Disarmament files, lot 58 D 133, “Panel of Consultants on Disarmament”
Report by the Panel of Consultants of the Department of State to the Secretary of State 1
Armaments and American policy
Letter of Transmittal
Dear Mr. Secretary: We have the honor to transmit with this letter a final report of the work of the Panel of Consultants on Disarmament appointed by you in April, 1952. This report reviews some of the realities of the present contest in armaments and aims at an understanding of what these realities mean for the policy of the United States. It is our response to the suggestion made by you at our last meeting,2 that a written record of our principal conclusions would be useful.[Page 1057]
It is perhaps appropriate here to give a short explanation of the course of work your Panel has pursued. Our most concrete assignment was to consult with responsible officials on some of the problems of the formulation of the United States position in the Disarmament Commission of the United Nations. But our first discussions in the Department of State made it clear that none of us would feel able to give really effective counsel on the subject until we had a fuller understanding of the basic facts and relationships of modern armaments. Recognizing the need for such basic inquiry, you encouraged us to consider the problem of arms limitation in the context of a general study of the political meaning of modern weapons in the present deeply divided world. This we have done, and our work has confirmed us in the belief that the proper center of study in these matters is not arms regulation in itself, but that larger range of problems which fall under the general heading of Armaments and American Policy—and we have titled our report accordingly.
In its line of exposition this report follows in general the course of our work as a Panel. First it states some of the considerations which have seemed to us, from the beginning, to cast doubt on the value of developing further proposals for arms regulation. Second, it examines what is known of the present arms race, reaching the conclusion that whatever may be the difficulties of arms regulation, it remains urgent to conduct our affairs with a full awareness of the peculiar and increasing danger of the contest in weapons. The last section of the Report opens with an attempt to state our sense of the ways in which it is possible to make a connection between the dangers of the arms race and the realities of national policy. In the context of the existing world situation, the drafting of detailed blueprints of general arms regulation has seemed to us a dangerous and misleading exercise, and we have been forced to the conclusion that the relevant and useful field of action is much broader, embracing the whole of the way the United States thinks and acts about arms and national policy. We have limited to a short annex some observations on the way in which it may be well to think about schemes for arms regulation if a chance for real negotiations on this subject should at some time appear.
In the main body of the last section of this Report we recommend a number of changes in the present posture and policy of the United States. These recommendations grow out of our attempt to understand the connection between the dangers of the arms race and the necessities of present policy. They suggest courses of action which appear to us to have the critically important characteristic that they combine two essential values: they offer some promise of helping to moderate the consequences of the present contest in [Page 1058] weapons, and at the same time they seem to us desirable also in the context of the great contest between Western freedom and Soviet totalitarianism.
The subject of armaments in relation to national policy is evidently so large and complex that no Panel like this one can pretend to have exhausted it. In this Report we have tried only to state certain central ideas quite briefly. We have rested our argument on a still more compact statement of the realities of the present situation; technically qualified advisers within the government can of course give further analysis of the important complexities of these matters, both in the field of armaments and in that of international politics. We are highly sensible of the modest value which must always be attached to the work of Consultants.
Limited as it is by compression and omission, this Report still deals with a number of large questions of national policy, going well beyond our immediate assignment, and in some cases even beyond the direct concern of the Department of State. Yet we feel certain that this is nothing but the inevitable consequence of the realities of the problem of armaments. That these questions are central to national policy is simply a result of the fact that the problem of armaments is itself at the heart of our national security.
We should like to underscore the meaning of our unanimity in signing this report. We came to the work of this Panel from five different backgrounds of interest and activity, and at first we had as many approaches to the topic. We have also had the advantage of fruitful consultations with a number of responsible and knowledgeable men, both with respect to the technical facts and with respect to the political background, and much of our thought has been affected by these consultations, though none of those with whom we consulted can be held responsible for the views expressed here. The members of the Panel have worked together now for many months, and what has emerged and is here recorded is a general view which no one of us held before. This we now respectfully submit to you.
In terminating our assignment we should like to record our indebtedness to our Secretary, Mr. McGeorge Bundy. This indebtedness is very great indeed, for he has given our work a continuity and a record without which it would not have been possible.
- Vannevar Bush
- John S. Dickey
- Allen W. Dulles
- Joseph E. Johnson
- Robert Oppenheimer
The Difficulties of Arms Regulation *
The international limitation of armaments is a goal of policy which it is singularly difficult to reach—at least on terms that are compatible with national safety. Obviously it is always possible to disarm oneself—a nation can always abandon its defenses by its own free decision. But it is quite another matter to secure an international understanding such that it becomes possible to limit armed forces without endangering the stability of policy and the very safety of the nation. The record of American efforts to get arms regulation—and indeed the whole history of international negotiations on armaments in recent decades—makes these points very clear.
What makes this difficulty important is that the goal itself is so desirable. For a very long time men of sense and vision have dreamed of beating swords into plowshares, and in recent generations, as the world’s weapons have increased in destructiveness, this dream has become steadily more insistent. The climax has come with the development of atomic weapons, and we may take as a symbol of the urgency of the desire for arms regulation the fact that the American presentation of this subject to the United Nations opened with the words, “We are here to make a choice between the quick and the dead.”
Yet the very effort which was formally launched with these words is perhaps the best single illustration of the difficulties of arms regulation. The proposals of the United States were the result of the most searching study, and they were presented with genuine good will in a major attempt to bring a terrifying new force under international control, even at a time when the United States had a monopoly of atomic weapons. But in all the debate and discourse which has followed on Mr. Baruch’s opening speech there has never been any real sign that agreement was remotely likely. There has not even been any genuine negotiation. The representatives of the Soviet Union have increasingly used this subject and this forum as opportunities for propaganda, and as its hopes of a genuine negotiation have faded, the United States has sometimes seemed to follow suit. Eventually, weary of this frustration, the diplomats of the West closed down the discussions of atomic energy and reported their inability to make progress. In 1951, still sensitive to the deep need for some forms of arms limitation, the United [Page 1060] States offered some new and general proposals, and discussion was reopened in the newly established Disarmament Commission. While it was probably useful at first in demonstrating the continued good intentions of the United States, this new effort has had no effect whatever in stimulating a more constructive response from the Soviet Union. The discussions in the Disarmament Commission now seem quite unrelated to any genuine negotiation looking toward arms regulation, and our own view, developed later in this report, is that the United States should now begin to disengage itself from them.
There can be little doubt that the principal cause of difficulty, here as in so many other places in the postwar world, has been the nature of Soviet policy and the behavior of Soviet representatives. Over and over again, in the discussions of arms regulation as elsewhere, it has been demonstrated that the Soviet concept of negotiation in good faith is entirely different from that which is followed, or at least honored, in the West. The general record of the Soviet Union in diplomacy is one in which the meaning of words has been distorted, the privacy of discussions violated, and trust repaid by trickery. And these are only the surface manifestations of a system of power and behavior which seems deeply hostile to the whole concept of human liberty, and to the United States and its government in particular. It seems clear that this hostility now involves such devices as the Iron Curtain, which in and of itself constitutes a block to any real discussion of arms regulation, since there can be no confidence in any agreement if there is not some way of finding out at least in general terms whether it is being kept. And it may be that it is inconceivable to Soviet leaders that there should be such a thing as a common interest in limiting an arms race; their hostility may be so deeply rooted that they simply cannot understand the idea that agreement might be of benefit to both sides. But it is not necessary to press these speculations further. It is clear beyond the need for argument that Soviet behavior has been a major obstacle to the international regulation of armaments.
Soviet intransigeance has been paralleled by developing changes in United States policy which have also had a limiting effect on the discussions in the United Nations. These developments are themselves in the main an indirect product of Soviet behavior. In the years since 1946 it has become apparent that the West has a need for substantial rearmament. In the context of a major international effort to develop strength it is not easy to give serious attention to discussions of arms regulation, and it seems clear that its concern for the uninterrupted development of its own strength has reinforced the United States in a growing reluctance to put much faith in discussions already frustrated by the acts of Soviet representatives. [Page 1061] These general obstacles to serious discussion received a weighty and concrete addition in the outbreak of war in Korea. So for different but compelling reasons both great Powers have in separate ways contributed to a situation in which the discussions in the United Nations have ceased to have any relevance to arms regulation as a real goal of policy.
The experience of recent years seems to indicate plainly that it is hard to make progress in the limitation of armaments when there is a high level of tension in the international political situation. And this conclusion can be powerfully reinforced by the experience of efforts to regulate armaments in the years between the two World Wars. Because these efforts occurred in a time of much greater international cordiality than our own, their failure is particularly instructive.
Two great efforts at arms regulation occurred in these years. One was the effort at naval limitation, centered on the US, Great Britain, and Japan; it resulted in the treaties signed at Washington in 1922 and at London in 1930. The other effort was the prolonged discussion of general arms reduction, centered in Europe, and mainly concerned with ground and air forces, which never reached any result at all. Both efforts obviously failed to prevent war, and it can be argued that the naval treaties, in the long run at least, did real damage to the cause of peace. Their supposed success may have made the Western nations slow in resisting the Japanese expansion which eventually went so far that war in the Pacific became unavoidable.
These two episodes seem to teach that efforts to achieve any limitation of armaments can do no good unless they are closely integrated with the adjustment of the real problems of international affairs. What meaning there was in the Naval Treaties of Washington and London was directly related to a political status quo in which the peace of the Western Pacific was in effect confided to the care of the Japanese Empire. So long as this trust was not abused, there was no harm in the Naval Treaties. When this part of the arrangement broke down, under the pressure of Japanese expansion, the whole settlement became a dangerous deception; arms limitation was neither possible nor desirable when the political premises on which it rested lacked validity.
In Europe, the same basic point was demonstrated in a different way; the fact that the negotiations on arms reduction never escaped from the futility of constantly expanding paper plans was a direct result of the fact that they were never effectively integrated with the realities of European security. The result was that history went down one path while the negotiations for arms regulation went down another, until at last when the Disarmament Conference [Page 1062] was ready to have its first decisive meeting in 1933, Adolf Hitler was already in power, and it had become urgent for men of good will to turn their thoughts from the control of armaments to the control of aggression by armed strength.
It seems clear from the experience of the 20’s and 30’s that no good can come of efforts to consider the problem of limitation of armaments in a vacuum. For 1953, this means simply that it is essential to consider this problem in the light of the great contest between the free world and the USSR. This contest now demands of the United States and her allies and friends a great effort to strengthen their collective defenses. Any genuine regulation of armaments must somehow be connected with such a change in this general situation that the regulation has a chance of survival.
But the differences between the free world and the Soviet Union are so deep-seated that no genuine, large-scale political settlement seems likely within the present generation. Even if present tensions should eventually decrease, there would remain divergences too deep for trust or friendship. If anything has been made plain since 1945, it is that the world in which the United States finds itself is one in which there also exists a great and hostile power system. Policies that cannot survive in such a world must be discarded.
The argument thus far strongly implies that no real progress is at present likely in the field of arms regulation. This is our own view—and we think it has been increasingly the view of the American government. While American representatives in the United Nations have constantly asserted their desire for progress, it has been clear, since the General Assembly session of 1951, that in the view of the United States progress cannot be made while such issues as that of Korea remain unsettled. The dominant sentiment in recent years seems to have been that there can be little hope of real settlement until the strength and stability of the West has been clearly established. An important school of opinion would go further, arguing that a real settlement will become possible only when the dominant power and influence of the Western coalition has forced the Soviet rulers to release their grip on some of their present holdings. In the present context there is no need to decide which of these views is correct. They are alike intending to see the question of arms regulation as fundamentally excluded by the present critical contest. What we now have, increasingly, in the Disarmament Commission of the United Nations is not a genuine discussion of arms regulation but a propaganda contest.
The regulation of armaments, then is very difficult—and for the moment at least it seems impossible. In the pattern of policy which can be built on this general view there is a clarity which makes it [Page 1063] relatively easy to proceed to decision and action, at least in the field of armaments. What is needed, it would seem, is a level of armed strength which will permit the free world to deter or if attacked to defeat the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately the argument cannot safely be ended here. Even though no arms regulation is now possible, there are factors in the present arms race which have a meaning so large and pressing that arms policy cannot safely be based on the simple assumption that the one object is to “get ahead of” the Soviet Union. Our situation is much more difficult than that. Modern armaments are at once urgently necessary and extraordinarily dangerous, and wise policy must constantly be aware of both the need and the danger. This means that the notion of arms regulation, however little it may have a direct present application, should not be put permanently out of mind. And even for present policy a view of armaments which gives full weight to their danger as well as their necessity has considerable implications. So we turn, in Part II, to the considerations which indicate that the present arms race has a special meaning and danger.
The Character of the Atomic Arms Race
In assessing the character of the present arms race we have learned most by considering the contest in atomic weapons. This contest appears to have three properties which in combination give it special meaning such that the atomic arms race is now a political fact in its own right. First, it is a race in which unprecedented destructive power is accumulating, probably on both sides, at a quite phenomenal rate. Second, this new order of destructive power has the effect of putting both the heart of the Soviet Union and the heart of the United States into the front line of any major military contest. Third, the United States is heavily committed to a swift and almost unlimited use of atomic retaliation in the event of major Soviet aggression. Each of these properties deserves examination.
A. The Rate of Production
Although it is no secret that both the United States and the USSR are engaged in the production of atomic bombs, and although it is impossible for any serious student to be ignorant of the fact that atomic bombs are instruments of a wholly new order of destructive power, the special character of the race in atomic weapons is not well understood. Just because the atom is so dangerous men have hesitated to think hard about it. The very high level of security surrounding some of the most important facts of atomic [Page 1064] weapons has operated to reduce the quantity and quality of responsible discussion. This has been true almost as much within the government as outside it, since responsible officials are among the first to avoid any hint of trespassing upon restricted ground. It therefore seems a necessary part of this Report that there should be included here a sober statement of the central facts of the atomic arms race as they are known to those who are fully informed in the American government.
Unfortunately there is little direct information about Russian atomic operations. The Russians are known to have exploded three bombs; at least two, the first and third, were of good efficiency, having a design like American models of 1945 and 1948; these bombs are known to have contained plutonium and uranium–235, so that it may be assumed that the USSR has supplies of both these substances. It is likely that the Russian production of plutonium is more than a hundred kilograms a year. From this sort of information it is not possible to make any close estimate of Soviet atomic strength. But while it would be helpful to know just how much fissionable material the Soviet Union now has, there is much to be learned from considering the general nature of atomic development, and here we can readily learn from the American experience.
It is now just a little over seven years since the first atomic explosion occurred, in July 1945. In that first year only a handful of bombs was available, and for four years thereafter the United States made no great effort to increase its facilities for the production of fissionable material; important efforts to expand our facilities began only in 1949, after the first explosion in the Soviet Union. The amount of fissionable material on hand is steadily increasing so that, in event of hostilities, there would be available atomic bombs of many sizes, deliverable by a variety of carriers, the total of their effect having a destructive power thousands of times the destructive power loosed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.‡
Since 1949 there have been launched four successive programs of expansion of fissionable material production capacity; production will continue to increase rapidly through the next decade.
This increase in the stockpile of fissionable material does not mean either a proportional increase in the number of weapons nor [Page 1065] a proportional increase in the destructive power on hand. Three distinct factors bring this about:
- Constant improvement of atomic weapon design,
- Variable requirements for military use, and
- Development of thermonuclear weapons.
Improved design of atomic weapons makes it possible to derive greater destructive power from a given quantity of fissionable material or conversely to achieve a given destructive effect from a smaller quantity of fissionable material. At the same time, military planning requires the stock of atomic weapons to be distributed at many locations, for delivery in a number of sizes varying from atomic artillery to bombs to be used in long range bombers. Destructive power per weapon is similarly a variable, subject to military planning. The development of thermonuclear weapons tends to increase considerably the available destructive power of our stockpile without an increase in the number of atomic weapons.
All the elements to date in the atomic weapons field heavily underline this conclusion: The atomic bomb is not simply the most powerful weapon in history; it also seems to have the characteristic that the amount of destructive power available from each pound of fissionable material on hand at any one time tends to multiply at a quite extraordinary rate.
There is nothing in this pattern of development which is necessarily peculiar to the United States; a similar pattern is by no means unlikely in the case of the Soviet Union, since the possibility of rapid development is inherent in the nature of atomic technology.
Fissionable material does not wear out, and the process of producing it almost inevitably leads to technical improvements which increase the rate of production. There is no permanently important shortage of raw materials for any great Power. Compared to other military items, moreover, atomic bombs are cheap. The Soviet Union started later than the United States, and her effort is probably smaller in scale, so that she may never have as many bombs as the United States at any given time, but she can easily have as many at any time as the United States had a few years previously. This means that the time when the Russians will have the material to make 1000 atomic bombs may well be only a few years away and the time when they have enough to make 5000 only a few years further on. Any sensible forecast must assume that within our time Soviet atomic weapons may be numbered in five figures. The Russians may not have so large a stockpile so soon—but it is also possible that they have it sooner. On the subject of Soviet work in the thermonuclear field we know nothing of any real [Page 1066] value, but it would be the height of folly not to expect that in time the Soviet Union will learn what we have learned.‡
There is much debate in the United States Government currently as to what number of atomic bombs delivered on the target is enough to cause the destruction of a large modern industrial society beyond the hope of recovery. In such discussions much depends on what is meant by destruction; a society may still have military strength, for example, at a time when it is already dead for most purposes. Some students guess that for the United States a few hundred bombs on target would be enough; others think that by careful planning and preparation we could survive up to 2500. In the case of this latter estimate, the term “survival” must have a rather specialized meaning; 2500 atomic bombs of presently known Soviet design would have an explosive energy equal to that of 100 million tons of high explosive—or 400 times the total load dropped on Germany by allied bombers in World War II.
