare is
essential if the United States is so to mobilize its strategic resources
that it can develop its full capabilities against an enemy. The nature
of modern war is such that defense alone cannot bring about a favorable
decision. They believe that the truism, “the best defense is a good
offense”, is still valid. Hence, they are convinced that it is necessary
to have within the arsenal of the United States a weapon of the greatest
capability, in this case the super bomb. Such a weapon would improve our
defense in its broadest sense, as a potential offensive weapon, a
possible deterrent to war, a potential retaliatory weapon, as well as a
defensive weapon against enemy forces.
(3) Question: Would it be preferable for the
United States to undertake an all-out defensive program rather than
expending national effort on production of the super bomb?
Comment: The comments to the General question
(subparagraph a) and to question (2) above apply
to this question as well. The Joint Chiefs of Staff would reiterate that
no all-out defensive program for the United States would of itself
assure victory in modern war.
(4) Question: Would possession of the super bomb
increase the United States retaliatory power and strength to the extent
that it would be decisive?
Comment: Possession of the super bomb would most
certainly increase the United States retaliatory power and total
military strength. Whether the increase would be sufficient to produce
of itself a decision, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are not certain. They
believe, however, that there is a possibility that such a weapon might
be a decisive factor if properly used and prefer that such a possibility
be at the will and control of the United States rather than of an
(5) Question: If the value of the super bomb is
regarded as only that of retaliation, would the atomic bomb also be
relegated to that category?
Comment: If any type of atomic weapon is to be
used for retaliation only, then it must be assumed that all types of
atomic weapons will be relegated to this category. However, the Joint
Chiefs of Staff cannot accept as a premise that either the super bomb or
the atomic bomb is valuable only as a weapon of retaliation.
(6) Question: What would be the effect of a
program for the development of the super bomb upon the improvement of
existing weapons and other means of defense?
Comment: Such a program is certain to cost the
United States a large number of dollars, and would require considerable
fissionable materials and industrial effort. Based on the assumption
that the present atomic bomb program will be carried out, various
estimates indicate that between one hundred and two hundred million
dollars will be necessary to produce the additional materials for a
super weapon. The assignment of some facilities and materials to the
super weapon would to some extent interfere with the research and
development program for military and peacetime application of atomic
energy. However, the cost in money, materials, and in industrial and
research effort in developing a super bomb appears to be within the
capability of the United States without materially interfering with
improvement of existing weapons and other means of defense.
(7) Question: What would be the effect of the
development and production of the Super upon the capability of the
United States industrial potential for conversion to a wartime
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the
opinion that, based upon the estimated cost of a normal super bomb
development program (not a “crash” program), the development of a super
bomb is within the capability of the United States and will not
interfere materially with the conversion to a wartime basis of the
United States war potential. It is true that the development program
will interfere somewhat but they are of the opinion that the advantages
to be gained through [Page 507] the
possession of the super weapon would more than offset any disadvantages
that might result from any foreseeable delay in the conversion of United
States industrial potential to a wartime basis.
(8) Question: Would the super bomb be delivered
with more assurance than the atomic bomb?
Comment: The development of the carrier vehicle
will depend largely on the characteristics, physical dimensions and
weight of the weapon. There is no reason to believe that the delivery
problem will be more acute with the super than with the fission bomb,
considering the reduced accuracy of delivery required.
(9) Question: Is the Super the only weapon which
would destroy certain heavy enemy structures?
Comment: Because of the theoretical and technical
nature of the problem and in view of the press of time, the Joint Chiefs
of Staff would prefer to withhold comment on this question. They
understand that the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group has provided you
with its answer to the question.
(10) Question: What would be the effects of
strategic use of the Super by naval carriers?
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that
the effects of the strategic use of the super bomb by naval carriers
would not be different from the effects by other vehicles. The Joint
Chiefs of Staff are primarily concerned with the strategic effects of
the super bomb rather than with the question of Service delivery.
(11) Question: What is the tactical value of the
Comment: Considering the nature of the military
forces available to our most probable enemy and his use of such forces,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that there is a possibility that the
super bomb will have a high tactical value in special situations for use
against such targets as his massed forces might provide.
(12) Question: Should research continue on
thermonuclear reactions or should it be publicly forsworn?
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly
reaffirm their opinion that United States research on thermonuclear
reactions should be continued at least until such time as an agreement
for international control of atomic energy satisfactory to the United
States is reached in the United Nations. Further, the Joint Chiefs of
Staff interpose serious objections to any unilateral United States
decision which would deprive the military of the results of research in
the thermonuclear field. Accordingly, there should be no forswearing,
either publicly or otherwise, of thermonuclear research; rather, effort
should be made to pursue such research with highest security
precautions. In this connection, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would again
point out that research [Page 508] in
this field will continue regardless of United States decision, since
such research is a normal and logical atomic development.
(13) Question: If the super bomb is developed,
should its effect be demonstrated as an example?
Comment: No. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe
that any possible moral and psychological advantages of a demonstration
are outweighed by its many well-known military disadvantages.
(14) Question: Would the super bomb be in a class
outside that of a “military” weapon because it would be directed at the
destruction of large cities or rendering large areas uninhabitable for
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe not.
They are responsible for the proper and efficient use of any weapon
available to them. Further, they do not subscribe to the belief that the
super bomb can be used only as implied in the question. They do not
intend to destroy large cities per se; rather, only to attack such
targets as are necessary in war in order to impose the national
objectives of the United States upon an enemy.
c. Diplomatic Value.
