Policy Planning Staff Files

Record of the Meeting of the State–Defense Policy Review Group, Department of State, Friday, March 10, 1950, 3 p. m. to 5:30 p. m.

top secret
Present: Department of State
Paul H. Nitze
R. Gordon Arneson
George Butler
Carlton Savage
Harry H. Schwartz
Robert Tufts1
Department of Defense
Major General James H. Burns
Major General T. H. Landon
Mr. Robert LeBaron
National Security Council
Mr. James Lay
Mr. Chester I. Barnard2
Dr. Henry D. Smyth3

Note: Mr. Barnard and Dr. Smyth prior to the meeting had read the Study Group’s working drafts through Chapter IX.4

A. Mr. Barnard liked the results of the group’s work and said that it cleared up a number of things in his mind. He started off by making the following general observations and suggestions.

[Page 191]
He felt that there is probably more informal grapevine type communication between Russians in the U.S.S.R. than seems to be recognized by the paper. Mr. Nitze said that we recognized that in the paper as it stands now there is a tendency to over-estimate Russian strength and under-estimate Russian weaknesses, and that Chapter V is being redrafted with this thought in mind. In answer to a question from Dr. Smyth, he added that we have some specific suggestions to include as to what might be done to capitalize on Russian weaknesses.
Mr. Barnard said that he also felt that the paper under-estimates the economic potential of the United States in war-time; that we didn’t even find out in World War II what this country could really do if pressed, and that people can always take more punishment than is expected of them.
He said that cohesion in our democracy is basic to United States security and that the government was going to need assistance in getting public support for the national effort which would be called for. This will be a difficult job for the government to handle alone, because of the emphasis on security and the atmosphere of secrecy in which the government works. He said that at the present time those who do most of the talking about the situation do not know the facts, and those who know the facts do not do much talking. As an example of what he had in mind, he pointed out that a proposal by the Administration to extend ECA beyond 1952 would be attacked on political grounds and the Administration would be accused of using scare-head tactics. He admitted that a greater part of the information needed to make decisions can be found in the press, magazines, books, and published documents, pointing out that the difficulty is that to those not on the inside it is extremely difficult if not impossible to know which things one reads in such sources are fact and which are fancy. He recognized the difficulty of making all information available to the public as a means of backing up the Administration’s proposals, and suggested that this could be handled in another way. Specifically, he advocated setting up a group of five or ten worthy citizens of good reputation and high integrity who have no connection with the government, who would have made available to them all of the material on which the government based its conclusions, and who could then say to the people, “We are thoroughly advised and you can accept what we say.” Such a group should be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. It should have no strings attached to its right to make public its own conclusions. In response to a request from Mr. Nitze for names, he suggested General Eisenhower (so long as he remains President of Columbia, and whose military background would be an asset rather than a liability in that his presence in the group would inspire public confidence on the military recommendations); James B. Conant; Dr. Sproul, President of the University of California; a “sane, prominent churchman” (In this connection, he mentioned John Foster Dulles,5 [Page 192] if the latter’s activities during the last couple of years did not exclude him); Charles Taft6 (if it were not for his brother);7 he also thought a representative of labor and of business would be sound additions, but only if they are not active; it might also be worth-while to have one woman, and in this connection he mentioned Mrs. Mildred A. Horton8 and Sarah Blanding.9

Mr. Barnard’s last suggestion was heartily endorsed by Dr. Smyth, who felt that we stood in danger of losing public opinion through what he called security-minded narrowness, and he suggested that such a group might also make suggestions as to what facts could be made available to the public. He said he thought more things could be done by voluntary cooperation on the part of all citizens throughout the country without benefit of government orders if the proper atmosphere were created. Mr. LeBaron pointed out that Secretary Forrestal10 had appointed such a group and that they had great difficulty in agreeing on what facts could be made public, but he agreed with Mr. Nitze that our problem here was easier than the one facing that group as the raw material with which they were working was more in the field of secret weapons.

