Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State (Arneson)

top secret

Subject: Request for a Meeting of the Combined Policy Committee

  • Participants:
  • United States
    • Secretary Acheson
    • Deputy Under Secretary Matthews1
    • Mr. Arneson, S/AE
  • United Kingdom
    • Ambassador Franks2

The U.K. Ambassador came in to see the Secretary at the former’s request. He said that he had had formal instructions from his Government [Page 749] to ask for a meeting of the Combined Policy Committee, the purpose of which would be to set forth a British request to use U.S. testing facilities for the first U.K. bomb to be tested in the fall of 1952.

The British Ambassador explained that this matter had been the subject of extended discussions through military channels. The request for a CPC meeting was not to be construed as evidence of dissatisfaction with the way those talks were going, but merely as a way of expediting a final answer. The real difficulty the British faced was that they needed to know one way or another what our view was in order that British planning could be firmed up. If the United States found it not possible to accede to the United Kingdom request it would perforce be necessary to begin almost immediately the necessary preparations for use of the Australian range. The British Government hoped, therefore, that a definitive answer could be forthcoming by the end of August.

The proposed test would involve a shallow-water burst, an employment of atomic weapons of great interest to the British military both from a defensive and offensive point of view. He explained that the matter had originally been the subject of discussions between Lord Tedder3 and General Bradley4 some months ago when the conclusion was reached that it would not be possible to work the matter out except in the context of a broad partnership in which an amendment of the Atomic Energy Act would be obtained. More recent discussions had seemingly narrowed the problem so that both General Bradley and Mr. LeBaron had expressed the view to Sir William Elliot5 and to Lord Portal that it might be possible to so define the scope of the project as to make it possible to carry it out without amendment of the Act. The Ambassador went on that in the British view it was both a matter of common sense and of saving expense to use our test facilities rather than go about the construction of an entirely new one in Australia. He pointed out that the British Government was under some pressure both for political and military reasons to get on as promptly as possible with the testing of their first bomb.

Reading from a note which had been written to him by Sir William Elliot, the Ambassador said that it was his understanding that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were apparently in favor of the project and the matter was being referred to Mr. Lovett.6 He realized that there were two important questions involved in arriving at a favorable reply. The first was whether the proposal would go counter to the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. It was his understanding that Mr. [Page 750] LeBaron felt that by stressing the military aspects of a weapons testing proposal it might be possible to avoid collision with the Act. The second involved many detailed points of a technical nature which would require some discussion among technicians. For example, it was realized that the timing of a test would be important in relation to the effect it might have on other tests that the Atomic Energy Commission may have scheduled. Also that the type of test might cause difficulties in terms of further use of the facilities for other U.S. tests in the future. Once agreement in principle was reached, it was thought that such technical matters could quite readily be worked out by asking Dr. Penney7 to come over to discuss with the appropriate AEC and Defense officials these aspects. It was the hope, therefore, that an early meeting of the CPC could be called in order that he might present the proposal in complete detail and obtain agreement in principle, subject to further exploration on a technical level, with a meeting to be called subsequently to register formal agreement on the proposal if this should prove possible.

The Ambassador said that he would be glad to make available a copy of the current paper on the subject,8 the one which was now in the possession of General Bradley, if this should be necessary. Mr. Arneson indicated that he might wish to ask the Ambassador for a copy if he found that it was difficult to obtain one from the Pentagon.

Secretary Acheson said that he would have a U.S. position prepared and that we would subsequently be in touch with the Ambassador concerning a meeting.

  1. H. Freeman Matthews.
  2. Sir Oliver Franks.
  3. Marshal of the Royal Air Force the Lord Tedder, former Chief of the British Joint Services Mission in Washington (1950–1951).
  4. General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  5. Chairman of the British Joint Services Mission in Washington.
  6. Robert A. Lovett, Deputy Secretary of Defense.
  7. Dr. William G. Penney, Chief Superintendent, Armaments Research, British Ministry of Supply.
  8. Reference is to a British paper of July 12 titled “Proposals Relating to the Trial of First British Atomic Weapon in U.S.A.” This document, not printed, was transmitted to Arneson on August 6. (Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688)