USUN Files

Testimony by the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson) Before the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, Washington, April 26, 1950, 2:45 p. m.1


In testifying before this Committee, I should like first of all to tell you that I am not a scientist nor an engineer. I rely upon my advisers in the Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, and in individual scientists for the best available technical opinion and advice in the field of international control of atomic energy. Through an interdepartmental committee on which the Departments of State and Defense, [Page 69] and the Atomic Energy Commission, are represented, the concerted views of the three executive agencies most directly concerned are obtained on international control policy.

Since August 9, 1949, I have represented the United States in the consultations of the six permanent members of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. These were called for in the General Assembly resolution passed in Paris in 1948 in order to determine whether a basis for agreement on the international control of atomic energy could be found. As a member of the United States Delegation to the Fourth General Assembly of the United Nations last fall, I represented the United States in the General Assembly consideration and debate on atomic energy and on conventional armaments.

When I took this assignment, I needed an answer from the technical people as to whether it is or is not possible technically to control atomic energy to ensure that it is used only for peaceful purposes, so that the prohibition of all types of atomic weapons could be made really effective. Their answer was “yes”.

This question has been repeatedly answered in the affirmative. It was first answered by the Board of Consultants appointed to the Department of State in early 1946, when that Board, known as the Acheson–Lilienthal Board, first reported that control of atomic energy was feasible and indicated the lines along which such control could be achieved.

It was answered again by the Scientific and Technical Committee of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission when that committee reported unanimously in September 1946 that “we do not find any basis in the available scientific facts for supposing that effective control is not technologically feasible.”2

Many times since, we have had this question looked into not only by the AEC, but by scientific and technical consultants as well, and the answer has always been the same.

The recent announcement regarding the hydrogen bomb, of course, immediately raised the question of whether the U.N. plan of control would be fully adequate to cover the hydrogen bomb. The answer has been that it would.

While we are in constant touch with the AEC and the Department of Defense on this subject, we thought that it would be useful to get from the AEC a comprehensive current evaluation as to whether any other technical developments have occurred, or are likely to occur, in the United States or abroad which would require a change or a [Page 70] modification in the United Nations plan. Present indications are that no important modification in the plan is called for.

I believe we can be assured that from the technical point of view, atomic energy can be controlled and atomic weapons of all types can be effectively prohibited. We can also be assured that the only plan that human ingenuity has been able to develop so far to do this is the plan developed in the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and approved by an overwhelming vote of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 and again in 1949. In the last General Assembly, only the Soviet bloc, now five states, voted against it.

The fundamental question is not feasibility of control, it is rather the question of the refusal of the Soviet Government to agree to the only effective control system so far devised. Realization of this fact is, in my view, essential to any sound evaluation of the situation which confronts us. If we are to get agreement on effective control and effective prohibition, we must have a willingness and a desire on the part of all concerned to reach such an agreement. If the Soviet Union has ever had in mind a willingness to negotiate such a system, it has successfully concealed it from us. This is not a conclusion that we have arrived at easily or without reluctance. It is a conclusion that is forced upon us as the only explanation for the Soviet behavior in over four years of debate and discussion of the problem of international control.

Now I am not saying that the Soviet Union does not want agreement. They do want agreement, but on their own terms. These are that nations agree to a convention providing for the prohibition and the destruction of atomic weapons without any system of safeguards that could give any promise at all that nations would abide by this agreement. The Soviet Union is always willing to agree that we destroy our atomic weapons.

When we come to the question of why the Soviet Union refuses to accept any effective system of international control, we are forced to deduce the real reasons for their refusal, not their stated reasons. In this connection, it is well to remember that never once has any Soviet representative stated that the United Nations plan would not be an effective one. This point has been made on a number of occasions by U.S. representatives and has never been challenged by the Soviet representative. One reason why the Soviet Union has refused to give serious consideration to any effective system is the fact they feel that any such system would be a breaching of the Iron Curtain. This, apparently, the Soviet Union cannot accept, whatever the consequences might be for international peace and security.

Another reason that comes to mind is the fact that the alternative to no agreement on international control is not necessarily unpleasant for the Soviet Union. It is unpleasant for the democracies for the [Page 71] reason that the greatest threat that atomic weapons pose to the world is the threat of an atomic Pearl Harbor. Now, obviously, democracies do not launch such surprise attacks. Whatever the Soviet propaganda may say, they must fully realize this fact. The same does not hold true for a totalitarian state. Hitler’s attacks on Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland and the Soviet Union itself, and the Japanese attack against us, fully bear out this latter conclusion. The Soviet Union is not without guilt in this regard, as witness their actions against Poland and Finland in 1939. So long as the Soviet Union finds that the alternative to no agreement on effective control is an acceptable situation to them, there is little prospect that we can find any real basis for negotiation with them in this field. This is all the more true since they do not have to meet the pressure of any public opinion within their own country.

