G/PM files, lot 68 D 349, “Use Policy, 1950–1955”

Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State1

secret

Department of State Comments on JCS Paper Entitled “Statement of the Views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Department of Defense Interest in the Use of Atomic Weapons”2

The following views of the Department of State are numbered according to the paragraphs of the JCS paper:

1. It is recognized as stated that the “Joint Chiefs of Staff have a statutory responsibility to act as the principal military advisers to the President, the National Security Council, and to the Secretary of Defense.” In this connection, however, it is important to point out that the National Security Council has a statutory responsibility to “advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security”. In the view of the Department of State, the question of the use of atomic weapons clearly falls within the above category. Accordingly, the Special Committee of the National Security Council, which the President has designated to pass upon atomic energy matters requiring his decision, has a responsibility to give advice to the President on this question.

2. No comment.

3. The Department of State is not aware that any proposal has been made that “any other agency” interpose “itself between [the JCS]3 and the President in submission to him of recommendations for a military course of action”. If the view of the JCS contained in this paragraph has reference to a staff study submitted to the members of the Special Committee for consideration on April 27, 1951,4 it would appear that the JCS has misread the conclusions of this study. The study recognizes that the initial recommendation for use of atomic weapons should originate with, or be referred to, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The suggested procedures whereby the [Page 970]President may secure the advice of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, is not intended to interpose any agency between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President in the submission of recommendations for a military course of action but rather to carry out the President’s wishes expressed in his letter of August 25, 19505 which stated in part as follows:

“I am asking that the Committee of the National Security Council on Atomic Energy, which consists of Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense, pass on the directives which I have to make, that affect all three of those Departments. I informed the Secretary of State of the action which had been taken, and instructed the Secretary of Defense that these actions must be considered by this Committee of the National Security Council before I shall approve any further actions. In that way everybody interested will know exactly what is going on.”

As to the statement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “nor could they agree to any such other agency having a voice in determining how, when and where such military operations are to be conducted”, it should be pointed out that there are grave political considerations involved in determining how, when and where. The Department of State does not feel that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have the power or the authority to delimit the President’s choice of advisers on a matter which is so fraught with consequences not only military but also non-military in nature. The Department of State considers that it has a responsibility which it cannot relinquish for advising the President on the questions of how, when, and where. It considers that the President may, if he deems it necessary, delimit the manner in which, the extent to which, and the time when the Joint Chiefs of Staff may direct the employment of atomic weapons. In this connection it will be recalled that NSC 306 states in part (paragraph 11):

“The type and character of targets against which atomic weapons might be used is primarily a function of military selection in the preparation and planning of grand strategy. In this case, however, there is the additional requirement for blending a political with a military responsibility in order to assure that the conduct of war, to the maximum extent practicable, advances the fundamental and lasting aims of United States policy.”

[Page 971]

4. The comments in 3 above apply in part to the first sentence of paragraph 4.

5. a. (1) The first sentence is not clear. If it is intended to mean simply that the basic development of military requirements for complete weapons is a responsibility of the Department of Defense, no exception can be taken. If, however, this sentence is meant to say that it is a responsibility of the Department of Defense not only to develop requirements for complete weapons but also to establish the production program including the production goals and production rates of fissionable material, then it would appear that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are assigning solely to the Department of Defense functions in which it shares responsibility with other agencies.

(2) No comment.

(3) The Department of State cannot agree with the first sentence as written. In its view the responsibility of the Department of Defense would be more accurately stated as follows: “In summation, it is the responsibility of the Department of Defense to establish military requirements for numbers and types of atomic weapons needed for the defense and security of the United States.” In this connection, the Department of State would point out that final decision within the Executive branch as to the nation’s atomic weapon program rests with the President who makes such decision only after all factors, both military and non-military, have been taken into account.

b. The Department of State considers the stated view that “decisions as to the particular atomic weapon and vehicle to be used and the precise nature of the method to be employed in its delivery are purely military in character” may oversimplify the problem. Such questions as type of weapon (e.g. H-bomb) and method of delivery are related to the problem of target selection and may have an important bearing on the outcome of conflict and the possibilities of winning the peace once victory is assured. To the extent that this is so, the Department of State considers that it has a proper interest in this matter.

c. (1) No comment.

(2) The views expressed in paragraph 3 above apply with equal force here.

