Minutes of the Meeting of the Secretary of State With the Panel of Consultants on Disarmament1

  • Present:
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. Gordon Dean, Chairman AEC
    • Dr. V. Bush
    • Dr. Robert Oppenheimer
    • Mr. Allen Dulles
    • Mr. John Dickey
    • Mr. Joseph Johnson
    • Mr. Harry [Horace] Smythe2
    • Mr. John D. HickersonUNA
    • Ambassador Benjamin Cohen
    • Mr. William SandersUNA
    • Mr. John FergusonS/P
    • Mr. Joseph ChaseS/AE
    • Mr. Benjamin [Bernhard] BechhoeferUNP
    • Mr. Ward AllenEUR

The Secretary opened the meeting by expressing gratitude to the consultants for agreeing to serve on the advisory panel to assist the Department and Ambassador Cohen. He stated that it is a matter of concern to us that, notwithstanding the yeoman service which Ambassador Cohen has given and the work which is under way in the Department, we are in a sense not as far along on the disarmament problem as we were when we took the initiative in the General Assembly last fall. It is of course partly because we were then talking only in generalities and efforts to work out concrete, specific plans are naturally more difficult since they run into habits of [Page 897] thinking and established patterns of thought. Both the Department of Defense and Department of State are open to criticism for a certain laxity in our attitude to date.

In connection with the work of the panel the Secretary raised the question of an Executive Secretary, recalling the helpful work done by Mr. Herbert Marks in the development of the atomic energy plan. Mr. Hickerson reported that efforts are being made to obtain the services of a qualified person on a permanent basis and that in the meantime Mr. Allen had been loaned from EUR to pinch-hit.

In describing the job to be done the Secretary referred to three major aspects:

The necessity of making some proposals and taking some steps in the Disarmament Commission between now and the next GA. Failure to do so would subject us to criticism in the UN and would forfeit the advantage gained by our previous initiative.
The longer-range task of working out a comprehensive plan for armed forces and non-atomic armaments comparable to the UN plan in the atomic energy field. This panel is the best body to do that if it has full support from the State and Defense Departments and the AEC.
The additional task of reviewing the UN plan for atomic energy. Although this was done in a cursory fashion last fall it should in effect be a continuing task.

The Secretary pointed out that this work in the disarmament field has a very important connection with the whole problem of relations with the USSR. Whatever the other elements in any overall settlement with the Soviet Union, one essential element is the withdrawal of their forces from the center of Europe. The difficulty arises not so much from the size of Soviet forces (Soviet armed forces were large during the years before World War II but did not then cause great concern) but from the fact that now Russian forces are closer to western borders and there is no longer a strong Germany and a strong Japan on either side. Soviet justification for the presence of their troops is a legitimate concern in preventing the repetition of attacks against the USSR as occurred in World Wars I and II. This point must be met if there is to be a settlement. Although Secretary Byrnes3 thought it could be met by treaties for the disarmament of Germany, it seems clear that this is impossible because of the cynical Soviet attitude toward treaties and because from a realistic point of view treaties have validity only so long as they are in the national interests of both parties to continue to adhere to them.

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Therefore, if it is possible to work out agreement on a disarmament plan that would “shorten the reach” of all nations it would be possible for the Soviets to move their troops out of Europe without the complete evacuation of US troops which the Soviets now demand. If no one had forces with long-distance striking power it should be possible for token US forces to remain in Europe without arousing excessive Soviet concern.

Thus the disarmament work is far more than a propaganda exercise. It may be the thing, together with growing western strength and a desire for settlement, that could bring about a real settlement.

Referring to the Far East, the Secretary pointed out that a disarmament plan which materially shortened the reach of the major powers would have far-reaching effects. It would of course increase the likelihood of the emergence of local Communist-led movements that would not and could not be met by US or UN forces. It might be possible and necessary to find some other methods for building strength in that part of the world.

Mr. Hickerson, in response to the Secretary’s request for comments, referred to President Truman’s disarmament speech,4 pointing out the two roads to security: the hard road of building strength and the preferable road of mutual disarmament. He emphasized that it is not inconsistent to pursue both simultaneously and referred to a sentence omitted from the President’s speech that “we will match the USSR in honest balanced reduction of armaments or we will outmatch them in military strength”.

Ambassador Cohen stressed the importance of the disarmament work in helping to dispel suspicion at home and abroad as to the purpose of our buildup and the intended use of our power. Referring to General Eisenhower’s closing paragraph in his last NATO report, Ambassador Cohen thought it vital that we convince the world we are preparing for the time when accommodation and settlement will be possible. The panel can give a positive push to this effort. The review of the atomic energy plan assumes added desirability because of the feeling on the part of the UK and France that the US has adopted the attitude that this plan represents the last word in the field. The French, it is apparent, fail to understand the timing of the UN control plan and both the French and the British share the feeling that some changes are required if there is to be agreement with the Soviets. In countering French and British desires for revising the staging of the UN plan, Ambassador Cohen [Page 899] has to date maintained the position that any shift may be made only after thorough review and only after the Soviets give a clear indication of what they would be willing to do.

Mr. Gordon Dean referred in passing to an immediate problem with the relationship between the disarmament work and the immediate problem with which he is faced with presenting to Congress in the near future a request for a much expanded atomic energy program. He felt it important that this be played so as to dovetail with and not undercut the work in the disarmament field. This basis of the Congressional position is military necessity in a very unsettled world and he requested any guidance that might be offered in order in the presentation not to undo the disarmament efforts. In response Ambassador Cohen recognized that there is of course no easy answer and suggested that we must be careful to indicate that any real developments in the disarmament field would of course produce a change in the program but that until that time comes it is vital to move ahead with the present expanded program.

