PPS Files, Lot 64 D 563

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

top secret

Subject: Possibilities of War with the Soviet Union, 1951–52: Use of Atomic Weapons

Participants: United States
Secretary Acheson
Mr. Matthews, Deputy Under Secretary
Mr. Nitze, Director, Policy Planning Staff
Mr. Arneson, S/AE
Ambassador Wrong
Mr. Ignatieff, Counselor of Embassy

The Secretary suggested that the most expeditious way to proceed might be to have Mr. Nitze summarize the present thinking of the Department on developing world situations which might or might not lead to the use of atomic weapons. The Ambassador agreed, pointing out that he was not in a position at the moment to express any firm views of his Government on the matter. Accordingly, he would appreciate having the benefit of our present views. Mr. Nitze explained that the analysis he was to give represented primarily the thinking of the Department of State and had not yet been discussed in any detailed way with the Department of Defense. Mr. Nitze followed very closely the substance of the attached paper.1 As to the Far Eastern area, with which the paper does not deal, Mr. Nitze stated that our views had not yet been jelled on this aspect of the problem but our preliminary thinking was that a massive Soviet entry into the Far Eastern situation would lead to the use of atomic weapons. The Secretary stated that such Soviet action would in all probability have to be interpreted as a decision on their part to embark upon global war. U.S. public opinion would doubtless insist that the United States respond with all the means at its disposal including atomic weapons.

Ambassador Wrong expressed his appreciation for the analysis which had been given him. He said that so much ground had been covered that he was sure that his Government would need a good deal of time to digest what had been said. He pointed out that in effect the presentation had touched on two aspects of the problem, namely (1) general philosophy of weapon use and (2) possible contingencies. He thought that the next stage of thinking would necessarily involve analysis of relative probabilities that the various contingencies would in fact occur. He hoped that the next time a discussion was held that he [Page 842] would be in a position to give some initial reactions of his Government.

The Secretary, owing to another engagement, left the meeting at 4:30 p. m.

On the question of the next meeting Mr. Nitze expressed the hope that the Ambassador would let us know when he wanted to meet again. For our part, it seemed more important that we meet promptly as developing situations might warrant although we were also prepared to meet with some regularity if this was the wish of the Canadian Ambassador. It was left that we would see how matters looked in two weeks’ time and meet again then if it seemed desirable. The Ambassador mentioned that from the Canadian point of view it had been thought that the meetings might be even more productive and certainly it would save time if they could be conducted on a U.S.–U.K.–Canada basis, but in view of the American preference to hold the talks bilaterally the Canadian Government was quite prepared to proceed in that way.

The meeting ended at approximately 5 o’clock.

  1. Supra.