Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. R. Gordon Arneson, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State (Webb)


Subject: Open Letter to the United Nations from Professor Niels Bohr dated June 9, 1950.

Participants: John D. Hickerson, Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs
Mr. Henrik deKauffmann, Ambassador of Denmark
Benjamin M. Hulley, BNA
R. Gordon Arneson, U/A

The Danish Ambassador called at his request to set forth the views of the Danish Government on the open letter which Professor Niels Bohr had addressed to the United Nations on June 9, 1950. These views are reflected in the attached aide-mémoire which Ambassador deKauffmann left with the Department.

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In elaboration of the matter, Ambassador deKauffmann made the following points. He was confident that Professor Bohr did not entertain any hope that the Soviet Union would agree to a proposal of openness. Professor Bohr felt that a great advantage would accrue to the United States if it saw fit to make such a proposal even though it would be turned down by the Soviet Union because it would help to rally the liberal and intellectual forces of the world to the support of the United States. Ambassador deKauffmann was pleased to note that there had been no expression of disapproval in the United States of Professor Bohr’s proposal. He hoped very much that, at minimum, the United States would continue to refrain from adverse criticism of the proposal. He recognized that there were many practical difficulties. He recalled that Professor Bohr’s views on this matter had been known to the United States Government for some time and that a great deal of thought had been given to it. He hoped that it might be possible for the United States at least to express itself in favor of an open world as an objective to be striven for. He felt that a statement to this effect, while not very concrete, would be very helpful.

Mr. Hickerson stated that the Department was very glad to have this opportunity to discuss the Bohr proposal and very much appreciated having the views of the Danish Government as presented by the Ambassador. He went on to say that Professor Bohr’s views had been known for some period of time and that while we were of course in complete sympathy with the ideals expressed in the proposal, we foresaw many practical difficulties in handling the proposal.

Turning briefly to the Stockholm appeal,1 Ambassador deKauffmann pointed out that Professor Bohr had refused to sign it because he saw that it was at complete variance with his objective. The Communist press had attacked him vigorously for his unwillingness to sign while attempting to claim that his proposals and the Stockholm appeal sprang from the same motivations for world peace.

The Danish Ambassador left with the Department copies of Professor Bohr’s public reply to the request made on him to sign the Stockholm appeal as well as a copy of his statement to the press on the release of his open letter to the United Nations. Both are attached.2

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The Danish Embassy to the Department of State



The Open Letter Professor Niels Bohr addressed to the United Nations on the 9th of June, 1950, was sent entirely on his own initiative and without foregoing consultation with the Danish Government.

When, however, the Danish Prime Minister became acquainted with the Open Letter, Mr. Hedtoft3 made the Danish point of view in regard to Professor Bohr’s letter known in a statement which he gave to the press in Copenhagen on the 13th of June.

In this statement it was said:

“Professor Bohr emphasizes the importance of cooperation among nations. He raises the demand for an open world with free access to information and exchange of ideas everywhere as a means to strengthen reciprocal confidence and to guarantee mutual safety.

We in Denmark sincerely hope that the thoughts expressed in the Open Letter may be an impulse to serious deliberations in the minds of everybody who has a share in the responsibility for the future of our world.”

The view expressed by the Prime Minister is shared by the entire Danish Cabinet.

While the Government in Copenhagen has no intention to make any further public comments to Professor Bohr’s Open Letter for the time being, the Danish Government would like to acquaint the Government of the United States of America with their views on the matter in every respect.

The Danish Government attaches very great importance to the thoughts expressed in Professor Bohr’s Open Letter and would deeply deplore it should Professor Bohr’s initiative be looked upon by the public merely as an expression of the good intentions of a purely theoretical scientific mind.

In the view of the Danish Government, an early clear American declaration to all countries in favor of an open world and a renewed American offer to place all military scientific inventions at the disposal of all countries under the safeguard of mutual appropriate international control would be of the greatest value in the effort to surmount the present international stalemate. Such a step would create all over Europe a strong and good impression of American sincerity and might possibly also be of great impact in Yugoslavia, China, India, and other countries.

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Even if not accepted it would possibly force the opponents of an open world to explain their reasons in public.

For these reasons the Danish Government would view with great regret any statement from the American Government indicating dissociation from the thoughts expressed by Professor Bohr.

Washington, June 21, 1950.

  1. The Stockholm Appeal of the World Peace Council, March 19, 1950, read as follows:

    “We demand the absolute banning of the atom weapon, arm of terror and mass extermination of populations.

    “We demand the establishment of strict international control to ensure the implementation of this banning measure.

    “We consider that any government which would be first to use the atom weapon against any country whatsoever would be committing a crime against humanity and should be dealt with as a war criminal.

    “We call on all men of good will throughout the world to sign this Appeal.”

    Documentation on the Stockholm Appeal is scheduled for publication in volume iv.

  2. Neither reproduced.
  3. Hans Hedtoft, Prime Minister of Denmark.