PM Files

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

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At the time that the Special Committee of the National Security Council, consisting of the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the then Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, submitted its recommendations on the development of thermonuclear weapons to you for consideration and which you subsequently approved, the Committee stated that it would submit in writing at a later date the basis for these recommendations.

Accordingly, the Committee submits herewith the enclosed report1 prepared by the Department of State, with Appendices by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense, as a written record of the basis for the Committee’s recommendations on the above subject, which were submitted orally to you on January 31, 1950. The Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, however, approved the enclosed report subject to the comments in the attached memorandum, dated February 15, 1950.

James S. Lay, Jr.

Memorandum by the Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission ( Lilienthal ) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council ( Lay )

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At the meeting of the members of the Special Committee on January 31, 1950, recommendations contained in Paragraph 11 of the [Page 540] Department of State paper of that date were approved by the Special Committee, and on the same date by the President.

At the meeting I expressed orally grave reservations about Recommendation a; namely: “That the President direct the Atomic Energy Commission to proceed to determine the technical feasibility of a thermonuclear weapon, the scale and rate of effort to be determined jointly by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense; and that the necessary ordnance developments and carrier program be undertaken concurrently.”

I expressed hearty agreement with Recommendation b, whereby the President directs a “re-examination of our objectives in peace and war of the effect of these objectives on our strategic plans,” and stated that I believed this would be the most important factor of all in the assignment to the Special Committee and its recommendations.

At the meeting on January 31 I discussed orally the reasons for my reservations about Recommendation a. as a course to be pursued at this time. I have requested of the Executive Secretary and have received his permission to append to the record of the Special Committee’s Report and Recommendations a summary of the basis for my views. Such summary is as follows:

It was my view that the President’s publicly announced decision directing the Atomic Energy Commission to proceed to determine the technical feasibility of a thermonuclear weapon would be construed, and inevitably construed, as a very broad and far-reaching decision respecting the hydrogen bomb; that such an announced decision by the President would seriously prejudice the re-examination of our present course, provided for by Recommendation b.

The central question for the Special Committee it seemed to me was not whether we should recommend proceeding with the super bomb or recommend against it. The central question, so it seemed to me, was whether we should not first face up to the weaknesses in our present national position. I outlined the points of weaknesses which had occurred to me as a result of discussions during the past few weeks. The decision to proceed, prior to such a solid re-examination, would I fear tend to confirm to a degree almost beyond change our present chief and almost sole reliance upon nuclear armament. I stated it as my opinion that in our major and almost sole reliance upon atomic weapons, we are resting our security largely on an asset that is steadily depreciating for us, i.e. weapons of mass destruction. The President’s decision, would I feared, tend to make far more difficult a realistic re-examination of our position and an effort to find, if possible, some more solid course or series of courses.

David E. Lilienthal
  1. Ante, p. 513.