Under Secretary’s Meetings, Lot 53 D 2501

Notes of the Meeting of the Under Secretary’s Advisory Committee2at the Department of State, March 7, 1951

top secret

AC N–25

Present: U—Mr. Webb3
G—Mr. Matthews4
S/P—Mr. Nitze
R—Mr. Armstrong5
E—Mr. Thorp6
S/S—Mr. Barnes
S/S–S—Mr. Denney

[Page 446]

The Attitude of the U.S. Government Toward Armament

4. Mr. Nitze reviewed current thinking in S/P on this problem. He said that they had considered first an ideal arrangement on armaments and then progressively considered plans less perfect but more practical in the light of present world conditions. Theoretically, the control of atomic energy and conventional armaments is easiest to think through as part of a world government which would itself have decisive powers of enforcement. It was agreed, however, that this state of affairs was not likely to occur in the foreseeable future, unless as a result of a world war. In any case, if the U.S. were to propose such an arrangement, world public opinion would say that it was a proposal which we never expected that the Soviet Union could accept.

5. The next type of theoretical approach would be to build upon the present plan for UN control of atomic energy7 and extend similar control over conventional arms. A number of criteria would be set up for such arms establishments: no country would employ more than, say, one percent of its population in police forces or military forces; the great powers would have an absolute limit somewhat less than the one percent figure; some fixed percentage of the gross national product of each country would be set as a top limit for arms expenditures; and some weapons, for example, atomic bombs, chemical warfare, and biological warfare, would be outlawed. The procedure would be as follows—after agreement on the purposes and criteria of such a scheme, each country would submit a program for conforming to the purposes and the criteria. Each country would then examine the programs submitted by the others. If agreement were reached that the programs met the purposes and criteria agreed on, then an adequate system of inspection would be set up and the programs implemented. If violations of the agreed programs occurred, presumably the only effective sanction which would exist would be another arms race. In such a race, the United States, having the greatest industrial potential, would presumably have an advantage.

6. Mr. Matthews argued that in the event of an arms race the Soviet Union could overrun Europe before we could do anything about it. Mr. Nitze pointed out that if the one percent criterion was used, Europe’s basic military position with respect to the Soviet Union would [Page 447]be much better than now, and Europe’s industrial potential would enable it to build up rather quickly.

7. Mr. Nitze said a decision would have to be made concerning permission to Germany and Japan to rearm on the basis of one percent of population or alternatively, keeping them in the second class nation category.8 He said that this intermediate scheme was full of risks and dangers; for example, “neutral” nations might be hesitant to say that there had been a violation on the part of the Soviet bloc, and we would then be in a situation similar to that which existed recently when the Asian nations were reluctant to call the Chinese Communists aggressors.9

8. Mr. Nitze then moved on to the third type of armament plan. This plan would recognize that in the world today large states are sovereign and no effective UN sanctions exist. Each country would certify to the others its present military and atomic strength. Then the other countries would verify these strengths by means of some sort of inspection technique, possibly making use of UN machinery. After this process had been completed, there might be a discussion by the sovereign states of mutual reduction of armaments. The question of what to do about violations by states would be left up to the judgment of other states, without involving the UN and the attendant risks that some nations might be afraid to label aggression when it occurs. This scheme is based on the assumption that we could learn more from the Soviets than they could learn from us if we agreed to a system of inspection. As an initial safeguard, we might insist that conventional arms be verified first and then atomic arms, although we would probably have to do both concurrently.

9. Mr. Nitze pointed out that very large questions of concurrent action in nonarmament fields will still exist. The questions of the Korean war, unification of Germany and Chinese representation in the UN are examples. Mr. Nitze said that S/P had not yet had time to consider, in connection with this third armaments plan, either what we would propose to the Soviet Union or the question of what the Soviet Union is likely to accept.

10 There was general agreement that the USSR would be very reluctant to accept inspection of its armaments because Soviet leaders would feel that their system might collapse under such an inspection. Mr. Nitze pointed out the possibility that the Soviets might be able to sabotage an inspection system by the device of allowing U.S. inspectors to enter, but insuring that no Soviet citizen would talk to U.S. inspectors. Mr. Nitze indicated that Mr. Nash in Defense was ready [Page 448]to go ahead with the working out of this plan for certification and verification of conventional arms. Mr. Nitze pointed out that the NSC has already given approval to this. Approval has not been given by the NSC for certification and verification of atomic weapons. Mr. Nitze reported that the Pentagon has been asked to work on an armaments plan which would be confined to Europe.

11. In response to a question from Mr. Webb, Mr. Nitze made it clear that all the plans that he had outlined were in no way to be thought of as substitutes for our present military buildup.10 Mr. Thorp and Mr. Nitze said that these plans should be thought of as possible countermeasures to Soviet propaganda.11

12. Mr. Nitze and Mr. Thorp agreed with Mr. Webb that we must also continue the buildup of economic strengths of the free world. Mr. Thorp pointed out, however, that there just is not enough material available now to rearm as fast as we would like, and at the same time work toward economic buildup of underdeveloped areas. Mr. Nitze pointed out that the Soviet Union might possibly accept a far-reaching armament proposal on the theory that if U.S. rearmament suddenly stopped, the effects upon the economy of the United States might be disastrous. On the other hand, it was agreed that we cannot accept the idea that the building of armaments is necessary to keep the economy of the United States stable. There was general agreement that the work now going on in S/P, in collaboration with Defense, is a very useful undertaking, and that it should have priority over other pressing matters.

13. Mr. Armstrong pointed out that when we deal with Soviet leaders we are not dealing with men of good will, and we must remember that the difficulty of getting an adequate inspection system over armaments might turn out to be insuperable. The only solution may well be to wait until the Soviet leaders change their minds.

14. Messrs. Nitze, Thorp and Armstrong pointed out that the Soviet bloc can improve living standards at a faster percentage rate than most of the free world is able to do inasmuch as the Soviet bloc countries, for the most part, start from a lower standard of living.

15. Mr. Webb ended the discussion by observing that although we must devote as much energy as possible to our military buildup and although, in order to meet Soviet propaganda, we must give careful thought to proposals for East-West settlements, including arms settlements, we must nevertheless find time to work on the problem of building up the standards of living in the free world.

  1. Records of the Under Secretary’s Meetings, 1949–1952, and the Under Secretary’s Advisory Committee, 1950–1951.
  2. The Under Secretary’s Advisory Committee, consisting of most of the principal officers of the Department of State aside from the Secretary of State and the heads of geographic areas, met somewhat less than once a week during the period of May 1950–October 1951. The Committee engaged in general discussions of major foreign policy issues, often focusing on problems of public and Congressional relations.
  3. James E. Webb, Under Secretary of State.
  4. H. Freeman Matthews, Deputy Under Secretary of State.
  5. W. Park Armstrong, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Intelligence.
  6. Willard L. Thorp, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.
  7. On November 4, 1948, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 191(III), which approved the General Findings (part II C) and Recommendations (part III) of the First Report of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and the Specific Proposals of part II of the Second Report of the Commission “as constituting the necessary basis for establishing an effective system of international control of atomic energy.” For text of Resolution 191 (III), see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 1, p. 495. For text of the First Report, 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.). For text of the Second Report, see United Nations, Official Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, Second Year, Special Supplement, The Second Report of the Atomic Energy Commission to the Security Council, September 11, 1947 (hereafter cited as AEC, 2d yr., Special Suppl.).
  8. For documentation on the question of the German contribution to western defense, see vol. iii, pp. 1647 ff. Regarding the issue of Japanese rearmament, see vol. vi, Part 1, pp. 777 ff.
  9. Documentation on the condemnation by the General Assembly of the People’s Republic of China for its role in the Korean conflict is presented in volume vii.
  10. For documentation on U.S. programs for national security, see pp. 1 ff. For documentation on the U.S. military assistance efforts, see pp. 266 ff.
  11. For documentation on Soviet peace propaganda at the United Nations General Assembly, see vol. ii, pp. 477 ff. Documentation on other aspects of Soviet propaganda and the U.S. response appears in volume iv.