There is one important limitation upon these overwhelming and entirely possible figures. When atomic bombs are numbered in the thousands it is no longer the number of atomic weapons, but the effectiveness of the instruments of delivery which is the primary limitation upon the scale of the damage which can be done to an enemy, and it is just this fact which makes it important not to jump to the hasty conclusion that because the atomic stockpiles are rapidly multiplying, there can be no defense against an eventual annihilating attack. As atomic bombs increase in number, each additional weapon becomes increasingly cheap and easy to get, until in one sense it becomes possible to think of atomic bombs as just another and better kind of ammunition. But it is quite another matter to develop a military force capable of ensuring the delivery of massive numbers of bombs. For while bombs are tending to become cheaper, all experience indicates that aircraft to carry them are steadily growing more expensive, and effective guided missiles of long range seem likely to be at least equally costly. Modern aircraft, moreover, have a very high rate of obsolescence, and the job of maintaining a capability once developed can be formidable when the plane on which it is based is outmatched by defensive developments.
So it is important to observe that beyond a certain point the problem of delivery tends to become more important than the problems of development and production. This point has probably already been reached in the United States. This general characteristic [Page 1067] of atomic armaments is of high importance, because it means that the constantly expanding stockpiles cannot in and of themselves bring catastrophe. It will be necessary for those who wish to have a full use of their atomic ammunition to spend great efforts on carriers of one sort or another, and it will be possible to attempt a defense against such carriers. There are some students, we know, and some high officers of the government, who do not believe that there can ever be any worthwhile defense against atomic attack. Others sharply disagree, and this matter urgently needs authoritative settlement. We ourselves believe that there is urgent need for a greatly increased effort in this area, and we think such an effort would constitute a real contribution to a constructive policy toward modern armaments; this conclusion is argued below in Part III.
Important and valuable as air defense may be, however, it will be a pleasant surprise if the defense is ever able to knock down or deflect as many as four out of five of the attackers, and at present we should be lucky to get one in five. When these figures are combined with the estimates given above of the number of bombs on target that are needed for a knockout blow, some painful conclusions emerge. Even a combination of the most optimistic assessments leads to the theoretical conclusion that, if she is willing and able to build a sufficient strategic air force, the Soviet Union may be able to destroy our economy beyond the hope of recovery when she has 15,000 atomic bombs, while she might well have this ability when she has as few as 600. The lower figure might be reached in a few years, and the upper is not out of reach within the next two decades.
When any great power has achieved a five figure stockpile of atomic weapons, moreover, it will probably have placed itself in such a position that its basic destructive power cannot be destroyed by any single surprise attack by any enemy. The mechanics of a mass surprise assault are singularly complex, and large stockpiles can be widely dispersed—especially as smaller aircraft become capable of delivering atomic bombs. If the atomic arms race continues, therefore, we seem likely to have within a relatively few years a situation in which the two great powers will each have a clear-cut capacity to do very great damage to the other, while each will be unable to exert that capacity except at the gravest risk of receiving similar terrible blows in return. And this situation is likely to be largely unaffected by the fact that one side may always have many more weapons than the other. There is likely to be a point in our time when the Soviet Union will have “enough” bombs—no matter how many more we ourselves may have.
Were it not for the fact that it is so near and so plainly important, the topic of the probable behavior of men and nations in such [Page 1068] a situation might well be avoided on the ground that it defies an answer. Whatever else may be said of it, it is plainly unprecedented. The power which will exist is not the power to win an ordinary military victory. It is rather the power to end a civilization and a very large number of the people in it.
It is conceivable that a world of this kind may enjoy a strange stability arising from general understanding that it would be suicidal to “throw the switch”. On the other hand it also seems possible that a world so dangerous may not be very calm, and to maintain peace it will be necessary for statesmen to decide against rash action not just once, but every time. In particular, since the coming of such a world will be gradual and since its coming may or may not be correctly estimated in all countries, there is a possibility that one nation or another may be tempted to launch a preventive war “before it is too late”, only to find out that the time for such a blow has already passed. No one can be sure what will happen, but this much seems evident: the prospect is one which makes it clear that the present contest in atomic weapons is highly relevant to our national policy.
B. The New Proximity of the US and the USSR.
The power and rapid growth of atomic stockpiles affect the safety of the great powers in a peculiar and extraordinarily significant way. The atomic weapon is more than just a great addition to their strength at the boundaries where their other interests conflict (though in Europe at least it is this, too). It is also an instrument which brings the two great powers into the direct range of each other in a way which no other weapon at present permits; in this sense atomic weapons and modern aircraft in combination have revolutionized the geography of contemporary warfare.
