G/PM files, lot 68 D 349, “H-Bomb Report to Pres.”
Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of Defense (Foster) to the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (Dean)
- Intensification of the Thermonuclear Weapons Program
Recent developments in thermonuclear weapons are so significant that I feel our effort in this field should be re-evaluated by our Special Committee of the National Security Council.[Page 879]
As you know, the President in his January 31, 1950 letter to Mr. Lilienthal, directed that the scale and rate of effort in the thermonuclear program be determined jointly by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense and that the necessary ordnance developments and carrier program be undertaken concurrently.1 These matters have been a subject of continuing study by the Military Liaison Committee who have kept me and the Joint Chiefs of Staff informed. Recently, I sent Mr. Dean a copy of my reply to Senator McMahon in response to a question from the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy as to Department of Defense views on the present thermonuclear program.2
While I agree that the present thermonuclear program constitutes a satisfactory response to the Presidential Directive in terms of technical feasibility and on the basis of facts then known, there is a growing feeling in the Department of Defense that intensification and broadening of effort should be initiated now in view of the probability that the present approach to thermonuclear weapons may succeed. My purpose in raising the question at this time is the realization that a considerable period will be necessary to organize the personnel and facilities required to sharply expand existing weapon development activity. I am also informed that this subject has been discussed by the Commission and that the matter is still under review.
The urgency with which we must approach this problem is determined in large measure by our estimates of the probability that the Russians may achieve a thermonuclear weapons capability. Information which has been presented to me suggests that we can only assume that the Russians may be as far along as we are. In this connection, I call your attention to the views of the three Secretaries as expressed in the document attached. Further, I refer you to the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as expressed in their memorandum of November 23, 1949, copy attached.3 General Bradley tells me that the Joint Chiefs are preparing a more detailed military requirement in the light of recent thermonuclear progress.
Possession of thermonuclear weapons in relatively small quantities—of the order of 100—in such form that they can be readily delivered, would constitute a military potential of the greatest possible significance. It would be disastrous if the Russians should succeed [Page 880] in developing such a potential in advance of the United States.
I suggest that the Committee discuss this matter at the earliest possible moment.
- See the Report by the Special Committee of the National Security Council to President Truman on Development of Thermonuclear Weapons, Jan. 31, 1950, Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, p. 513.↩
- Not found in Department of State files.↩
- For text, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, p. 595.↩
- British atomic scientist arrested for espionage in February 1950.↩
- For documentation on nuclear weapons testing in 1951, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. i, pp. 685 ff.↩