PPS Files, Lot 64 d 563

Memorandum by the Secretary of the Air Force (Finletter)1

top secret

Memorandum for the Joint Secretaries 2

Subject: Report on the State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Working Group on the Disarmament Proposal3

1. This is a very important document. In substance it is a paper (agreed upon by State and the Joint Chiefs) proposing that the United States, at the Security Council, formulate and announce a policy for peace by the means of disarmament, somewhat along the lines of the President’s program in his October 24, 1950 speech.

[Page 473]

The idea of the paper is that we are allowing the Russians to have the initiative in the drive for peace. The United States as the leader of the free world (such is the thesis of the paper) is doing well in its policy of strengthening the free world militarily and economically to resist the Communist aggression; the United States is, however, laggard in its leadership towards its basic objective—the establishment of a world of organized peace.

Disarmament, the paper in effect states, is the key to the problem. If the nations didn’t have the things that make war they could not make war. The proposal therefore is that, under a system of inspection, control, and on a step by step basis with its enemies, the United States accept the principle of gradual disarmament.

Implicit in the paper is the point that the United States, as the leader of the free world, should hold out to the world, as a great beacon, the hope that all of this preparation for war is not necessarily going to end with fighting, and should reaffirm its policy, in practical terms, that the basic purpose of the free world is a world of organized peace.

In short, it is no argument against this paper that the Russians probably will not accept it. The point is that the United States should know where it wants to go and should state to the free world the high ideal which motivates it—with the hope that some day the major nations of the world would accept this ideal.

2. In my opinion the Joint Secretaries should support this forward looking and imaginative move. It is easy to get so immersed in military preparations that we forget the real objective. For the United States to have the wisdom and clarity of purpose which this paper reveals is a great step forward and holds out great hopes for the future. It would be a mistake, in my opinion, to cavil about the paper. On the contrary every encouragement should be given to those who have created it.

3. However one point should be made—not in the sense of caviling but in order to be helpful.

This point relates to Paragraph 33 of the paper, which in substance states that the reduction in armaments is to be of the voluntary type rather than of the enforced type. Let me explain what I mean.

Starting with the Atomic Declaration of November 19454 the President has stated the policy that disarmament is his purpose, but that this disarmament must be under a “fool proof” system of security. This idea of a fool proof or enforceable system of security runs all the way through the various documents from the Atomic Declaration down [Page 474]to the President’s October 24th speech before the United Nations.5 The “fool proof” idea is in the Moscow Declaration of December 1945,6 the General Assembly Resolution of December 1946,7 and in the Baruch Report of June 1946.8

The opposite of the “fool proof” idea—and an idea which is repudiated by the President’s policy—is unilateral or non-enforceable disarmament.

There are two disadvantages to unilateral disarmament. The first is that if it were accepted it would be disadvantageous to us—for the reason that any such unilateral disarmament is based on promises—and in an agreement like that we of the free world are at a disadvantage. For we keep our promises and the other side does not keep its. This means that we would disarm in reliance on a commitment which is completely unreliable.

Also it isn’t possible to get people to disarm, I think, unless you can offer to both sides the safeguard that once the two sides are disarmed they can be protected in their disarmed state by an enforceable system. This is what the term “fool proof” really means—assurance that the disarmament is real and will last.

The whole history of the desperate efforts toward disarmament between the two world wars seems to prove this point—that you have to assure people that they can count on the promises of the other fellow—and the only way you can do this is to have some system of enforcement which will make him respect his promises.

It is for these reasons that the “fool proof” idea has been so prominent in the President’s proposals. What this means is that as the nations disarm they would transfer certain agreed portions of the arms of which they divested themselves to the enforcing agency—the United Nations—all to the end that when the job was completed the United Nations would have a force greater than that of any of the disarmed states and therefore would be able to enforce the agreement to stay disarmed.

Please note, and this is an important point, that inspection and control are not enforcement. Inspection and control are merely intelligence [Page 475]operations whereby the activities of the nations are revealed. Inspection and control are not an operative enforcing device. They are only necessary steps which will enable enforcement to take place. If there is to be enforcement, it will have to be in the United Nations—at the end of the disarmament process—through the creation of a UN force greater than that of any of the disarmed states.

This is not to say that we have to operate under Article 43.9 Everybody is discouraged by the failures under Article 43, and it may be that it is for this reason that the paper under consideration expressly rules out the idea of an “international force capable of assuring compliance with the program for regulation, limitation and balanced reduction.”

