Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Howard Meyers of the Office of United Nations Political and Security Affairs

top secret

Subject: Discussion on United Kingdom and United States Working Papers on Disarmament Proposals.

Participants: Sir Pierson Dixon, UK Deputy Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs1
Miss Barbara Salt, First Secretary, UK Embassy
Mr. John D. Hickerson, UNA
Mr. Ward P. Allen, EUR
Mr. Bernard G. Bechhoefer, UNP
Mr. Howard Meyers, UNP

Sir Pierson explained that the United Kingdom had started their disarmament study at the time of the Four-Power talks in Paris this spring. He understood that the United States had commenced its study in the disarmament field somewhat prior to this time, and he was interested in knowing more of the motivation on the United States side.

Mr. Hickerson explained that our efforts had gone back to the time when we were preparing for the 1950 General Assembly, when he had been interested in using disarmament as a major theme in that Assembly. However, the aggression in Korea had changed our whole approach to the 1950 General Assembly. Later, the Department had started to think about possibilities in the event there might be a meeting of the Foreign Ministers to discuss means of settling tensions between the Soviet Union and the other major powers, and a combined State Department-Defense Department team had been organized to work upon problems in the field of regulation and control of armaments. Our motivation in part arose from the fact that we have had to [Page 520]counter Soviet Union proposals in the General Assembly in 1948, 1949 and 1950, and have done so by showing the falsity of these proposals—i.e., basically a negative approach. We have wondered whether there might be considerable advantages accruing from a positive approach to this problem. The United States does not expect that the USSR will accept honest and effective proposals in the disarmament field, but such proposals might well have both propaganda and substantive benefits, as explained in the paper handed to Sir Oliver Franks on August 20, 1951.2

On the other hand, we were definitely concerned with the necessity for maintaining the pace at which our own military strength and that of our allies was being built up, and this build-up was protected by our proposal that disclosure and verification by stages was a necessary first step to consideration of other elements in any balanced program of regulation and reduction of armaments. The United States was convinced that we could not make a proposal merely for its propaganda benefits; that it had to be an honest proposal, one which we could live with if accepted by the Soviet Union. The propaganda benefits, while very important, would follow from our making an honest proposal.

Sir Pierson said that the United Kingdom was disposed to think that “we” should take the initiative in this field. The question was what type of proposal should be put forward. The United Kingdom agreed with the United States that any proposals which might be put forward should be honest; should be of a nature such that we would be able to live with them; should have a good effect on the public. His Government’s doubts regarding the United States proposals were: (a) Are the proposals such that we could live with them—i.e., would it be necessary to throw these proposals into the United Nations for discussion by 60 nations, when the United Kingdom would fear this would result in a type of inspection which would examine closely United Kingdom industrial processes; (b) Are these proposals sufficiently striking in terms of their effect on world opinion—and in this respect the United Kingdom believed their own proposals for a 3-million-man limitation on the armed forces of the USSR and Communist China, on the one hand, and the UK–US–France, on the other hand, are simpler and more striking.

Mr. Hickerson explained that United States thinking on this matter was tentative and that final conclusions have not been arrived at. He contemplated that we would probably wish our main proposal for continuing disclosure and verification to be worked on in a United Nations commission. We thought a desirable approach might be to say that we were prepared to give consideration to other items in a disarmament plan once the proposals for disclosure and verification had been accepted [Page 521]by the Soviet Union. Among such items might be proposals limiting the size of armed forces in each country to 1 percent of the population with a ceiling of 1 million troops for each country; restricting the portion of national production used for armaments to 5 percent of the national product; establishing within the 1 percent–1 million armed forces limits a reasonable limitation by categories of the composition of these armed forces, to avoid undue concentration on types of components.

Sir Pierson agreed there was much to be said for the United States approach. It was logical to proceed on the basis of testing each other’s faith. He doubted, however, that the United States proposal had sufficient propaganda value, whereas he believed that the 3-million-manlimit concept in the United Kingdom proposal had this value. The British proposal deliberately eliminated reference to both the small European powers and the Soviet satellites. His Government had calculated the small European powers armed forces totaled something over 1 million while the satellites forces were somewhat over 800,000 men, so that there was an approximate balance. He admitted that the British Cabinet is somewhat concerned over the fact that the United Kingdom proposal left out consideration of the Commonwealth forces in their scheme. He proposed that the United Kingdom and United States should engage in further and more detailed talks on their respective proposals.