We are, therefore, forced to the conclusion that agreement in this field cannot pave the way for agreement in all the other areas of differences between the free world and the Soviet Union. Now this is not a new or a recent conclusion. It was reached as long ago as May, 1948 not only by the United States, but by ten of the twelve members of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, when, in its Third Report, they stated that “in the field of atomic energy, the majority of the Commission has been unable to secure the agreement of the Soviet Union to even those elements of effective control considered essential from the technical point of view, let alone their acceptance of the nature and extent of the participation in the world community required of all nations in this field by the First and Second Reports of the Atomic Energy Commission. As a result, the Commission has been forced to recognize that agreement on effective measures for the control of atomic energy is itself dependent on cooperation in broader fields of policy.”

Although this conclusion was reached two years ago, we have not ceased our efforts to find some basis for agreement. At the request made on two occasions by the General Assembly of the United Nations, we have participated in a new and smaller forum composed of the six permanent members of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. These are Canada, China, France, the U.S., the U.K. and the U.S.S.R., who had originally sponsored the General Assembly resolution which created the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission in January, 1946. To permit freer discussion, these meetings were held in closed session. The first meeting was on August 9, 1949. On October 25, an interim report to the General Assembly was submitted on the results of the consultations. I regret to state that absolutely no progress was made toward reaching a basis for agreement. On the same date, five of the powers submitted a statement to the General [Page 72] Assembly3 in which, among other things, they outlined the basic obstacles to agreement, and stated certain conclusions which I believe are sufficiently important to read to you now:

“It appears from these consultations that, as in the past, the Soviet Union will not negotiate except on the basis of the principles set forth in the Soviet proposals of June 1947.4

“The essential points in the Soviet control proposals, and the reasons for their rejection by the other five Powers, as brought out in the consultations, are as follows:

  • “The Soviet Union proposes that nations should continue to own explosive atomic materials.
    • “The other five Powers feel that under such conditions there would be no effective protection against the sudden use of these materials as atomic weapons.
  • “The Soviet Union proposes that nations continue, as at present, to own, operate, and manage facilities making or using dangerous quantities of such materials.
    • “The other five Powers believe that under such conditions, it would be impossible to detect or prevent the diversion of such materials for use in atomic weapons.
  • “The Soviet Union proposes a system of control depending on periodic inspection of facilities, the existence of which the national government concerned reports to the international agency, supplemented by special investigations on suspicion of treaty violations.
    • “The other five Powers believe that periodic inspection would not prevent the diversion of dangerous materials and that the special investigations envisaged would be wholly insufficient to prevent clandestine activities.

“Other points of difference, including Soviet insistence on the right to veto the recommendations of the International Control Agency, have not yet been discussed in the consultations.

“These consultations have not yet succeeded in bringing about agreement between the U.S.S.R. and the other five Powers, but they have served to clarify some of the points on which there is disagreement.

“It is apparent that there is a fundamental difference not only on methods but also on aims. All of the Sponsoring Powers other than the U.S.S.R. put world security first and are prepared to accept innovations [Page 73] in traditional concepts of international cooperation, national sovereignty and economic organization where these are necessary for security. The Government of the U.S.S.R. puts its sovereignty first and is unwilling to accept measures which may impinge upon or interfere with its rigid exercise of unimpeded state sovereignty.

“If this fundamental difference could be overcome, other differences which have hitherto appeared unsurmountable could be seen in true perspective, and reasonable ground might be found for their adjustment.”

I wish to lay particular stress on the conclusion reached that the Soviet Union places its own narrow interpretation of sovereignty ahead of any consideration of what the impact of this interpretation might have on world peace and security.

I should like to recall also the behavior of the Soviet Union since the General Assembly in the consultations among the permanent members. The General Assembly on November 23, 1949, passed the following resolution by 49 votes to 5:

[Here follows the text of General Assembly Resolution 299 (IV), November 23, 1949, which requested the permanent members of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission to continue their consultations. For the text of Resolution 299 (IV), see Foreign Relations, 1949, volume I, page 225.]

