Department of State Atomic Energy Files

The Belgian Foreign Minister ( Van Zeeland ) to the Secretary of State 1

top secret   personal

My Dear Secretary: As you know, negotiations have been taking place in Washington since the end of January between the representatives of the Government of Belgium and the Government of the United States on certain questions related to atomic energy.2 I cannot conceal from you the fact that the Belgian Government has been very disappointed by the results achieved to date, in the course of these negotiations. Therefore, I believe it necessary to apprise you directly of the problem and to ask you to be kind enough to take it under consideration, as a matter of the greatest importance, bearing in mind certain of its political aspects to which the negotiators perhaps have not given sufficient attention, which is normal in view of the necessarily technical character of the matters with which they are concerned.

I should like to emphasize that in an undertaking of such prime importance as that of the production of atomic energy, Belgium, the possessor and principal supplier of the raw material, has always considered [Page 529] itself as an associated nation. It is in this spirit that the agreement of 1944 was concluded, in order to make the maximum possible contribution to the war effort of the Allies. In the postwar period, also, the obligations undertaken in this agreement by Belgium have been faithfully observed in the same spirit.

The fulfillment of the commercial obligations of this agreement has been maintained into the postwar period. The political obligations, that is to say, the quasi-monopoly on procurement granted to the United States and Great Britain, ought to have been subject to revision at the end of the war. If this revision were not proposed by the Belgian Government, it was because it had anticipated an overall settlement within the framework of the United Nations of the problem of atomic energy regulation, which would have covered the particular problem of Belgian Congo uranium. Moreover, two years ago, M. Spaak invited the attention of the American Government to this point. I, myself, raised it in the course of a conversation with you during September of last year.

Today the realization of such a general settlement seems beyond attainment. The agreements between Belgium on the one hand, and the United States and Great Britain on the other, should be established on a new basis, taking into account on the one hand, progress made in the scientific and industrial development of atomic energy and, on the other hand, the relatively backward position of Belgium in this field. I feel constrained to state that while Belgium possesses the principal source material of atomic energy, she is today, five years after the end of the war, one of the countries in Western Europe in which the development of this branch of scientific technology is the least advanced. The reason for this is that, relying on Section 9 of the 1944 agreement,3 the Belgian Government expected to participate in the benefits of the progress made in this field by the countries to which it had reserved the almost exclusive delivery of the raw material. It is generally known that if Belgium had not undertaken this obligation, she might have improved her position either by pressing scientific research in her own territory more vigorously, or by associating herself with other countries of Western Europe to the same end. We have been approached by the French with a view toward participating in the research connected with the pile constructed in that country, on condition that we deliver a certain quantity of uranium. Similar advances have been made to us by Norway with a view toward exchanging heavy water for uranium. These proposals were not considered [Page 530] because of the obligations undertaken in the 1944 agreement; on the contrary, Belgium expected compensation in the form of receipt of information on scientific discoveries and of technical progress made with the use of the mineral that it had delivered. It is the form of this compensation which is the object of the present negotiations.

In the domestic political field, the Belgian Government can no longer content itself with maintaining the purely passive attitude which it has observed up to the present. It cannot keep in absolute secrecy the agreements reached in 1944 without giving evidence of a constructive program aimed at placing Belgium in the forefront of technical progress in this field. The Parliament would no longer permit this silence. M. Spaak had succeeded in postponing the question by relating it to a general settlement of the problem of the control of atomic energy. As for myself, confronted with a request for interpellation made by a member of the Senate, I have arranged that this debate be postponed until the 7th of March, expecting that the negotiations in Washington would have been finished by that time. A new interpellation has been addressed to me by a member of the Chamber. In addition, Article 68 of the Belgian Constitution obliges the Government to inform the two chambers of treaties as soon as the interest and the security of the state permit it, accompanied by the appropriate explanations. In addition, under the provisions of the same article, commercial treaties and those which might obligate the state or bind individual Belgians financially, have no force until after having been approved by the two chambers. These provisions face the Belgian Government with obligations which it can no longer evade. The mere publication of the text of the 1944 agreement would place the Belgian Government in a politically untenable position. The Belgian Government can obtain acceptance of the obligations undertaken under this wartime agreement, which has now been continued for almost five years after the end of that war, only on evidence that the continuation of this situation had not been undertaken without compensation. It has therefore the obligation to bring to the two chambers and to public opinion some evidence of substantial satisfaction either under the form of an adaptation of the provisions of the 1944 agreement to meet the present situation, or in the form of a new agreement to the same effect.

In conclusion, I believe it useful to summarize the problem raised in this letter, at the risk of repeating certain of the arguments already used:

We ask urgently that the American Government, and you yourself, in particular, not lose sight of the manner in which Belgium has up to the present time cooperated, with a view toward achieving the common political aims of the two countries, and to bear particularly [Page 531] in mind the manner in which Belgium has, in the course of the years, lived up to the obligations assumed under the agreement of 1944. The Belgian Government’s attitude remains unchanged; it desires to be able to continue to collaborate in the future as effectively as it has in the past. It is in this spirit that it has recognized, and that it will emphasize, the necessity of reconsidering the agreement of 1944, taking into account the profound changes which have taken place since that time. It recalls that the obligation to deliver the raw material only to the United States and to the United Kingdom has deprived Belgium on several occasions of the opportunity of assuring itself of compensation in the form of extensive knowledge, both theoretical and practical, in the field of nuclear physics.

The Belgian Government believes that it is obligated to seek the means of placing Belgium on an equal footing with the other advanced civilized countries in this domain, as in all others. It desires to be able to achieve this goal while living up to the substance of the 1944 agreement, appropriately adapted to the present circumstances. It believes that the suggestions which it has made are reasonable, moderate and of a nature to serve the common interests of the United States and of Belgium. It hopes that a solution acceptable to the two countries will be found in a short time within the framework defined above.

I permit myself to add that I count heavily on your personal intervention in order to achieve this result which corresponds, I am sure, to both our feelings.

Please accept, my dear Secretary, the assurances of my best wishes.

  1. The source text is a translation of Van Zeeland’s personal message to Acheson transmitted in telegram 251 from Brussels, February 17.
  2. Representatives of the United States, Belgium, and the United Kingdom met on four occasions between January 30 and February 9. The principal negotiators for the United States were George Perkins, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs; R. Gordon Arneson, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State; Carroll Wilson, General Manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission; and Robert LeBaron, Deputy to the Secretary of Defense. Sumner Pike and Henry D. Smyth, Members of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, each attended certain sessions. The Belgian participants included Ambassador Silvercruys; Ambassador Fernand van Langenhove, Permanent Belgian Representative at the United Nations; Mr. H. Robiliart of the Union Minière du Haut Katanga; and Professors R. Ledrus and M. de Hemptinne. Sir Derick Hoyer Millar, Minister, British Embassy, headed the United Kingdom representation. The records of the meetings are not printed. (Department of State Atomic Energy Files)
  3. Section 9a read as follows: “In the event of the Governments of the United States of America and of the United Kingdom deciding to utilize as a source of energy for commercial purpose ores obtained under this agreement the said Governments will admit the Belgian Government to participation in such utilization on equitable terms.”