The British Embassy to the Department of State

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There have been recent conversations between officials of the State Department and the British Embassy on disarmament.

2. There is attached, for the secret information of the State Department, a copy of a paper resulting from an interdepartmental study of this subject at the official level in London. It would be appreciated if this could be returned as soon as possible to the British Embassy as it is the only one available here.

3. His Majesty’s Government still have under active consideration the question as to the best forum in which to launch any concrete proposals on disarmament which may be agreed, but have reached no final conclusion on this point. They are, however, of the opinion that neither the Committee of Twelve on Disarmament at present in session in New York nor any joint Commission which might be set up as a result of its recommendations would be suitable. The need to take account of the forces of Communist China is an important consideration. Further it would clearly be advantageous to reserve any proposals on this subject for a more impressive occasion, such as a Four or Five Power Meeting or the opening session of the General Assembly.

4. Since, however, the proposals have a bearing on the work of the Committee of Twelve it is important that nothing should be done in that Committee’s discussions which would be a hindrance to discussions in another forum, or to force His Majesty’s Government or other friendly powers to reveal their position prematurely. It is therefore hoped that in the meantime and pending further discussions between officials, the United States representative on the Committee will refrain from putting forward any proposal to which the attached paper indicates serious objection.

5. So far as safeguards are concerned, His Majesty’s Government have, after careful study of the United States proposals set out in Security Council Document S/C.3/43 of 9th August 1950,1 come to [Page 502]the conclusion that such a comprehensive system of inspection would be unacceptable to the United Kingdom, since it would involve an undue degree of interferences in national life and the disclosures of secret industrial processes. United Kingdom support for the majority proposals for the control of atomic energy, which include a rigorous scheme of inspection, cannot therefore be taken to imply support for the extension of a similarly rigorous scheme to the field of conventional armaments.

6. It should also be emphasized that the attached paper has been based on the assumption that atomic weapons would be simultaneously brought under international control on the lines outlined in the majority proposals endorsed by the General Assembly. His Majesty’s Government would welcome an assurance that the United States Government still adhere to that plan, since otherwise it would clearly be necessary for His Majesty’s Government to reconsider their entire position.

7. In conclusion it should be repeated that the attached paper cannot be taken as committing His Majesty’s Government in any way at this stage. It is put forward as a possible basis for secret discussions on the official level with State Department representatives, for study and comment in the light of a similar study which it is understood has been independently undertaken in Washington. It is hoped that by means of a free interchange of opinions identity of view may be reached on the question of positive disarmament proposals which might be put forward by the Western Powers.

8. Since no copy of the document has in the meantime been communicated to the representatives of any other Government, observation of strict secrecy in regard to these discussions and the contents of the attached paper is of the utmost importance.


Report by the Official Committee on Disarmament of the United Kingdom

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Between 9th May and 13th July, 1951, we held a number of meetings to consider the present level of world conventional armaments and armed forces with the aim of:—

Recommending the best possible proposals which the Western Powers might put forward to the Soviet Union at Four-Power Talks [Page 503]in order to find a means of dealing with the problem of the limitation and control of such armaments and armed forces; and
considering possible proposals which the Soviet Government might put forward and the way in which the Western Powers might meet such proposals.

2. One of the items on the agenda for the projected Four-Power Conference, which was proposed by the Western Governments, was:—

  • The existing level of armaments and armed forces and measures to be proposed jointly by the U.S.S.R., United States, United Kingdom and France for the international control and reduction of armaments and armed forces.

During the period in which we were in session, the preliminary Four-Power Conference in Paris broke down and the likelihood of a Four-Power Conference was reduced. However, it is possible that recent events in Korea may result in a Fouror Five-Power Conference being held later in the year. Apart from the Western Governments’ initiative referred to above, the question of disarmament and the limitation of armaments would be bound to be raised in any such talks. Moreover, it is essential that the United Kingdom Government should decide on its policy towards the problem, which is of major political importance in view of both the feeling in this country on the subject and the important part which proposals relating to disarmament play in Soviet “peace” propaganda.

3. The analysis which this report contains is concerned with the Soviet Union and the three Western Powers: the United Kingdom, France and the United States. No account was taken of the other North Atlantic Treaty Powers and their colonies and the Common-wealth countries on the one hand or of the satellite States on the other hand, since these were not to be represented at the Four-Power Conference and there was not so large a difference in the military potential represented by these two groups as seriously to affect the balance of forces between the Soviet Union and the three Western Powers. China has not been regarded as a satellite and her armed strength has been taken into account in arriving at the conclusions set out in the Report.

realistic proposals

4. We began our examination of the disarmament problem with the intention of putting forward realistic proposals which would stand some chance of being accepted by the Russians and which we ourselves could feel we could implement in the event of an improvement in the international situation. We considered a number of schemes of which the most important were:—

[Page 504]

(a) The possibility of prohibiting or limiting the size of certain hinds of armaments.

