Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson)1

top secret

Comments on Policy Planning Staff Draft Paper on International Control of Atomic Energy 2

The paper seems to me to be permeated with the assumption that the use of the atomic bomb is morally wrong; that because the atomic bomb has terrible destructive powers it is different ethically from other weapons that kill and maim, but on a smaller scale; and that the atomic bomb should be prohibited by international agreement wholly without reference to other weapons. Such an agreement would apparently rest in considerable part on the good faith of the USSR, whose record in matters of good faith is “well known”. It seems to me that the better assumption would be that the only way to prevent the use of atomic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is to prevent the outbreak of war between countries posessing such weapons.
The paper comes close to accepting the Soviet contention that the United Nations Plan of Prohibition and Control was not put forward in good faith. For example, the paper comments (page 12):

“It is a good position to rest on if, and as long as, international control and a prohibition of the weapon are not desired, and if it is felt that the United States must nevertheless continue to hold out for some plan for international control.”3

[Page 11]

The Soviets have repeatedly charged that the United States does not wish to prohibit the use of atomic bombs. This is, of course, untrue, and the United Nations Plan clearly provides for their abolition with the establishment of an effective control system. Incidentally, Mr. Vyshinsky, during the atomic energy debate in the last General Assembly meeting made in the same speech the following charges that seem to answer one another:

That the “American plan” was put forward in bad faith in the firm conviction that the USSR would not accept it.
That the “American plan” was a diabolical Wall Street plot to obtain control of the atomic energy resources of the USSR and the rest of the world.

The paper damns with faint praise the United Nations Plan. Dr. Conant4 said, in effect, during the drafting of the Plan:

“Our objective must be to produce a control plan that is not only fool proof, but as nearly as possible rascal proof.”

I think the authors of the Plan succeeded in this. Internationally, the Plan is highly regarded. At Paris in 1948, 40 United Nations countries approved it. In New York last November, 49 countries voted for the Canadian-French resolution reaffirming its essential principles. The USSR and the USSR alone stands in the way of its acceptance. Isn’t this another instance, like so many others, where everyone is out of step except the USSR? Isn’t the next move up to the USSR? Why must we take the initiative in advancing new proposals all the time? The Squires and Daniels “suppression formula”, which is of course the backbone of the paper’s main proposal, was published in 1947.5

The Soviet Government, therefore knows all about it, and yet the Soviet Government has made no new proposals since June, 1947; proposals which are wholly inadequate and unacceptable.

I assume that we can maintain a wide superiority in atomic weapons over the Soviet Union, probably for an indefinite period of time. It seems to me that we need military advice from the Joint Chiefs [Page 12] of Staff on the question of what the eventual possession of considerable quantities of atomic weapons by the Soviet Union will mean to us in terms of military position and strategy.
I have assumed all along that if the Russians accepted the U.N. Plan, before it was actually implemented, the Western Powers would insist on substantial reductions in the Soviet land army and offensive weapons. This is, of course, primarily a military question, but to me it makes absolutely no sense for the U.S. to give up what General Bradley6 calls our chief offensive weapon without a fully compensatory reduction in the offensive striking power of the Soviet Union. The same situation, of course, applies in my view, to the temporary plan, based on the suppression formula, put forward in the Planning Staff paper; that is, we should agree to this only if the Soviet Union makes compensatory reductions in its offensive striking power.
The Soviet Union has, of course, known about the Squires and Daniels suppression formula since it was first published in 1947. As far as I am aware, they have never commented directly on it, but they have frequently charged that the ruling circles in America wish to obtain full control of all the atomic resources in the world in order to deny the benefits to workers of countries which have inadequate supplies of coal and oil. I seriously doubt whether the Soviet Union would accept these proposals. If we ever decide to make such proposals, we must be careful to see that they are presented in such a way that we do not give the Soviet Union an enormous propaganda weapon.
It seems to me that the inspection provisions for the temporary proposals described in the Planning Staff paper are in some particulars inadequate. In any event, I do not believe that the Soviet Union would find these inspection proposals, which are absolutely indispensable to any suspension scheme, any more palatable than they find the inspection proposals of the United Nations Plan.
I am in full accord with the sections of the paper which stress the importance of keeping the United Kingdom, Canada and France fully informed of what we are doing.
To recapitulate, I recommend that we stand on our present position until we get the military information referred to in paragraph 4 of this memorandum, after which we should re-examine our policy in the general security field.
John D. Hickerson
  1. On January 24, Hickerson transmitted a copy of this memorandum to the Executive Secretariat of the Department for the attention of the Secretary of State in the event that he had not already seen it.
  2. The draft paper does not accompany the source text and has not been specifically identified. For the final version, January 20, see p. 22.
  3. This quotation does not appear in the text of the memorandum of January 20.
  4. Dr. James B. Conant, President of Harvard University; member of the Secretary of State’s Committee which drafted the U.S. proposal for the international control of atomic energy in 1946; member of the General Advisory Committee of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission since 1947.
  5. See Arthur M. Squires and Cuthbert Daniel, “The International Control of Safe Atomic Energy,” in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April, 1947, pp. 111–116. Subsequent articles by Squires and Daniel appearing in the Bulletin include the following: “An International Moratorium on Atomic Energy for Power Uses,” June 1948, pp. 183–184; “Freedom Demands Responsibility,” October 1948, pp. 300–304; and “Scientists’ Responsibilities,” January 1949, pp. 27–28.
  6. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.