Policy Planning Staff Files1

Memorandum by the Secretary of State to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council ( Lay )

top secret

The attached questions and answers relating to the President’s announcement of January 31, regarding work on the so-called hydrogen bomb, have been prepared by the Department of State with the assistance of the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission.

This material is not intended for publication or attribution. It is intended solely for the background and guidance of principal Departmental officers and of our Missions abroad. The answers set the limit within which comment may be made in response to questions. The officers concerned would be instructed that no further comment is to be made without specific authorization of the President. The [Page 525] Department believes that this background information is necessary in order to establish the limits of comment and to channel otherwise uncontrolled public discussion at home and abroad along lines most favorable to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The Atomic Energy Commission has concurred informally in the questions and answers, and in the view that they should be made available as described above.

The Department of Defense considers that any further information beyond that contained in the President’s announcement of January 31 would serve no useful purpose at this time. It agrees, however, that if a decision is made that it is necessary to provide background information, these questions and answers are satisfactory.

This material is submitted for the President’s approval in accordance with the third paragraph of his decision of January 31 regarding work on the hydrogen bomb.2

[Annex]

Questions and Answers Prepared in the Department of State

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1. Does scientific evidence make it appear likely that hydrogen bombs can be made?

The hydrogen bomb is theoretically possible. The principles underlying it have been known to scientists here and abroad for a number of years. There have been many papers published as to the scientific possibility of such a weapon in the last ten or twelve years.

2. What is the cost of the program?

A definite answer cannot be given, but it appears that some of the press estimates are exaggerated.

3. How long would it take to produce one?

To answer this question would not be compatible with national security.

4. Would our possession of this weapon make a foregone conclusion that it would be used in case of war?

No. The decision as to use would be made at the proper time in the light of all relevant considerations.

5. Is the President’s announcement regarding the hydrogen bomb likely to cause any change in Soviet policies?

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We should like to believe that all nations genuinely desirous of peace will recognize the increased urgency of coming to agreements that will tend to relieve international tension.

6. Do we know whether the Russians are working on the hydrogen bomb?

We have no reason to doubt that they are working on all types of atomic weapons.

7. Do we know how advanced the Russians are in the development of the hydrogen bomb?

It would not be compatible with our national security to give out any information on this subject at this time.

8. Do we know whether the Russians have produced a hydrogen bomb?

(Same answer as to 7.)

9. Is there a danger that the hydrogen bomb could pollute the earth’s atmosphere to a dangerous extent?

No.

10. Will the British and Canadians work with us in the development of the hydrogen bomb?

No comment.

11. What will be the effect of our development of this weapon on the possibility of war?

We hope that it will prove a deterrent to war. We shall continue to do everything in our power to prevent war, including faithful observance of the letter and spirit of the U.N. Charter. There is, of course, always the possibility of war, but we do not believe that it is inevitable.

The purpose of our security program as a whole is to maintain reasonable preparedness in order to deter aggression and thus insure conditions under which we and the other free nations can develop our economic and social well-being and contribute to international peace and security.

12. Will our development of this weapon cause any change in our policy toward the international control of atomic energy?

The plan approved by the United Nations for the international control of atomic energy and the prohibition of atomic weapons is the only plan developed that is considered would be effective, but we are prepared to explore carefully and with good will any other proposals which give promise of being equally or more effective and workable. Meanwhile, and unless and until a better plan is devised, we shall continue to support the U.N. plan which has the approval of the vast majority of the United Nations. We continue to believe that unilateral action on our part to restrict our capabilities will not serve [Page 527] as a deterrent to war, and we hold that any proposals which do not provide for effective controls are illusory.

13. In the light of the President’s announcement, should we make a new approach to the Russians, direct or through the United Nations, in an effort to secure agreement for the international control of atomic energy?

We have never ceased to try to reach agreement with the U.S.S.R. on the problem of international control, and we are prepared, with other interested nations, to explore carefully and with good will any proposals from any source consonant with effective and enforceable control.

14. Would the U.N. plan for the international control of atomic energy, if established, cover the hydrogen bomb?

Yes. The U.K. plan, if established, would apply to both atomic and hydrogen bombs.

15. Will our work on the hydrogen bomb cause any serious reduction in our program looking to the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

No.

16. If we develop this weapon, could we cut back our military expenditures in other directions?

No. No security program can rely on any single weapon.

17. Were other than purely military considerations taken into account in reaching the decision on the hydrogen bomb?

Yes. The decision was based on all the factors involved, which obviously included moral, economic, and political, as well as military factors.

  1. Lot 64D563, files of the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State, 1947–1953.
  2. During a conversation with Secretary Acheson on February 16, President Truman indicated that he did not wish the questions and answers to circulate (memorandum of conversation by Acheson, February 16, 1950, Policy Planning Staff Files).