At the second meeting after the General Assembly and the fourteenth in the series of consultations on January 19, 1950, the Soviet Union, despite the solemn request of the General Assembly, walked out over the wholly extraneous and irrelevant issue of who should sit in the consultations for China. I was present at that meeting. I stated that the U.S. Government took the instructions of the General Assembly seriously and, had a different decision been made by the nations present regarding Chinese representation, I had been under instructions to proceed with the consultations. We continue to be ready to proceed with these consultations whenever the Soviet Union chooses to return to them. But I submit that unless and until the Soviet Union decides to become a cooperating member of the world community and to cooperate with the rest of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security, there is little prospect of any agreement on the question of international control of atomic energy.

The issues that separate us on this matter are fundamental ones. They cannot be solved by any tinkering with or modification of the control system. That does not mean that we are rigid in our thinking on this matter. On the contrary, we have repeatedly stated that we would give serious and sympathetic consideration to any proposals that might make the present United Nations plan either more workable or effective. We ourselves are constantly studying this problem [Page 74] and if we should come up with any ideas that appear promising, we will not hesitate to put them forward.

In our consideration of this problem, we are well aware that the prohibition of atomic weapons is but one aspect of the armaments question. It cannot be finally dealt with except in the realization of the fact that the implementation of a plan for the international control of atomic energy and the prohibition of atomic weapons must go hand in hand with the implementation of a plan for the regulation and reduction of conventional armaments. In the formulation of the respective control and regulation systems, it is essential, and was so recognized by the United Nations, to keep the two separate, but, as I stated before the Ad Hoc Political Committee of the General Assembly on November 19, 1949:

“At no time has any one denied that the two fields are closely interrelated—that they are two aspects of the one problem of disarmament. The Atomic Energy Commission has been endeavoring to work out a suitable and effective system for the control of atomic energy and the prohibition of the atomic weapon. The Commission for Conventional Armaments has been endeavoring to work out the preliminary steps for the development of an effective plan for the regulation and control of conventional armaments and armed forces. If and when the two Commissions succeed in developing suitable and acceptable plans in their respective fields, there will be a necessity for coordinating the two plans in an over-all system of collective security.”5

This means that whenever there is agreement on the international control of atomic energy and the prohibition of atomic weapons, we would not be in a position of disarming ourselves in one field without a compensatory reduction in the striking (power of the Soviet land armies.

As I stated earlier, although we do not see much prospect of an early agreement in this field with the Soviet Union, we shall continue our efforts in the United Nations to reach agreement. But, as Secretary Acheson has said, we must not seek agreement for the sake of reaching agreement. We must maintain our economic health and stability in this country and increase our strength. We must, in association with the other free countries of the world, endeavor to build up our collective strength so that the Soviet Union will find itself impelled to enter into agreements in this and related fields. In my opinion, such agreements, deriving from a strong and united free world, have a good likelihood of being carried out by the Soviet Union. I must confess frankly that I would have little confidence that the Soviet Union would carry out any other kind of agreement. Their bad record in international affairs strongly supports this conclusion. Until such agreements are possible, [Page 75] we must build up our strength and that of the free world so that the Soviet Union will find aggression an unpromising and unprofitable venture.

  1. This text was forwarded by Hickerson on May 10 to Deputy Representative John C. Ross at the United States Mission with instructions to transmit copies to the British and French delegations (USUN Files).
  2. For the text of the report adopted by the Scientific and Technical Committee on September 26, 1946, see United Nations, Official Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, First Year, Special Supplement, Report to the Security Council (1946) (hereafter cited as AEC, 1st yr., Special Suppl.), Part IV.
  3. For the full text of the Interim Report and the Five-Power statement of October 25, 1949, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fourth Session, Supplement No. 15, “International Control of Atomic Energy” (hereafter cited as GA(IV) Supplement No. 15), pp. 33–37, or Department of State, Documents on Disarmament 1945–1959 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1960), vol. i, pp. 216–225.
  4. For text of the proposals submitted by Soviet Representative Andrei A. Gromyko, June 11, 1947, see United Nations, Official Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, Second Year, Plenary Meetings (hereafter cited as AEC, 2nd yr., Plenary), pp. 20–24, or Documents on Disarmament 1945–1959, vol. i, pp. 85–88. For documentation on the Soviet proposals, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. i, pp. 327 ff.
  5. For the record of Hickerson’s address of November 19, 1949, see GA(IV), Ad Hoc Political Committee, pp. 235–236.