(3) The nub question is not whether the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel fully prepared to furnish such advice as may be necessary to meet the requirements of the President, nor whether in their view the Department of Defense possesses competence in the realm of both the military and the technical considerations involved in the use of atomic weapons and should therefore constitute the principal source of advice to the President on this subject, but rather whether [Page 972]the President desires advice from other agencies. It is clear from the President’s letter of August 25, 1950 previously cited that he does—specifically from the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in addition to the Secretary of Defense.

d. (1) No comment.

(2) (a) If this paragraph is in effect recommending that a new amendment to the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 should be sought in regard to methods whereby information in the scientific and technical fields can be exchanged with other countries, the Department of State feels that such proposal is untimely. The recent amendment to the Atomic Energy Act of 19467 has not yet been long enough in force to make possible a determination whether the procedure provided is too cumbersome. It would appear to the Department of State that an amendment designed to simplify the procedures provided in the recent amendment would be exceedingly unlikely of success at this time and might well jeopardize whatever efforts are made to secure a different sort of amendment designed to carry out the objectives set forth in the immediately following paragraph (b) of the Joint Chiefs of Staff paper.

(b) The Department of State supports the basic objective which is sought in this paragraph. It recognizes that the JCS and the Department of Defense should originate those proposals involving interchange of information on atomic weapons with other nations. In view of the foreign policy implications of actions envisaged in this paragraph as well as the technical problems of declassification involved, it considers that the President will want the views of the Department of State and of the Atomic Energy Commission before taking final action on such proposals. It is presumed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in making this proposal, envisage securing the requisite amendment to the Atomic Energy Act of 1946.

(3) The sequence of argument in this paragraph seems to imply that as a result of AEC custody of atomic weapons an unnecessarily large number of people in the Department of State are aware of any proposed or actual deployments of atomic weapons, either complete or non-nuclear. The Department of State considers this to be a non sequitur. In the last sentence of the paragraph the Joint Chiefs of Staff point out that the redeployment of any atomic weapons from the proposed reservoir of finished weapons in the custody of the military would be subject of course to the approval of the President. It is the necessity for Presidential approval, plus his express desire that the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission give him [Page 973]advice on such matters, which brings about the fact that a strictly limited number of people in the Department of State must be aware of the proposals or the actions taken.

As to the substantive proposal of this paragraph, namely, “the establishment of a reservoir of finished weapons in the complete custody of the military,” the Department of State sees a good deal of merit in this recommendation. With growing numbers of weapons in the stockpile and the development of overseas bases to which deployments are being made, it would appear eminently sensible to place under the custody of the military a percentage of the national weapons stockpile in order to increase “readiness to use” capabilities. The percent of stockpile to be turned over should be such as to meet deployment requirements as well as a minimum operational requirement within the continental limits of the United States. The remainder should, however, remain in AEC custody. Moreover, it would appear necessary that the AEC continue to have access to the entire stockpile from time to time in order to maintain quality control and to carry out modifications and redesign as dictated by technical advances.

As the JCS paper points out, a distinction must be drawn between “readiness to use” and “authority to use”. The Department of State can support the proposal for a reservoir of atomic weapons under military control only if it is understood that the procedures outlined in the attached paper are followed with respect to a decision to use atomic weapons. Owing to the complex foreign relations issues involved, it is also essential that the Department of State participate fully in decisions with respect to deployments to overseas bases.

  1. By memorandum of June 11, Secretary Acheson transmitted this paper to NSC Executive Secretary Lay for distribution to the other members of the NSC Special Committee on Atomic Energy Matters. Lay forwarded copies to the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission by memorandum of June 12. (G/PM files, lot 68 D 349, “Use Policy 1950–1955”) Copies of Department of State comments and the memoranda of transmittal are in the Truman Library, PSF–Subject file, “Atomic Weapons”.
  2. Ante, p. 864.
  3. Brackets in the source text.
  4. Not conclusively identified in Department of State files, but see the draft memorandum on the subject by Arneson, Apr. 24, 1951, in Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. i, p. 820.
  5. The quotation below represents the substance of a letter from President Truman to Gordon Dean, Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Aug. 25, 1950. (U.S. Atomic Energy Commission files)
  6. NSC 30, “U.S. Policy on Atomic Warfare”, dated Sept. 10, 1948, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, pp. 624 628.
  7. See footnote 4, p. 847.