The Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson) to the Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy (McMahon)


Dear Brien: The Secretary has asked me to reply to your letter of August 13, 1951 in which you mention the possibility that the Soviets might achieve a propaganda advantage by declaring that they unilaterally pledge themselves never to be the first nation to use atomic weapons in war, and suggest as a counter that the United States declare it would not be the first nation to use ground armies in a war.

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The Department has been aware of the possibility that the Soviets would adopt such a tactic, because of their current “peace” offensive and their sponsorship of various “peace” appeals.

As you may recall, the USSR last year at the Fifth General Assembly introduced a resolution which, among other items, called for immediate destruction of atomic weapons and the branding as a war criminal-aggressor of the first nation to use the atom bomb.1 The possibility you suggest, of an explicit pledge by the Soviet Union not to be the first to use atomic weapons, is a variant of that Soviet-sponsored resolution. This resolution was introduced shortly after the aggression in Korea and at a time when the aggression was being pursued with great vigor. Its objective, of course, was to divert attention from Communist aggression and to confuse public opinion.

Far from being embarrassed by this resolution, the United States and the vast majority of the United Nations turned it back on the Soviet Union in the “Peace Through Deeds” resolution [380 (V), adopted 17 November 1950 by 50 to 5, with 1 abstention] in which, among other things, it was pointed out that the real crime was aggression. A copy of this resolution is enclosed.2

The United States Representatives supported this resolution by pointing out that the Soviets were silent on the question of stopping armed aggression, and that this was consistent with the opposition of the USSR to the “Essentials of Peace” Resolution of 19493 (similar to the “Peace Through Deeds” Resolution) which called on all nations to avoid both the threat and the use of force. They invited the Soviets to pledge themselves to stop aggression, whether direct, indirect through their satellites, or through fomenting civil strife.

If the Soviets choose to make their implied position explicit by making the unilateral declaration you suggest, the Department proposes to respond in the same vein.

Moreover, we would point out that we have made not merely a unilateral pledge, but a most solemn commitment in signing the United Nations Charter that we would not commit the crime of aggression. Further, we would state that we have lived up to this commitment and have every intention of living up to it in the future. Our record is clear. We would welcome similar assurances from the USSR and [Page 519]would welcome even more concrete evidence that the Soviet Union was putting these assurances into effect by cooperating in all the organs of the United Nations.

It is the firm belief of the Department that this method of counteracting a possible Soviet declaration that they would not be the first to use atomic weapons in war would keep the issue focused on the basic problem, namely, that aggression is the real crime and that the means used to carry out such aggression, or to combat it, are incidental to that basic crime.

Sincerely yours,

John D. Hickerson
  1. Reference is to the Soviet draft resolution of October 23, 1950, on Condemnation of War Propaganda, Prohibition of the Atomic Weapon, and One-Third Reduction of Great Power Forces (U.N. doc. A/C.l/595); for text, see Documents on Disarmament, 19451959, vol. I, pp. 248–250. On November 17, 1950, the General Assembly, rejecting the Soviet proposal, adopted the “Peace Through Deeds” resolution (General Assembly Resolution 380(V)); for text, see ibid., pp. 260–261. For documentation on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. ii, pp. 371 ff.
  2. Not printed here.
  3. For text of the “Essentials of Peace” resolution, approved by the General Assembly on December 1, 1949, see Department of State Bulletin, November 28, 1949, p. 807. For related documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. ii, pp. 72 ff.