The first rule of strategy, after all, is to concentrate force at a decisive point. In former times this meant that the proper center of attention was the enemy’s army, not his capital or his treasure house. But today it means that the right target is the industrial and social base of the enemy’s power—because today as never before this industrial and social base can in fact be destroyed. This is not to say that armies are now negligible, or even that atomic weapons will be used only in massive blows at the industrial cores of Russia and the United States. It is only to emphasize that the cities and people of these two great sub-continents are now in the front lines, with a certainty and finality that must not be obscured by any feeling that nothing so much like comic-strip fantasy can possibly be true.
This change is of great importance. The usual pattern of military conflict between great rival power systems is one in which the [Page 1069] blows are struck at the margins where their territories meet. Thus the age-long contest between Islam and Western Christianity ebbed and flowed over great ranges of territory, and only very rarely was there combat near the center of either power system. Now the two great Powers find themselves strategic neighbors, and their rapidly increasing atomic strength makes this new nearness a major matter. It is not necessary here to attempt any assessment of its whole meaning; it is enough to note simply that it is the contest in modern weapons which has had this effect, and that for both Powers it is an effect of great political importance.§
C. The Character of American Policy Toward the Production and Use of Atomic Weapons.
In the decade since it embarked upon its first efforts to produce an atomic weapon, the United States Government has faced a series of decisions as to the way in which it would deal with the military uses of atomic energy. The cumulative effect of these decisions has been to create a situation in which it is increasingly possible that there may be an unlimited use of weapons of almost unlimited destructive power.
The first great decision, of course, was the decision to try to develop a weapon; this decision was taken in wartime, and in the shadow of the possibility that the Nazis might be well ahead in their development of such weapons. From this decision there came atomic weapons. A similar decision, from a similar concern, was reached in 1950 when the Government began its intensive effort to develop thermonuclear weapons. Then it was the tension of a “cold war” and the gnawing fear that the Russians might be ahead of us which were decisive. From this decision we are getting hydrogen bombs.
Having developed something which looked as if it would have military value, the United States was faced in 1945 with the question whether it would use its new weapon. Taking the position that the fundamental wickedness is war and not weapons, the American government determined in 1945 that it would use the new weapon to complete its victory over Japan; it has been a constant part of American policy since that time that in the event of an act of aggression, the American government would feel free to use atomic weapons.[Page 1070]
The third element in the American position on atomic weapons has been the determination of the United States to retain in its own hands the authority to determine whether, where, and how it proposes to use its atomic bomb. The atomic bomb is thus treated differently from other weapons. Both in Korea and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military effort of the United States is combined with that of other nations and operated under the authority of agencies that include many other countries among their active members. Especially in the case of the defense of Europe, it is evident that the considerations which govern allied decisions are not those of any one nation but those which are worked out together in the councils of a great coalition. The one military element of the defense of Europe for which this is not true is the atomic bomb.
A fourth American decision, reached only gradually, and at least partly in response to Russian development, has been the decision to proceed toward the production of as large a stockpile as is practicable, as rapidly as possible. At first it was supposed that a few atomic weapons would be decisive in any future war, and that any large stockpile would be unnecessary. But closer study indicated the unreality of this view, and in recent years it has increasingly been felt that there is almost no limit to the number of bombs which would be desirable. Production is now being widely expanded, and further large expansions appear likely.
Fifth, the United States not only maintains a right to use atomic bombs, but does in fact now plan to use them in the event of a major war, and this plan is not at present dependent upon the prior use of such weapons by any possible aggressor. It is true that there is some lack of clarity in the intentions of the United States in the Far East, and it appears to us that the problem of determining the place of atomic weapons in policy toward that part of the world has been very incompletely examined by the American government. But in Europe the commitment to atomic weapons is clear-cut, and it seems reasonably plain that if any conflict anywhere should develop in such a fashion that both the United States and the Soviet Union became heavily engaged, the United States will use atomic weapons. Indeed, such is the present state of American weapons and military capabilities that no other course would seem possible.
Finally, it is at present probable that the atomic tactics of the United States in any major war would involve an immediate and overpowering strategic blow designed to put as many atomic bombs as possible on strategic targets within the homeland of the enemy country. It seems likely that once the switch is thrown, the American Strategic Air Command will be ordered to act with utmost [Page 1071] speed to destroy the war-making power of the Soviet Union. Practical considerations seem to indicate that if such an attack is to have its best chance of effectiveness, it must be conducted with great rapidity and with a maximum concentration of force. In such planning there cannot easily be any abatement of the attack for political or other considerations, and there can hardly be any selection of targets on other than a strictly military basis; the presence or absence of people becomes irrelevant, except as they are producers and therefore military targets. The object of the attack is to “saturate” the defense, and the whole concept seems closely connected with a sense that defense against this kind of warfare—for us as for the enemy—is now not really possible.
This, then, is the pattern of the development of American policy toward atomic weapons in the last decade. Since the initial decision to develop such a weapon the United States has decided to use it, to keep its control wholly unshared, to make as many as possible, to plan for their use, and to base that plan centrally on the concept of an immediate and devastating strategic blow at the center of hostile power. The decision to conduct this operation would at present be uniquely American, and it now has the first claim upon the supply of atomic weapons.
Two additional characteristics of present American policy increase the significance of the current commitment to immediate and massive retaliatory action. First is the fact that in spite of the very considerable effort of rearmament which has been undertaken, this massive attack upon the industries and the population of the Soviet Union appears to be the major offensive capacity of the United States. This is not simply one way of dealing with the Soviet Union in the event of war; it appears to be the only way now seriously considered as a pathway to victory or even to an acceptable end of hostilities. Second, this intensive preoccupation with the development of a massive capacity for atomic attack is not matched by any corresponding concern for the defense of the US in case of a similar attack on the part of the Soviet Union. Indeed both the public and the responsible military authorities appear to be persuaded that the important characteristic of the atomic bomb is that it can be used against the Soviet Union; much less attention has been given to the equally important fact that atomic bombs can be used by the Soviet Union against the United States. This situation results partly from the pattern of our atomic decisions, partly from the natural impact of the sound military doctrine of the offensive, and partly from an apparent reluctance to face the simple but unpleasant fact that the atomic bomb works both ways.
In addition to its preparation for massive and immediate strategic counterattack, the United States Government has given attention [Page 1072] to other uses of atomic weapons in support of local campaigns, and these other uses are of great importance. Conspicuously, the defense of Europe is more and more predicated upon the employment of atomic weapons for a number of purposes such as counter air attack and the destruction of communications centers. And on the battlefield it may be that the bomb will become half of a new kind of nutcracker in which ground troops force the enemy to concentrate while the bomb forces him to disperse. Thus even the areas which have hitherto been reserved for so-called “conventional” weapons will increasingly have an atomic component. From the point of view of the effectiveness of the defense in very difficult circumstances, this development is altogether understandable, but there is no escape from the fact that it still further increases our general dependence upon atomic weapons in any major contest.
Atomic weapons have still another significance for Europe, and this too is connected with the meaning of the American dependence upon these weapons. As the Soviet stockpile increases, the threat to both the United States and to Europe will steadily grow, but this growth may be quite uneven for the two areas. Geography has provided the United States with real and considerable advantages in the difficult enterprise of defense against atomic attack, for distance is the most important single element on which to base a defensive system; it provides time and space in which to work. Europe is very close to the Soviet Union, and while even in Europe it would be foolish to abandon the effort to develop a partially effective defense, there can be no doubt that a relatively small number of atomic bombs and a relatively simple delivery system would give the Soviet Union a very heavy atomic capability with respect to Western Europe. In such a situation it may be that the American atomic bomb will be useable only at the risk of truly horrible losses in Europe, and while this prospect might not in fact be sufficient to lead the American government to abandon its reliance on such weapons, it can hardly be denied that in a situation of this sort the balance of feeling and action in Europe might be sensibly altered for the worse. Thus in Europe there are at one and the same time powerful factors which tend to recommend an increasing dependence upon atomic weapons, and possible future developments which make that dependence dangerous. We have here one more illustration of the degree to which it is impossible to separate what is done about armaments from the whole of national policy.
There have been many causes for the fact that American atomic policy has developed as it has, and no one need suppose that there has been at any stage of its development any easy alternative to the course that has been followed. But this course has brought the United States into a posture of considerable rigidity, in which [Page 1073] there are many dangers. In a world in which atomic war could only bring general catastrophe, it cannot be anything but dangerous that American policy should have no other alternative but a recourse to the atom as a response to many possible emergencies. The character of the atomic weapon makes it evident that the world is not going to have many more modern wars; but for the United States and its institutions this is cold comfort—for us it remains a first necessity that the number of atomic wars be zero. In this light it becomes the coolest kind of understatement to assert that the present arms race is highly relevent to the shaping of national policy.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The discussion in Part II makes it plain that the present arms race contains real dangers and has high political importance. The unprecedented contest in the development and production of super weapons, the new nearness of the USSR and the USA and the rigid commitment of American policy to a heavy dependence upon atomic weapons—these three elements in combination give most persuasive reasons for wishing that there were some way to get these weapons under control. A good look at the facts, in other words, substantiates and underlines the natural view that a world made safe from atomic weapons would be a good thing if we could get it.