Although this is a field in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not have
primary cognizance, they believe that the following questions have
military connotations and as such are within their purview.
(1) Question: Would the United States national
policy be strengthened by overt or covert possession of the super
Comment: Since national policy is greatly
dependent upon a nation’s military capability and since the super bomb
would materially increase that capability, the answer to this question
is definitely in the affirmative. Conversely, the Joint Chiefs of Staff
believe that the United States would be in an intolerable position if a
possible enemy possessed the bomb and the United States did not.
(2) Question: What effect would renunciation of
the super bomb by the United States have upon the world?
Comment: In the present world, where peace and
security rests so completely on the military capability of the United
States vis-à-vis Communist aggression, it would be foolhardy altruism
for the United States voluntarily to weaken its capability by such a
renunciation. Public renunciation by the United States of super bomb
development might be interpreted as the first step in unilateral
renunciation of the use of all atomic weapons, a course which would
inevitably be followed by major international realignments to the
disadvantage of the United States. Thus, the peace of the world
generally and, specifically, the security of the entire Western
Hemisphere would be jeopardized.
(3) Question: Would introduction of United States
renunciation of the super bomb into armament negotiations change the
course of these discussions?
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, having been
closely associated with the armament negotiations in the United Nations,
believe that the record of such negotiations indicates the impossibility
of a change in the course of future negotiations until the USSR alters
its uncompromising attitude. It is likely that known possession of the
super bomb on the part of the United States and the lack of such a bomb
on the part of the USSR could well affect future armament
(4) Question: Should the United States postpone
the super bomb project until the response of other nations has been
Comment: Except possibly for such nations as were
closely and intimately allied with the United States in World War II in
the Manhattan Project and which higher authority may decide to consult,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that responses from other
nations should not be sought. Again, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe
that there are nations which, upon seeing the possibility of the
development of a super bomb, will pursue that development to a feasible
end without first seeking outside response.
d. Psychological Value.
(1) Question: What effect would fear of the use of
a super bomb by an enemy have upon the United States?
Comment: One effect most certainly would be that
those persons who really fear the use by an enemy of a super bomb on the
United States would bring a tremendous pressure to bear to provide a
maximum defense for each locality in which they happened to live and
work. As a result of such pressures and demands, the strategic resources
of the United States could be so diverted to defensive requirements that
the United States would find itself unable to generate sufficient
offensive power to gain victory.
(2) Question: What effect would fear of the use of
the super bomb by the United States have upon an enemy?
Comment: The comments to the question immediately
above apply in this case in reverse order. Further, the Joint Chiefs of
Staff believe that fear of the use of a super bomb by the United States
might deter an enemy from taking aggressive action.
(3) Question: What effect would known possession
of the super bomb by the United States have upon the public?
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that
the people of this country demand that those charged with the military
security should have the most modern effective weapons. The public
expects that the United States Government will do everything possible to
prevent a war while at the same time being prepared to win a war should
(4) Question: Would known possession of the super
bomb grossly alter the psychological balance between the United States
and the USSR?
Comment: They believe it would, and, further,
that the balance would be grossly in favor of the United States until
such time as the USSR had developed a stock pile of super bombs.
(5) Question: What effect did announcement of the
Russian explosion have upon the feeling of security of the American
Comment: The Joint Chiefs of Staff are informed
that this is a question now under highest priority study by the Central
Intelligence Agency. So far as the responsibilities of the Department of
Defense are concerned, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that
the American public now feels less secure than prior to their knowledge
of Russian possession of atomic capability and that the public expects
the Department of Defense to take action necessary to regain the
favorable balance previously held.
e. Moral Value.
(1) Question: Would the moral position of the
United States in the eyes of Americans and the people of the world be
changed by knowledge of United States development of the super bomb to
such an extent that the United States position of leadership would be
Comment: There are people of the world who
believe in the integrity and the rectitude of the United States in its
position as a world leader. Further, there are people who malign that
leadership at every opportunity. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that
the former will look to the United States to retain its moral and
physical leadership position and will expect the United States to take
whatever action is necessary in order to do so. Friendly peoples
undoubtedly would accept the development of a super bomb as a
requirement for maintaining the world power position. They know that the
United States would never use such power for aggrandizement but would
use it in order to protect the security interests of those people who,
too, seek the achievement of international peace and security. Those who
malign the position of the United States will believe that which they
are told to believe.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff hold themselves responsible for the
recommendation of such action as they see necessary to achieve a
military position for the United States that will, in the first
instance, deter a possible enemy from undertaking war and, in the last
instance, win that war should an enemy undertake it. They believe that
it is imperative to determine conclusively the feasibility of a
thermonuclear explosion and its characteristics. Such determination is
essential for [Page 511] U.S. defense
planning, preparations for retaliation, and direction for our research
and development programs. There are undoubtedly a number of moral
objections which may be considered to argue against research and
development by the United States leading to the development and test of
a thermonuclear weapon. The above military considerations outweigh such
possible objections. In addition, it is difficult to escape the
conviction that in war it is folly to argue whether one weapon is more
immoral than another. For, in the larger sense, it is war itself which
is immoral, and the stigma of such immorality must rest upon the nation
which initiates hostilities.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Omar N. Bradley
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff