Minutes of Meeting With the Panel of Consultants on Disarmament at the Department of State, May 6, 1952, 10 a.m.1

  • Present:
    • Consultants
      • Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
      • Dr. Vannevar Bush, Carnegie Institute of Washington
      • Dr. Joseph E. Johnson, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
      • Dr. John S. Dickey, Dartmouth College
      • Dr. Allen Dulles, CIA
    • State
      • Ambassador Benjamin V. Cohen
      • Mr. John D. Hickerson, UNA
      • Mr. William Sanders, UNA
      • Mr. John H. Ferguson, S/P
      • Mr. Bernhard Bechhoefer, UNP
      • Mr. Ward Allen, EUR
      • Mr. Robert Tufts, S/P
      • Mr. Paul Nitze, S/P
      • Mr. Leonard J. Horwitz, S/S–S, Secretary

I. Discussion of Working Paper for Committee I of the Disarmament Commission.

1. Numerical Limitation of Armed Forces.

Discussion: After a brief introduction by Mr. Sanders, of current activities in the Disarmament Commission, an extended discussion ensued as to the adequacy of the U.S. working paper and the reactions of other DAC delegations to our proposals.2 Ambassador Cohen reviewed the position of the French delegation on our disarmament proposal and mentioned the French desire to reduce the number of stages in the disclosure and verification process from 5 to 3. He also mentioned that the British delegation is most anxious to present a proposal which the USSR might be more disposed to accept. Mr. Bechhoefer, further commenting on the British position on this matter, stated that in his opinion, they were not seriously advancing the proposal of increasing the number of stages from 5 to 8, but they generally had mixed feelings on the proposal and they wished to devise some formula by which there may be a more gradual advance toward disarmament than the one suggested by the U.S. Mr. Sanders commented that the British feel strongly that the proposal on limitation of armaments must be intimately related to a reduction plan containing a numerical limitation formula, whereas the French delegation wants to link the problem of reduction with that of control. Ambassador Cohen stated that the numerical limitation formula that we have set forth is an essential component of any disarmament effort, but it is only one of other essential components which must not be ignored. Mr. Sanders stated that generally the British are willing to go along with our proposals until they come to the matter of counting populations of non-self-governing territories for evolving a figure upon which armaments will be based. Ambassador Cohen commented that the British have not fully completed their thinking on the matter and although they like the simplicity of our approach, they tend to think that our proposal is so drawn that much greater strength would appear to accrue to the forces of the free world than to the Soviets, and the British are anxious to correct this situation.

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2. Dr. Bush suggested that in trying to tie all threads together, it seemed a little strange that the limitations formula should be based on the criteria of population, and he indicated a desire to see the base broadened. A brief discussion ensued at this point on the impact of the formula for limiting arms based on population in countries, such as India and Pakistan, with their peculiar problems both in matters of populations and of mutual antagonisms. Dr. Johnson suggested that it would be desirable if the Canadian delegation could come up with an acceptable proposal on the numerical limitations question that would take the promoting initiative away from the U.S. Ambassador Cohen mentioned the desirability of getting some nation, other than the U.S., to come forth with an acceptable proposal although he cited the dangers which may result if the French come through with some unacceptable proposal which would highly complicate the situation. We had to consider the need of interesting the French delegation in our general approach without encouraging them to come up with a proposal of their own which could possibly result in serious complications and adverse propaganda.

3. At this point, there was discussion of certain points in the subject paper, RAC (NS) D–4,3 where several minor additional changes were agreed to for the purpose of clarifying the meaning of parts of the paper. Dr. Oppenheimer, commenting on the subject paper, expressed the view that although it is not a paper which would inspire enthusiastic support, it is apparently the best that can be done at the present and for that reason must be considered satisfactory.

4. A brief discussion arose at this point as to the impact of the Communist BW charges on the deliberations of the Disarmament Commission concerning our general disclosure and verification proposals which were submitted April 5th. Dr. Oppenheimer suggested that the question of insuring adequate safeguards against BW is certainly a baffling one and that unless one begins to think in terms of an international control organization similar to the proposed International Atomic Energy Authority, it would be extremely difficult to evolve effective control in this field. Ambassador Cohen stated that the only thing that can be done is for the development of a complete and approved system of disclosure and verification which would be a prerequisite to any successful disarmament procedure. Dr. Bush described the quandary in which the U.S. finds itself in that we cannot discuss the BW control question except in terms of the disclosure and verification procedures, in [Page 918] order not to do violence to our position on atomic energy, and yet we do not have enough information on the technical feasibility of disclosure and verification in the BW field. Besides, we cannot now state that we will not use BW except in retaliation. It was generally agreed that we could not take a different position in the Disarmament Commission on the matter of BW than we have already taken on the matter of atomic energy.

II. General Discussion of Disarmament in Relation to Major Political Questions.

5. Mr. Hickerson introduced this discussion by recalling that the League of Nations had made an arduous effort to evolve appropriate relationships between security and disarmament. At that time, they believed that the proper approach required the priority of disarmament over security. Currently within the UN framework, the emphasis is being directed toward the priority of security over disarmament. In the long view, it would appear that either approach has not effectively solved the problem, and it would therefore lead one to the obvious conclusion that only through the solution of basic political issues between the great powers of the world can both security and disarmament be achieved. However, in view of the exigencies of our international position, it was considered desirable that we should not insist that a settlement of basic issues be a pre-condition for disarmament, since to do so would insure that any of our disarmament proposals would not be taken seriously by the peoples of the free world. We have agreed, however, that a fundamental pre-condition for disarmament would be that fighting must stop in Korea. Both the President and the Secretary of State in their public utterances have said that discussion of the problems of disclosure and verification should be advanced as a matter of priority, but approval of such procedures should not be considered as a pre-condition to effective efforts by all nations to solve the other elements of a disarmament program.

6. Mr. Nitze, reviewing the development of the U.S. policy on disarmament proposal, stated that the work on this matter had been going on for approximately a year before the U.S. made its formal proposal at the U.N. General Assembly. The real work on it started at the Big Four Deputy Meeting in Paris which met to prepare an agenda for possible talks between the Big Four Foreign Ministers. It was agreed at that time that if there was a disposition on the part of the Russians to accept the inclusion of “disarmament” in the proposed agenda, it would have been possible to carry on such discussions within the context of the proposed Big Four meeting, but in the absence of any favorable Russian interest in this matter, we avoided bringing the subject up although we continued to work [Page 919] on it. In our view, while we have a desire to reduce tensions and move forward on this issue, it is obvious that we cannot go any where unless there is a similar disposition on the part of the Russians. In evolving our thinking on this matter, consideration was given to the major political problems of our day that have produced these tensions. Such problems include the matter of German unification and its relationship to the West, the Austrian Peace Treaty, the implementation of the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements, the holding of free and democratic elections in the Balkan countries, and the withdrawal of Russian forces along the Bug River. It was necessary to survey and evolve a policy as to what actions we believed should be taken in order to reduce the tensions caused by these important issues. Also current Far Eastern problems had to be taken into account in considering any general settlement and reduction of world tensions.

[7.] Dr. Bush inquired as to how far we will go in disarmament discussions if no truce is achieved in Korea. Mr. Nitze stated that there would be no chance of our putting into effect any disclosure or verification procedures without some kind of settlement, i.e., armistice in Korea. Mr. Nitze stated that it was our feeling that unless there is at least a desire by the Communist to agree to a Korean armistice, there would be no chance of putting into effect a limitation of armaments scheme.