We examined this possibility in the light of pre-war attempts along the same lines but were forced to conclude that we could add nothing to the view expressed by the Chiefs of Staff in 1947 that any agreement which limited the ability to construct the best equipment within those classes of armament which were not prohibited would destroy the technical advantage we possessed of brain-power lead over other nations. Moreover, the limitations likely to be imposed would in most cases be unfavourable to us, as was the case in the Naval Treaties, when our requirements for ships to meet world wide commitments placed us at a disadvantage in some respects vis-à-vis other nations who had built for limited commitments only.

(b) Collective parity between the Soviet Union and the three Western Powers.

This was the solution which appeared most likely to be acceptable to the Russians and also one which would commend itself to the neutral observer. From the point of view of the United Kingdom and France it would be open to the grave objection that the greater part of the United States forces would be stationed in peace-time on the other side of the Atlantic, so that parity would mean a heavy preponderance in Europe in favour of the Soviet Union. Parity between the Soviet Union and the three Western Powers would also fail to take any account of the threat to the security of the Western Powers which the Chinese forces would represent. We found, moreover, that it would be objectionable as serving to emphasize the division of the world into two blocs and that it would involve serious difficulties in the discussion of equivalence.

(c) Balancing the forces of the Soviet Union and the Western Powers while allowing to each side its requirements for internal security purposes.

The idea behind this approach was that the Soviet Government needed substantial forces for internal security purposes. It might be therefore that, even if the Soviet Government had more men under arms than the Western Powers, the striking force available to the former would be no greater. It was found, however, that the number of divisions which the Joint Intelligence Committee estimated was required by the Soviet Government for internal security purposes was so large as to constitute an intolerable threat to the Western Powers in the event of the Soviet Government deciding to use even a small part of them for aggressive purposes.

[Page 505]

(d) Limitation of expenditure on armed forces to a percentage of the national income or a percentage of the budget.

We decided that such an approach would not yield any useful results. Even in the case of the United Kingdom, estimates of the national income are stated in official publications to be “subject to a very wide margin of error” and it is probable that in the case of the Soviet Union the essential statistics are altogether lacking. Owing to the rouble being a purely internal currency there is no effective rate of exchange which would enable rouble prices to be compared with pound or dollar prices. National incomes fluctuate from year to year. As far as national budgets are concerned, these do not afford a basis for the comparison of military expenditure owing to the fact that quite different systems of accounting and presentation are in use. Even the introduction of standard systems would not overcome the practical difficulty that equal sums of money, expended by different governments on military organisation and defence give completely different results. Many services, such as the construction and maintenance of airfields, barracks and arsenals are regarded as military expenditure in some countries and as civilian production in others.

(e) Disarmament by Stages.

We also examined the possibility of disarming by stages, but we found that this involved the same difficulties as in the case of the schemes discussed above, both from the point of view of safeguards and from that of arriving at overall levels of effectives.

5. At this stage we took into account the fact that, if there were any hope of disarmament proposals being implemented, they would have to be:—

acceptable to the Russians or, at any rate, provide a workable basis for negotiations with them; and
compatible with the minimum national security requirements of the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

It would also be highly desirable that they should:—

result in a substantial measure of disarmament on both sides.

6. The examination of the above schemes convinced us that it would be impossible to devise any proposals which would fulfill all these conditions.

possible propaganda line

7. We then considered whether it would not be possible to evolve proposals which, while they would almost certainly be rejected by the Russians, would appear to the rest of the world to be reasonable ones and would be of such a nature that we could ourselves always implement them in the unlikely event of their being accepted. We therefore examined:—

[Page 506]

(a) Limitation of Armed Forces to a Percentage of the Population

From a propaganda point of view the most satisfactory figure is 1 per cent., which is simple and straightforward, but it would only give the United Kingdom an overall figure of 507,000 and this would be insufficient to meet normal peacetime requirements. Since the combined figures for the three Western Powers would be 2,434,000 as opposed to a Soviet figure of 2 million, this difficulty could be overcome by making adjustments as between the three Western Powers. It would then, however, be open to the Soviet Government to make similar adjustments in the event of the population percentage formula being extended to apply to the armed forces of other Powers. From the point of view of the actual figures produced, the most satisfactory percentage would be 1½ per cent. This would result in Soviet armed forces of 3 million and Western forces of 3,651,000 made up of United Kingdom 760,500, France 630,000 and United States 2,260,500. Nevertheless the Soviet Union would (as in the case of paragraph 4(b) above) still have a large preponderance in Europe, and China would be entitled to maintain armed forces amounting to 6,945,000 in the event of the formula being extended to other Powers—an extension which it would be difficult to resist.