I agree that Article 43 is tied up with too many past failures to be an attractive vehicle for the establishment of the necessary force in the United Nations. This is not to say however that some new device, some new procedure, within UN, could not be created; and I recommend that it be created in the plan under consideration.

I believe that it would be a serious error for us to fail to support, and indeed to reject as this paper does, the President’s policy of enforced disarmament—the “fool proof” system of security. I agree that we are not going to develop any such thing overnight. But neither are we going to develop the kind of gradual and enforceable policy overnight which the paper contemplates.

4. However in this paper is the design for the future, if there is any hope of avoiding World War III, as I think there is. This paper is a statement of an aspiration—but one which I think has the possibility of being realized—especially if the Russians see the free world building its strength.

We should therefore not hesitate to put into this paper an indispensable element and one so vigorously put forward by the President. We should not, I believe, repeat the error which the caution of the statesmen in the period between the two wars produced—that is of going halfway in our aspirations to control the weapons of modern war. The business of going halfway is no doubt produced not only by a sense of caution but also by a sense that such a course, being less than complete, is therefore practical. I believe that it would be much more practical to propose a system which would work if accepted, rather than one which experience has shown, and I believe common sense shows, to be unacceptable to the nations.

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May I elaborate specifically on this last point.

There are three major weapons which will cause special trouble In any disarmament discussions—the Red Army, the Russian atomic stockpile and the accompanying planes, and the United States atomic stockpile and the accompanying planes.

I can’t imagine Russia demobilizing the Red Army unless Russia saw she was dealing with a plan which would have the United States divest itself of its strategic air arm. Nor can I imagine the United States weakening in the slightest its strategic air arm if it thought that at any time Russia could break the agreement with impunity and start off even on the atomic race as opposed to being considerably behind as it now is. I personally would vigorously oppose it, and I think the American people would feel the same way.

However, on the other hand, under a gradual system of disarmament which was transferring power to the United Nations at the same time as the member nations were divesting themselves of arms, the two strategic air arms of Russia and the United States would be the last things that would be divested. I can conceive of both countries, if they wanted to, and seeing a United Nations force capable with inspection and control and the necessary physical power to enforce a condition of disarmament, agreeing to the final and most radical stage of all—the relinquishing of their own greatest weapons and relying on the United Nations as the enforcing agency of disarmament.

All of this may seem unrealistic. Perhaps it is. But it is not as unrealistic, in my opinion, as thinking that the nations are going to disarm voluntarily under a system that assures them of no security in their disarmed state.

  1. A marginal notation on the unsigned source text indicates that this memorandum was prepared by Secretary Finletter.
  2. The Secretaries of the military services were Frank Pace, Jr., Secretary of the Army; Francis P. Matthews, Secretary of the Navy; and Thomas K. Finletter, Secretary of the Air Force.
  3. The report is contained in NSC 112, July 6, p. 477.
  4. The reference is to the Agreed Declaration by President Truman, Prime Minister Attlee of the United Kingdom, and Prime Minister King of Canada, signed at Washington, November 15, 1945; for text, see Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 1504, or 60 Stat. (pt. 2) 1479.
  5. For text of the President’s address to the General Assembly, October 24, 1950, see GA(V), Plenary, pp. 245–247, or Department of State Bulletin, November 6, 1950, pp. 719–722.
  6. For text of the pertinent portion of the Communiqué of the Moscow Tripartite Conference of Foreign Ministers, December 1945, see Foreign Relations, 1945. vol. ii, pp. 822 824.
  7. For text of the resolution adopted by the General Assembly on December 14, 1946, “Principles Governing the Regulation and Reduction of Armaments,” see ibid., 1946, vol. i, p. 1099.
  8. Reference is to the statement by Bernard M. Baruch, United States Representative, at the First Meeting of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, June 14, 1946, which contained the initial U.S. proposals for international control of atomic energy. For text, see United Nations, Official Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, First Year, Plenary Meetings, pp. 4–14 (hereafter cited as AEC, 1st yr., Plenary), or Department of State Bulletin, June 23, 1946, pp. 1057–1062.
  9. Article 43 of the United Nations Charter specified that all members would make forces and facilities available to the Security Council upon call, in accordance with agreements between the Security Council and member states. Negotiations in the Military Staff Committee of the Security Council since 1946 had failed to produce arrangements whereby forces were actually placed at the disposal of the Council. Documentation on this subject is included in material on regulation of armaments in Foreign Relations, volume i, for the years 1946 1950.