8. Ambassador Cohen pointed out that if we can get the Communists to agree to a reduction and limitation plan to a certain extent, in the event that future aggression should take place after their agreement to such plan, such aggression would automatically relieve parties to the agreement of any obligations incurred in the agreements. Mr. Nitze pointed out that there is inherent danger in going through with the process of disclosure and verification and then finding ourselves faced with a new aggression. In that eventuality, the free world has nothing left to expect but general war as a means of forcing a solution. Dr. Dulles inquired as to whether there had ever been a comprehensive study on the matter or whether or not competitive arms races resulted in anything other than war. Dr. Bush pointed out that an entirely new situation exists in view of the existence of the atomic bomb and other modern weapons. He stated that no aggressor ever started a war in which he knew he would “get licked”, but in modern war it is obvious to all that the chances of achieving victory without the consequences of overwhelming material destruction are small and certainly creates a new situation and perhaps enhances the chances of achieving a successful disarmament agreement.

9. Dr. Dickey inquired as to whether there is any evidence on how the Russians view our arms buildup and the extent of Soviet [Page 920] fear of these arms buildup Mr. Nitze mentioned that back in September 1950, Vishinsky had a meeting in New York with satellite delegations to the UN and told them “not to get worried about the U.S. arms buildup because, he stated, we just couldn’t keep it up for very long.” Mr. Nitze remarked that there is evidence that the Soviets are persuaded that our buildup is not going along as fast as we thought it would go. There is some intelligence which indicates that the Russians told the Chinese recently that U.S. arms production is lagging badly and that the success of our arms buildup is greatly in danger. Of course, it must be understood that the Soviet Union might have been making these statements for its own special reasons and should be viewed in the light of what they hope to achieve from their satellites. At this point, there was a brief discussion on the ability of the U.S. to maintain a high level of armament production over a long period of time.

10. Dr. Johnson inquired as to the possibility of achieving a “standstill” agreement with Russia. Mr. Nitze explained that a “standstill” agreement involves a matter of definitions and categories which are extremely difficult to achieve. He said that such problems of ascertaining parity on matters of replacements, training, etc., make a practical agreement on this basis fairly impossible. He said that it seemed to him that if there was a general interest in reducing tensions that our original approach is the more desirable. In response to a question by Dr. Johnson as to whether our present armament reduction effort was designed to reestablish a balance of power between the Soviets and U.S., Mr. Nitze stated that we believe we may have a deterrent to Soviet aggression which probably will not be achieved until after 1954. Mr. Tufts remarked that both nations are striving for a preponderance of power rather than a balance of power. Mr. Nitze described the following as elements of our power to deter the USSR from moving in Europe: (a) our forces in Europe, (b) our atomic power, (c) our arms production potential, and (d) the fact that the U.S. was involved in Europe from the beginning and has a vital stake and interest in that area. Dr. Johnson inquired as to whether with all these elements would it not be possible to foresee a point at which a Soviet move in Europe is probably remote and at that point could we not then propose a “standstill” agreement. Dr. Bush replied at this point that if what Dr. Johnson proposed was proper, then it would also be possible to achieve a complete settlement of political tensions as well as agreement just to disarmament.

11. Dr. Oppenheimer remarked that time is not necessarily on our side and stated that if the time arrives when Europe does not look like a primarily attractive target to the USSR, then we lose in that area an element of power in that we have concentrated a preponderance [Page 921] of our forces in that area at the expense of others. Mr. Nitze stated that two forces seem to be running in opposite directions. First the fact that our forces in being are constantly being increased, and secondly that the Soviet capabilities of waging atomic warfare are also being increased. Dr. Bush suggested that a vital factor of power is our ability to deliver our atomic bombs to the heart of Soviet power, and he believed that our capabilities to do this may tend to diminish much quicker than those of the Soviets to do likewise against the U.S. Dr. Bush stated that it is not more difficult to defend ourselves from air penetration than for Soviets to do so, and although our defensive capabilities are adequate at present, they may get less adequate as time goes on. Dr. Dickey posed the question of the stability of U.S. public support for our rearmament effort and inquired as to how long we can expect such support to continue. Dr. Bush stated that Communist rejection of our atomic energy proposals have strengthened U.S. public support for our atomic energy program and have permitted large appropriations for the program. Dr. Oppenheimer stated that at present our atomic energy program is relatively cheap but may become more expensive as time goes on. Mr. Nitze stated that it is the Department’s belief that we cannot fail to do something that we consider to be vitally necessary just because we are not assured of broad public support for such an action.

12. Mr. Tufts commented that it is possible to achieve a military “standstill” but quite impossible to get a “political standstill”. At this point a discussion ensued as to the appropriate definition of what a “standstill” would be. Mr. Nitze stated that “freezing” in itself is not a possibility, but it is useful only as an approach to and a step forward toward the main objective of achieving an agreement. But in the long run if you have the basic pre-conditions to get forward toward this objective, it may not be necessary to stop at the “freezing” point and may be possible to advance directly to the ultimate objective. Mr. Ferguson commented that you limit yourself in the time factor if you depend on a “standstill” alone to achieve your desired objective.

13. Dr. Dickey asked Mr. Nitze about his interpretation of the long-range significance of an armistice in Korea if it is achieved and its general relevancy to the entire disarmament question. Mr. Nitze stated that it is the Department’s feeling that the Russians do want an armistice at some point. They feel that their effort in Korea is essentially an extended position and that there is great danger that the conflict may get out of hand and spread to the Far East as a whole. Our view is that the Russians do not want the conflict to spread. However, the Russians do get a short range benefit from Korea although they are conscious of the long range disadvantage [Page 922] in the event that the fighting should spread. Of course, it is a matter of concern to the Department that the Soviets may actually do something concrete to reduce tensions which would have the effect of persuading the free world to let down its guard and neglect its armament effort. Mr. Ferguson commented that in the event an armistice is not achieved, our public reaction may be violent to the point where the public may begin to favor a preventive war. It was generally agreed among all persons that the last thing the U.S. wants is a unilateral “standstill” in rearmament which is a possibility. Dr. Bush inquired as to what Soviet views are toward the possibility of negotiations with the West at this time. Mr. Nitze said that there are terms on which the Soviets would want an armistice in Korea. However, the usual Soviet tactics in armistice negotiations require that they do not permit any matter to be dropped until they are sure that no more concessions are obtainable from their opponent. Mr. Nitze stated that the main snag in our armistice negotiations have now been narrowed down to one issue—that of the POWs, and it does introduce a very serious substantive problem for the Chinese Communists. For in this situation, there is a greater will of the Soviet Union to settle on the POW matter than there probably is on the part of the Chinese. Of the 20,000 Chinese prisoners, 15,000 refuse to go back to their homeland. This is an extremely difficult pill for the Chinese Communists to swallow. Mr. Ferguson stated that although the Chinese personally want to take a strong position on the POW issue, they have equally strong desire to continue obtaining Soviet equipment and if a strong attitude on the POW position interferes with our achievement of this second objective, it would seem plausible that they may tend to yield to the wishes of the Soviet Union and permit the consummation of an armistice. Mr. Nitze cited as an indication of the Reds’ interest in achieving a settlement the fact that the Chinese Communists provided the original request for undertaking a general screening operation among POW’s in our hands.

13. [sic] Dr. Johnson inquired as to whether there is any necessary relationship between the Soviet activities in Korea and current activities on the U.S. domestic policy scene. Mr. Nitze replied that he doubts whether there is any necessary connection and said that the Soviets have always considered U.S. domestic policy to be important factors in their calculations, but the extent to which these considerations have affected their thinking is at the present not easily ascertainable. Mr. Nitze stated that results of our screening operation are certainly of a great psychological advantage to our side. Mr. Nitze stated that if the Communists violate an armistice, then the rules of the game which we have been observing so far will be abandoned; he remarked that the major reason why we [Page 923] do not take vigorous action against the Chinese Communists so far is because of our belief that the Sino-Soviet Pact of 1950 would force the Russians to enter hostilities and begin a general war. However, if a future armistice is violated, we cannot permit the Chinese Communists to go unpunished. In general, Mr. Nitze stated that our intervention in Korea has had little external effect on the Soviet regime in the Kremlin. Mr. Dulles stated that Stalin still has control of the Kremlin, and he will get more cautious as he goes along. He probably sees no reason why he should risk his glory and reputation by entering into any foolhardy adventures, and for this reason some believe that Stalin’s continued control of the Kremlin introduced an element of moderation into Soviet behavior. Mr. Nitze stated that Stalin’s decision to go into Korea resulted from a compromise between two schools of thought within the Kremlin, and it is now evident that he was wrong. One group expected the overwhelming support of the South Korean people once the North Koreans began their military action. The second group felt that North Korean action could unite Korea regardless of South Korean support. Both groups refused to take seriously possibilities of U.S. intervention. Mr. Nitze also commented that the Chinese Communists have the capability of carrying on concrete military action against both South Korea and South East Asia. In this regard, the fiction of utilizing “volunteers” is no longer useful to the Chinese Communists. Information which would indicate that approximately 100,000 or more Chinese Communists are operating in aggressive military action in South East Asia would be ample evidence on which to request U.N. action.

14. At this point a discussion ensued as to the propaganda advantages of the Disarmament Commission deliberation to the Russians. Mr. Nitze stated that the Russians probably think that it is a good propaganda forum, but they do not want to see progress made on disarmament. He emphasized that when the U.S. put forth its disarmament proposal, it was set forth as a serious proposal and was deliberately so devised that it would not be primarily a propaganda maneuver for the reason that the U.S. Government would have to “live with” that proposal for a long time. Obviously, whatever the U.S. says in the Disarmament Commission, the Soviets are going to make propaganda attacks on us. We design our essential preparations of this disarmament proposal to exclude any obvious propaganda features in it. It was agreed that the Soviets did not approve the idea of a Disarmament Commission which was created as a result of our original proposal.

14. [sic] At this point, Mr. Dulles proposed that effort should be made to test the sincerity of Soviet interests in disarmament by proposing to them in the Disarmament Commission that each side [Page 924] open for inspection by a neutral UN commission just one factory or one armament installation in each country for inspection in order to ascertain the feasibility of such an inspection procedure, as well as establishing before the world the sincerity of both sides in advancing disarmament proposals. It was agreed that the idea merited further serious consideration with a view toward possible action. Dr. Bush at this point also suggested that another opportunity for a test case against the Soviet Union would be to provide a situation in which no overt inspection of the Soviet territory would be required but by which the U.S. could be assured of the sincerity of Soviet position on disarmament. Such a test case which would not require inspection and control could possibly be provided by telling the Soviets that we would agree not to test an “H” bomb providing we have their assurance that they likewise would not test an “H” bomb. This would provide an opportunity for us to know whether or not the Soviets keep their word without requiring us to inspect their territory. Dr. Bush stressed the fact that he is only projecting such a proposal as an illustration of the type of situation that may be devised although he does not wish this proposal to be taken as a firm proposal. Mr. Ferguson commented that he was dubious of the utility of Dr. Bush’s proposal in that by ignoring the inspection and control aspects of such a disarmament proposal you essentially remove the flavor and core of the U.S. argument on the absolute necessity for priority on disclosure and verification in any disarmament arrangement and would therefore lead many to believe that disclosure and verification is not essential. Mr. Dulles suggested that possibly we may invite the Soviets to attend our next atomic bomb test on the condition that they permit us to attend their next atom bomb test. It was agreed that the three above-mentioned proposals merited careful consideration by the officials of the Government. It was agreed informally that efforts would be made to get Mr. George [McGeorge] Bundy as Executive Secretary for the panel and arrangements would be made for the panel to meet at Princeton University in the next few weeks.

  1. Presumably drafted by Horwitz.
  2. Reference is to Working Paper UN doc. DC/C.2/1, Apr. 5, 1952; for text, see Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1959, vol. i, pp. 346–356.
  3. The reference draft working paper, Apr. 30, is not printed. (Disarmament files, lot 58 D 133, “RAC (NS) Documents”)