possible five-power basis

8. We found that it was impossible to produce even propaganda proposals on a Four-Power basis, as these left China out of account. Although there might be room for some difference of opinion as to the extent of the military threat which was represented by the Chinese forces, there was no doubt that even the appearance of failing to take them into account would have a disastrous political effect in South-East Asia and would be unacceptable to Australia and New Zealand. Moreover, the three Western Powers had commitments in the Middle rand Far East, which had to be met from any agreed level of armed forces: some of such commitments had to be balanced against Chinese Forces. We therefore considered what proposals we could put forward on a Five-Power basis.

(a) Collective Parity between the Soviet Union and China on the one hand and the three Western Powers on the other.

The only method which we could suggest of overcoming the difficulty represented by the existence of a large Communist China was to seek a Five-Power rather than a Four-Power Agreement and to aim at an overall parity between the Eastern and the Western Powers. From the point of view of the United Kingdom it was important that the agreed figures should neither be so high as to impose an intolerable strain on the economic and social structure of the country nor so low as to prejudice the maintenance of forces’ technique and the ability to [Page 507]expand rapidly in the event of the agreement breaking down. It would therefore be best to propose actual figures for the armed forces of the principal Powers, as was done on a former occasion by the United Kingdom delegation to the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. The requirements of the United Kingdom could best be met by the following figures:

Soviet Union 1,500,000
China 1,500,000
United Kingdom 750,000
France 750,000
United States 1,500,000

The present forces of the United Kingdom are 813,000, rising to 864,000 in June 1952. The figure proposed would give us some measure of relief but would be adequate to meet our normal peace-time security requirements in the territories for which we are responsible and to maintain forces’ technique. France only expects to reach 735,000 in June 1952, so that it would mean that France would have to take a rather larger share of the burden of European defence than she is at present planning to do. It would mean large reductions in the American forces which will rise from 2,740,000 now to 3,594,000 in June 1952; in the Soviet forces which are at present believed to be 4,400,000; and in the Chinese forces which are at present believed to be 2,600,000. It would result in parity between the Soviet Union and the two Western Powers in Europe and would in theory permit the withdrawal of the United States forces from Europe. In practice this might not be so because of the commitments of the United Kingdom and France in other parts of the world. On the other hand, the Soviet Union also has to maintain a part of its forces in the Far East. This approach would in our opinion offer the best line from a propaganda point of view since, although it is unlikely that it would be acceptable to the Soviet Government, it is simple and straightforward and inherently reasonable. It does, however, suffer from the defect, common to any disarmament proposals based on first-line strengths, that such proposals are misleading to the extent that they do not give the whole picture. This is particularly serious in dealing with the Soviet Union, where the reserves of trained man-power, of which we are unable to estimate the size, must be enormous.


9. Bearing in mind the fact that the Chiefs of Staff are firmly of the opinion that any system of disarmament must be safeguarded by a system of verification and inspection, we considered whether it were [Page 508]possible to arrive at a limited system of safeguards which would be adequate to ensure that disarmament agreements were being carried out, but which would not involve the disclosure of our own forces beyond the limited which the Service Departments were prepared to accept on a reciprocal basis and which did not involve such close supervision as to constitute an intolerable degree of interference in national life. We came to the conclusion that only a very approximate check could be kept on effective personnel, even less on reserve personnel and virtually none on stocks of armaments and equipment, of installations or of potential. In particular, we found that, though some check could be made to verify the reports submitted by the examined country, only the most rigorous supervision could provide reasonable security that unreported armaments did not exist. For this reason we were unable to find any alternative to an inadequate system of inspection, with all the dangers that that entailed, except in a full control on the scale proposed in the Majority Recommendations of the Atomic Energy Commission of the United Nations.