B. Mr. Nitze then brought up the general question of whether or not the United States could make a decision to build up its strength prior to attempting some sort of negotiations with the Soviet Union. Dr. Smyth said he could not see what harm would be done by attempting negotiations, even in the light of prior conviction that they would be unsuccessful. He suggested that unsuccessful negotiations would in fact clarify the situation for the American people. Mr. Nitze replied that we would like to see the kind of negotiations we have in mind succeed, and we felt that they would succeed only if we were able to lead from strength, Mr. Butler added that there were a number of dangers in opening negotiations before the public understands the situation. In commenting on Dr. Smyth’s remark that the negotiations might be the quickest way of bringing about public understanding, Mr. Nitze pointed out that the Russians might offer a number of proposals which superficially would seem to be in our interest, such as a periodic Inspection system to replace the Baruch plan, and that in rejecting them we would be increasing the divisive factors in the United States. Dr. Smyth pointed out that the public seems to think that the 1946 [Page 193] plan was based on a United States monopoly and that it was proposed at a time when there was still some residue of friendly feeling toward Russia; now the public is told by its government that the UN plan is the one and only perfect plan and the only basis for negotiations. Dr. Smyth said that it must be made clear to the public that changes in conditions have created no change in the reasoning on which a plan was designed to meet those conditions. In the general discussion it was agreed that such changes in conditions as have occurred have probably been against our interests and that our present stand gives the appearance of an admission of weakness—which in fact it is. This led into an examination of the pros and cons of international control.

C. Mr. Nitze suggested consideration of the thought that if we could obtain implementation of the UN plan or its equivalent, we would still have a fair amount of security and we would have succeeded in opening up the U.S.S.R. Mr. LeBaron said that it might ease world tensions in general but that it would not improve our military position. From this developed a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the time element, i.e., that there would be a year’s warning if a violation occurred. On the one hand, it was argued that we would be able to devote our technical skill to other things, and perhaps thus have time to improve our position militarily vis-à-vis the U.S.S.R. On the other hand, there was the opinion that under this concept the application of your technical skill would still be directed toward methods of killing people and that if you get rid of the bomb, the probable result would be to find some other method equally hazardous. Mr. Barnard said that he liked the concept of a package agreement but pointed out the dangers of “moral revulsion” among important groups of the country—scientists, churchmen, et cetera—against the H-bomb. Dr. Smyth mentioned an article which will appear in Scientific American which argues that what we dislike about the Communists is their means rather than the ultimate end which they profess, and comparing our objective with the H-bomb as a means. Mr. LeBaron stated that he found a great deal of difference between treating people as the Communists have Mr. Shipkov11 and using the H-bomb after there has been a declaration of war. Mr. Nitze remarked that he felt it was not quite so simple and that for the Russian people the difference between conventional bombs and H-bombs may be more than a matter of degree. Dr. Smyth remarked in this connection that he particularly liked the paper’s recognition that our objectives must [Page 194] be the same in war as they are in peace, something that he felt had not been very clear in the last two wars.

D. Mr. Nitze then asked what changes had taken place since 1946 which might technically affect the Baruch plan, and mentioned his understanding that the increased ability to process low-grade uranium ores affected the inspection parts of the plan. Mr. Arneson also pointed out that as the Russians now know how to make a bomb, the period of warning would be less. Dr. Smyth added that cores could be hidden in caves and that this was a risk which grows with time as more and more are produced. He agreed with Mr. Nitze that the H-bomb would enhance this factor as it multiplies the damage which could be done by hidden bombs, although there is a limit to the time during which they could be stored. He also pointed out that there is one advantage in the situation now as compared with 1946, i.e., we know that they have bombs and the means of producing them so that they cannot say they have nothing to inspect. Once we got people into these production centers whose existence would have to be acknowledged, it would be much easier to pick up leads about others. Mr. Barnard, in commenting that this would not help much in finding hidden plutonium, pointed out that it would be very difficult if not impossible to prove that our own military hadn’t hidden some. Mr. Nitze then asked if it were clear as to what was now needed to build a reactor. Dr. Smyth said that large amounts of power would probably be needed for some time to come, although there was a possibility that in the not too distant future production plants might be able to produce their own power. He said that the unit itself need not be very large; and that although it would be possible to detect a processing plant, with great difficulty and tremendous cost due to the cooling problems one might conceivably be designed which could be concealed. There is no way of detecting diffusion processes by radioactive methods. In sum, the only sure guide for detection might be the presence of enough water for the cooling apparatus, which gave added emphasis to Mr. Nitze’s statement that he was more worried about the ability of the Russians to produce more bombs clandestinely after a control system had been inaugurated than to hide some that they had already produced. Mr. Barnard said that he was now highly dubious whether one could tell the American people that an agreement solely on atomic control would mean much in the way of security and that he did not think that he would want to lend his name to such an assurance. Mr. Lay pointed out that, aside from the technical aspects, you would still gain the political advantage of opening up the U.S.S.R.

