IO Files: US/A/M (Chr)/215

Minutes of the Twenty-eighth Meeting of the united States Delegation to the Sixth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Hotel Astoria, Paris, December 7, 1951


[Here follow a list of those present (49), the agenda of the meeting, and discussion of the first agenda item.]

2. Developments in Disarmament Subcommittee.

Ambassador Jessup felt that the Delegation should consider the progress thus far on the armaments debate in the Sub-Committee. The officers of the Delegation ought to be well-enough informed of the developments to talk with other delegations about them, and should also be thoroughly briefed on what our basic positions were.

Ambassador Jessup summarized the Soviet position by saying that their basic aim was to have the General Assembly decree the immediate “prohibition” of atomic weapons and also decree the establishment of “effective international control” leaving the details of such control to be worked out later. Vyshinsky had been forced to admit in the sub-committee that there would be a time lapse between the decreeing of international control and the actual operation of such a control scheme. Vyshinsky had “wobbled” considerably as to the exact sequence of events and how they were to be accomplished. Vyshinsky’s aim in the field of controls was merely to “prohibit” atomic weapons, but not to implement the prohibition through control over the whole process of atomic energy production as we felt was necessary. In Vyshinsky’s view, inspection by itself would give the necessary control. We maintained that much more was needed. Vyshinsky’s basic aim was clear when he had said that even if we could not reach agreement on control we could at least accomplish a “ban” on atomic weapons. An isolated agreement to bar atomic weapons would of course leave the USSR in a position of clear military superiority because of its preponderant strength in conventional armaments.

In the field of conventional armaments, the USSR wanted the Big Five to cut their arms by one-third. This would be done within a year after a General Assembly resolution to this effect. With evident inconsistency Vyshinsky had described such a resolution as merely a “recommendation” by the General Assembly, while he had maintained that the General Assembly could take a “decision” that atomic weapons be prohibited.

In contrast to the Soviet position the US wanted to move forward on a scheme which would include the whole area of armaments, establishing a system for the regulation, limitation and balanced reduction of both conventional and atomic weapons. In this connection Ambassador [Page 607] Jessup mentioned that the staff was preparing a brief history of the problem of atomic energy in the U.N.

Padilla Nervo1 and the Secretariat were to draw up and submit to the sub-committee that morning a paper outlining the areas of Subcommittee agreement and perhaps suggesting the transfer to the new commission of the unagreed items. Vyshinsky had “uttered noises” which indicated he was waiting for instructions on this proposal.

The French and UK kept calling attention to the problem of public opinion. They felt that the rearmament effort and the austerity program required their Governments to be able to show their people they were doing everything possible to compose their differences with the Soviet Union. After that they would “buckle down” to a genuine effort to rearm. To effect these results they were inclined to try to whittle away many of the directives to the new commission which we wanted inserted in the resolution. The French had shown, however, that they wanted to retain the essentials of the UN plan on atomic energy.

The point to which Ambassador Jessup wanted to address himself in particular was that in all our previous positions we had always kept a reference to the fact that we wanted eventual prohibition of the atomic bomb. He said that it was extremely difficult to cast this intent into words which would indicate our sincerity regarding the eventual prohibition, but which would also assure that the prohibition could only come about with appropriate safeguards; the language used must also avoid the stigma which [would] be attached to our actions if we were forced at some time in the future, before effective prohibition had been agreed upon to use the bomb. With respect to this drafting problem, Ambassador Jessup felt that the Sub-committee should go back to Committee One with an indication of the West’s willingness to meet the Soviets on any fair compromise, if at all possible. For this purpose he wanted to hear a discussion by the Delegation as to how much flexibility of language could be safely pursued.

Ambassador Kirk wished to reinforce certain aspects of Ambassador Jessup’s remarks. The Soviet attitude was significant, he thought, in that it had clearly indicated its desire to destroy our superiority in the one field in which we held the upper hand.

In one blow they would have the General Assembly decree the unconditional prohibition of the atomic weapon. Should the Assembly undertake such action, it would launch an unalterable and unforeseeable chain of events, certain to lead to disaster. The free world must not take a single step down such a road. Mr. Sandifer agreed fully with what Ambassador Kirk had said. We must not even consider at this time using words which would deal with the present prohibition of our one source of security. Regardless of the form, the Soviets [Page 608] would twist it to their benefit. Their aim in this regard was perfectly clear. Ambassador Gross also indicated his agreement with what had been said, but wanted to add that we were losing sight, it seemed to him, of the primary problem of aggression. Weapons per se had no character, either of aggression or defense. The criminal was the aggressor rather than the user of any particular kind of weapon.

Mrs. Roosevelt2 said that there was a tendency in the UK and France to give way in words on anything which might make their public feel a conciliatory attitude was being taken. Prime Minister Churchill was not going to make any departures from Labour policy on this matter. His majority was too slim. She felt that we must be certain not to change on any important matters, but on minor ones we should weigh our words in order to give the impression of flexibility, without changing our basic position.

Mr. Vorys asked where the Soviets stood on the census question. Ambassador Jessup said they had indicated no particular opposition to it, but he felt this was camouflaging their basic aims, and that their opposition would be much more clear when the debate got down to details.

Ambassador Jessup said that the Department now disapproved of the Delegation going back to the resolution which the Department had wanted introduced in the first place. They said that to go back would be a major defeat. Ambassador Jessup wanted to register his opposition to this philosophy that we were tied to our papers, to the extent that if one of them were changed we were thereby the losers. Going back to an earlier position would not, in his opinion, be a retreat at all.

Senator Cooper3 indicated his agreement that we should not at this time talk about prohibiting the atomic weapon. Mr. Cohen also did not want the US to make any embarrassing commitments. He thought, however, that in order to get the maximum public support at home we should accept a resolution allowing the US to go in and talk about all aspects of the problem, so long as we were free to adhere to our basic position. We would gain goodwill by retaining a useful flexibility, without any change in principle. We should show that our objective was to obtain the elimination of all mass armies and weapons of mass destruction. Mrs. Roosevelt summarized the Delegation position as being that it felt Ambassador Jessup should indicate to the Department that words were not absolutely vital, so long as our principles remained intact.

Charles D. Cook4
  1. Luis Padilla Nervo of Mexico, President of the General Assembly and Chairman of the disarmament subcommittee.
  2. Acting Chairman of the Delegation.
  3. John Sherman Cooper, former United States Senator from Kentucky; Alternate Member of the United States Delegation to the General Assembly.
  4. Adviser, United States Mission at the United Nations, and Adviser, U.S. Delegation to the General Assembly.