Mr. Hickerson agreed that further talks were desirable, and explained that the United States intended to go ahead and see what our proposals would look like in a more developed form, since our thinking so far had been on a rather tentative basis. We wanted to talk to the United Kingdom about these more detailed proposals, and later on tell the French about them. Mr. Hickerson explained that, in the Six-Power talks in 1949,3 he had made a commitment to his other four colleagues (Canada, China, France and the United Kingdom) that the United States would inform them if we ever came to more definite conclusions regarding the desirability of proceeding with proposals in the disarmament field. He believed that there should be a meeting first of minds with the United Kingdom, then with the French, while it appeared necessary only to tell the Canadians and Chinese that these talks had taken place.

Sir Pierson added that the United Kingdom had already told the French Government that the United Kingdom had been working on disarmament proposals but had not come to final conclusions.

Mr. Hickerson thought that we needed two more weeks in which to develop further proposals, and then could talk to the United Kingdom [Page 522]at this time. The United States tentatively believed that it would be advisable to launch these proposals in the Sixth General Assembly in November, if this appeared possible. We would like to see the President start off this program prior to the General Assembly, with a speech which would set the stage for more detailed proposals which could be made at the General Assembly. The detailed proposals undoubtedly should be made in the early days of the General Assembly, in order to obtain the initiative.

Sir Pierson agreed that there was distinct need to make these proposals in the opening days of the General Assembly in order to assume the initiative. He returned again to the principal problem that he saw in considering the United Kingdom and United States proposals: That the United Kingdom proposal for a 3-million-man limit on troops was simple to understand, while the US proposal recognized more fully the necessity to avoid overselling the disarmament idea in too simple a form since the Russians might agree to the concept in principle and then this Soviet acceptance would weaken the rearmament program without tying down the USSR to any real agreement.

Messrs. Allen, Bechhoefer and Meyers amplified the benefits they saw in the United States proposals. The difficulty with the United Kingdom proposal was that it was a variation on past Soviet proposals for a ⅓ reduction of forces of the Big Five, and as such represented a departure from past UK–US insistence that any effective disarmament program must have the adherence of all nations with substantial military power, so that it might be difficult to explain satisfactorily why we had changed our position so radically. This difficulty was not present in the United States proposal and, moreover, the United States plan appeared to achieve a better balance than the UK proposal in avoiding the kind of proposition which might at this time weaken our attempts to proceed with effective rearmament, while simultaneously demonstrating concretely the sincere desire of the western world for honest and effective disarmament. We were afraid that the British plan, which emphasized reduction of armed forces, would place undue emphasis on this reduction in the popular mind and detract attention from the necessity for proceeding with our rearmament program, thus benefitting the Soviet Union.

Sir Pierson agreed that the United Kingdom and the United States should take a further look at the problem at the end of two weeks, and discussions should be held here in Washington. The United Kingdom would try and send their Foreign Office expert on these problems, Mr. Hohler, over here the last week in September. He suggested that, if there should be failure to reach agreement, Mr. Hickerson could act to resolve these disagreements when he was present in London the first week in October at the Colonial Talks to be held with the United Kingdom Government.

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Mr. Hickerson concluded by suggesting that it might be possible for the United Kingdom and the United States not to agree on details, and that if the United Kingdom agreed that it was advisable to make disarmament proposals of some nature in the General Assembly, the United States would put forth its proposals and the United Kingdom might say in the Assembly that the proposals appeared to have merit but that the United Kingdom had other ideas which they might raise later.

Sir Pierson did not reply to this point.

  1. Sir Pierson Dixon was in Washington to participate in (the Tripartite Foreign Ministers meetings held from September 10 to September 14. For documentation on those sessions, see vol. iii, pp. 1163 ff.
  2. Reference is to the memorandum by the Policy Planning Staff titled “Manner of Advancing Disarmament Proposals.” For text, see p. 515.
  3. For records of the meetings of the six permanent members of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission during 1949 and related documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, pp. 7 ff.