E. Dr. Smyth raised the question of UN control of weapons through its own police force in ownership of bombs and the means of producing [Page 195] them. Mr. Nitze pointed out that this raised two questions to which satisfactory answers have never been obtained: (a) How does the UN act as a sovereign entity and (b) where would the UN keep its bombs and plants? The discussion then turned to the question of whether or not it was possible to stop technological processes or even to slow them down. Mr. LeBaron pointed out that no one could predict the ends of technological progress fifty years ahead, although he agreed with Dr. Smyth’s general statement that there is “no foreseeable peacetime uses of atomic energy”. Mr. Nitze pointed out that one suggestion was to declare a moratorium on atomic progress and Dr. Smyth added that it seemed to him to be a matter of foregoing future possibilities temporarily in order to get control, and that this idea had even more merit since the H-bomb entered the picture. He agreed that scientific progress was a reality but said that it was also a reality that the Russians are on the same globe with us, that we both have these weapons and that we must find some way of living with each other. Mr. LeBaron suggested that the question boiled down to a decision as to where to expend one’s energies, and Mr. Nitze took the position that we can’t abandon either line. On the one hand, the chances of coming to an agreement on this matter are slim indeed and extremely difficult to realize. On the other hand, the fact that we and the Russians are mutually building up greater and greater force is not necessarily a deterrent to war and may be a most dangerous road, In our own case, there is the danger that such a course might mean that we would lose most of our freedoms through the gradual creation of a garrison state, and he concluded that we must concurrently go down both roads. Mr. Barnard agreed, said that he thought that an approach to the Russians on the package basis was well worth trying, that international control of atomic energy alone was not enough and probably at this stage could not even get congressional support.

F. With specific regard to the organization of the study group’s paper, General Landon and Mr. Lay pointed out that both the Joint Chiefs and the President might require that our objectives be stated more clearly in the paper, as the former would constantly have to use them as the basis for their strategic plans and the latter would need something specific to approve.

G. Dr. Smyth’s final comment was that the one thing he missed in the paper was a gospel which lends itself to preaching. Mr. Nitze said that that was something we had in mind and it might be more appropriate in the form of a speech written for the President than as an integral part of the study.

  1. Member of the Policy Planning Staff.
  2. President of the Rockefeller Foundation; Member of the Board of Consultants of the Secretary of State’s Committee on Atomic Energy, 1946.
  3. Member of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  4. For the report in its final form, see NSC 68, April 7, p. 235.
  5. Member of the United States Delegations to most regular sessions of the United Nations General Assembly since 1946; attended sessions of the Council of Foreign Ministers in 1945, 1947, and 1949; interim United States Senator from New York, 1949; appointed consultant to the Secretary of State, April 6, 1950.
  6. Lawyer and civic leader in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  7. Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio.
  8. President of Wellesley College, 1936–1949.
  9. President of Vassar College.
  10. James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 1944–1947; Secretary of Defense, 1947–1949.
  11. Documentation on the detention and interrogation of United States Legation employee Michael Shipkov by Bulgarian authorities is scheduled for publication in volume iv.