Dr. Bush, pointing out that the panel is approaching the problem today in a necessarily different framework from the framework in which the AchesonLilienthal plan was developed, emphasized the importance of keeping in mind the effect on US public thinking. He suggested the possibility of finding some token or symbolic element in a nation’s armed strength, agreement on the control of which would be relatively easy but as to which failure of performance would not jeopardize our security. For example, heavy tanks were important during World War II but are now gradually becoming obsolete as a weapon of war, or possibly even long-range bombers would fall in this category as an example which though trivial, would decrease the reach of the major powers. If such could be found agreement on its abolition might prove an entering wedge to agreement on more important aspects, and the effect would be salutary even though guarantees of performance were not forthcoming.

Mr. Johnson desired to underscore the physical importance of retention of the initiative in this field of the US, reporting that the effect upon the informed Europeans last fall of the introduction of US, UK, French proposals was electric and did much to dispel the feeling that US with its drawing strength was impetuously prepared to force the issue with the Soviets. Commenting on Dr. Bush’s suggestion of reaching agreement on the abolition of a relatively unimportant element, Mr. Johnson cautioned that this might involve the danger that USSR would seize upon the concept of abolition without inspection and seek to apply it to the whole disarmament [Page 900] field, thus undermining our own position on control of atomic energy.

Mr. Dulles indicated his hesitation and skepticism of any success in the work, referring to himself as one of the few living relics of the extensive and fruitless disarmament discussions between World Wars I and II. However he agreed upon the importance of presenting our present buildup as defensive in character and agreed that our disarmament work should help in that connection. He wondered whether it would not be possible through disarmament proposals to try to obtain greater information on Russia’s actual military strength. He remarked in passing that so long as the Soviets continue as at present to put great emphasis in their buildup on such weapons as MIG 15’s and not on TU 4’s (long-range bombers) there is some hope that Soviet intentions are defensive and not offensive.

In answer to Mr. Dulles’ question, Ambassador Cohen referred to US working proposals on disclosure and verification as having the effect of obtaining additional information on Russia’s military strength without which any disarmament plans could not be implemented. Referring to his immediate problem within the Commission Ambassador Cohen urged that we take a stand on the size of armies at an early stage. This would of course present more problems to the Russians than to ourselves since their large armies are believed to constitute a main element in their strength. At the same time proposals for reduction of large armies would show our sincerity in desiring actual reduction and limitation.

In response to Mr. Johnson’s question as to the priority of agreement upon disclosure and verification, it was agreed that our position is still as the Secretary stated it in Paris, i.e., that we would either work out agreement on and implement a system of disclosure and verification before proceeding to agreement on actual reduction or would work out agreement on both simultaneously.

Mr. Dickey sought further clarification as to how the Secretary desired the panel to operate, i.e., whether it was expected that like the AchesonLilienthal group the panel would produce its own report or whether it is to serve as a critic in the development by the government of its own plan which the government would then put forward as a government position. Mr. Hickerson said in effect that this question was really open but that for the immediate job of initial proposals in the Disarmament Commission, he expected the panel would act more in the role of critics. In amplification Ambassador Cohen suggested that for the long range task of a comprehensive plan he thought it would be best for the panel to act as a separate expert body to develop the principal lines of the program. We could then consider how the organization can work in filling in the [Page 901] details of a comprehensive plan. At that point it might be that we would want to co-opt additional personnel which together with some or all of the present group would take over the actual formulation of a concrete plan.

Dr. Oppenheimer expressed the view that in addition to the objective of strengthening the defense of the West and the objective of eventual agreement on a specific disarmament plan, there was a third objective in our work which is the continuance of a really secure US in the sense of a US that cannot be shattered as military power.

In closing the discussion, the Secretary suggested that the long-range task of developing a comprehensive plan will probably prove to be more difficult than the task faced by the AchesonLilienthal group since the fact that atomic energy can be controlled through control of only two basic elements provided a manageable framework for that work. He spoke again of the major preoccupation which is the relationship between disarmament and other major world problems, suggesting that in that connection the panel would want to look at our current armament program to see where it is headed and the consequences. We are moving faster in the atomic energy field than in other fields but in our general buildup effort it is very possible that we may be breaking ourselves in an effort to do what really can’t be done. In short, can we accomplish what we are now undertaking? If not what alternative roads are open to us? In that sense it may be that disarmament will prove to be an essential part of our program and of our goals for the future.

  1. The Department of State announced on Apr. 28 the establishment of a panel of consultants to advise and assist the Department of State and other agencies in Connection with the work of the United Nations Disarmament Commission. The announcement indicated that the panel members were: Vannevar Bush, Carnegie Institute of Washington; John Dickey, President, Dartmouth College; Allen W. Dulles, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence; Joseph E. Johnson, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and J. Robert Oppenheimer, Director, Institute for Advanced Study. It was stated that the panel would meet frequently with government officials as its work progressed, and that the consultants had held their initial series of conferences that day. (Department of State Bulletin, May 19, 1952, p. 792)
  2. Dr. Horace Smythe of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
  3. James F. Byrnes, Secretary of State, July 1945–January 1947.
  4. Reference is to the President’s radio and television “Report to the American People on International Arms Reduction”, Nov. 7, 1951; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1951, pp. 623–627.