10. We nevertheless decided that there would be propaganda advantage in proposing that the basic training establishments of the Four Powers should be opened to inspection. (Any inspection of other forms of training would reveal the trend of technical developments, but the Western Powers would also presumably be prepared to submit to the inspection of pre-military units, such as the cadet forces, and of the police, to ensure that they were not of a para-military nature.) If the proposal were rejected by the Soviet Government, their action would constitute evidence that they had no intention of permitting a system of inspection on their territory, without which there could be no effective safeguards in the event of an agreement to reduce or limit armaments; if they agreed, it would involve the inspection of military establishments in many parts of the Soviet Union since the Soviet Government could scarcely maintain that basic training was not carried out locally. The proposal could be justified on the grounds that the intake of such establishments provides a certain check on the total number of effectives without furnishing information regarding the armaments or methods of training which neither party could, in the present state of international relations, be expected to divulge. A declaration, accompanied by verification, of the present level of effectives is, as has already been suggested by His Majesty’s Government, a means by which some measure of confidence may be established and the ground prepared for some far-reaching proposals.

possible soviet proposals

11. In considering what proposals the Soviet Government were most likely to put forward and how they might best be met, we felt that the proposal of an overall cut of 33⅓ percent, made by M. Vishinski [Page 509]in Paris in September 1948,2 was quite likely to be put forward again. We recognised that, in the changed circumstances of 1952, the Russians might realise they had less to gain from such a proposal and might substitute something different. Nevertheless we had to work on the basis of the only recent Russian ideas on the question of disarmament of which we were aware. The percentage cut proposal was rejected on the grounds that it would perpetuate the existing preponderance of the U.S.S.R. over those states which had disarmed after the war, that it invited the Western Powers to sign a blank cheque without any knowledge of the existing position and that it contained no guarantee that the U.S.S.R. would accept a satisfactory system of inspection. These objections still hold but, assuming that the U.S.S.R. is not also increasing its armed forces, there will be a substantial preponderance in favour of the Western Powers by mid-1952. We do not, however, consider that even then it would be to the advantage of the United Kingdom to accept, or themselves to put forward, the proposal to impose a percentage cut since the greater part of the increase between now and mid-1952 will be in the United States forces. The imposition of a 33⅓ percent cut in mid-1952 would leave the United Kingdom with 576,000* men, France with 490,000 men and these, with such United States forces as were stationed in Europe, would be opposed to Soviet forces of nearly 3 million. There is no prospect of rectifying this disparity without reaching some form of agreement which results in a more than proportionate reduction in the forces of the Soviet Union, since the size of the forces which England and France can maintain is limited not only by the size of their populations but also by their economic strength. The disparity would also apply whatever figures were taken for a percentage cut and could only be rectified by a decision to station a large proportion of the United States forces in Europe.

general conclusions

12. Even in the period 1920–30 when the Western Powers felt themselves much less threatened than they do today and when international [Page 510]relations were less tense, it never proved possible to reach agreement on the limitation of military and air armaments and only a limited degree of naval disarmament was achieved. It has become clear in the course of our examination that no scheme of disarmament can hope to succeed unless there exists a genuine disposition on both sides to reduce armaments and a reasonable measure of confidence in the good faith of those participating in it. The Russians have given us no reassuring signs and until they do so any of the proposals put forward in this paper must remain academic. One must not, however, exclude the possibility that the growing strength of the Western Powers will eventually force the Russians to adopt a more positive attitude to the question of disarmament in which case one or other of the proposals in this paper may then become practical politics.


13. Our present conclusion is that, if it should be necessary in the next few months to put forward proposals for the limitation of armaments, these should be:—

Over-all parity between the Soviet Union and China on the one hand and the United Kingdom, France and the United States on the other hand on the basis of 3 million effectives on each side.
Provision of adequate safeguards to ensure that the agreement was observed.
As a first step to (b) the mutual inspection of basic training establishments.

Pierson Dixon 3

  1. Document S/C.3/43, a progress report by the Working Committee of the Commission for Conventional Armaments, is not published. However, four working papers submitted by the United States and included in the progress report, papers to which the present reference is directed, appear in Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1959, vol. i, pp. 233–239 and 240–248. For additional documentation on the work of the CCA, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  2. On September 25, 1948, Andrey Y. Vyshinsky, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union and Chairman of the Soviet Delegation to the Third Session of the General Assembly at Paris, introduced a draft resolution (document A/658) providing for a one-third reduction in armaments and armed forces by the permanent members of the Security Council and the prohibition of atomic weapons. On November 19, 1948, the General Assembly rejected a revised Soviet draft (document A/723; for text, see Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1959, vol. I, pp. 187–188). For text of the original Soviet proposal and documentation on consideration of this matter by the General Assembly, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 1, pp. 431 ff.
  3. On the basis of an equal percentage cut in each of the services, this would give:

    Army 288,800
    Navy 100,600
    Air Force 186,600

    [Footnote in the source text.]

  4. British Deputy Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.