Fundamentally, and in the long run, the problem which is posed by the release of atomic energy is a problem of the ability of the human race to govern itself without war. There is no permanent method of exorcising atomic energy from our affairs, now that men know how it can be released. Even if some reasonably complete international control of atomic energy should be established, knowledge would persist, and it is hard to see how there could be any major war in which one side or another would not eventually make and use atomic bombs. In this respect the problem of armaments was permanently and drastically altered in 1945.
In 1947 Colonel Stimson wrote that “lasting peace and freedom cannot be achieved until the world finds a way toward the necessary government of the whole. …The riven atom, uncontrolled, can be only a growing menace to us all. …” Institutions that lead to a growth of international community have a special importance and value when a proper weight is given to the meaning of the atom. But there cannot be any institutional guarantee of world peace until the whole pattern of present dangers and tension has been drastically modified. The United States cannot deal with the [Page 1074] present Soviet threat and the present weaknesses of the free world by wishing them out of existence. So while we recognize the long-term significance of the ideal of community, and while we are convinced that it is possible to conduct our policy with due regard to this continuing objective, we are persuaded that present policy toward armament must also be governed by nearer considerations.
One path toward a lawful community, and a path with urgent relevance to armaments, is of course the notion of international arms regulation. This Panel has not easily abandoned the effort to find some way in which serious negotiations looking toward a regulation of armaments might now be undertaken. Such a way may exist, but we have not been able to find it. Over and over again we have moved in unhappy concern from our sense of the dangerous arms race to our sense of Soviet intransigeance, and we have never been able to find any proposal or set of proposals which did not appear to be either dangerous for us, in the position in which we now find ourselves, or unacceptable to the Soviet Union.
Many of the difficulties which occur in any such enquiry have been recounted in a sketchy way in Part I of this report. Most of them turn upon the character and behavior of the Soviet Government. Perhaps the central and most serious obstacle has been the strong likelihood that the Soviet Union simply does not have any interest in a settlement except on terms that would be ruinous for the United States. And this indifference appears to be connected to two attitudes which deeply conflict with the requirements for any agreed regulation of armaments. First, the concepts of isolation and secrecy, symbolized in the Iron Curtain, appear to be not simply an accidental external manifestation, but rather a central and sustaining pillar of the whole system of Soviet power. Second, it seems all too likely that in the Soviet mind there is no room for the notion that there can be difficulties and dangers common to both the Soviet and the non-Soviet world. Yet without some access through the Iron Curtain, and without some sense that there is mutual advantage in settlement, there can hardly be any prospect of an agreed limitation of the arms race.
In addition to the peculiar difficulties of the Soviet Union, we must bear in mind what may be called the normal difficulties of any regulation of armaments. Two in particular are worth recalling—the complexity which seems to develop in any effort to arrange for a balanced and acceptable international limitation, and the connection which inescapably ties problems of armaments to general questions of international politics. We think that perhaps the problem of complexity is not wholly unmanageable; while written instruments might well be impracticable, it is not impossible for friendly nations to accomplish similar results simply by a series [Page 1075] of interlocking actions that are not formally embodied in a treaty. Between friendly states this kind of détente has often occurred.
In this connection, we are persuaded that the specific objections raised against the present United Nations Atomic Energy Plan by the Soviet Union should not be counted among the really serious obstacles to arms limitation. That plan has had great merit, and we do not think it would be wise now to attempt to modify it by new proposals in the United Nations; but it is not the only conceivable way of dealing with the problem, and it is perhaps not even the most appropriate method in the present world, with present problems of armaments.║
But if it is possible to conceive of ways in which one could deal with the problem of complexity, it is not easy to be so hopeful about the prospects for a level of political understanding which might permit a sustained agreement on the limitation of armaments. The contest between the Soviet Union and the non-Soviet world has produced tensions and unsettled major problems in almost every continent. There are situations which are unacceptable, in the long run, to one side or the other, and sometimes to both. Nor are these merely points of political disagreement. There is fighting in Malaya, organized conflict in Indo-China, and open war in Korea. The Korean war, moreover, involves the United States in an area of high strategic concern, while at the same time it engages the prestige and honor of the United Nations as a whole. A pattern of international tension which includes an open war is not one in which it is easy to suppose that a political platform for arms regulation can readily be established.
We seem to be left with three general propositions which are hard to reconcile with one another. First, no regulation of armaments, however limited, has ever proved feasible except as part of some genuine political settlement; in the present situation, atomic stockpiles are a central part of the American strategy of defense, and it seems impossible that they should be regulated without other major adjustments both in armaments and in the general balance of international relations. Second, most sorts of understanding with the Kremlin are now either unobtainable or inacceptable or both; even if peaceful coexistence is possible, it cannot be comfortable or cordial, and it certainly seems unlikely to involve anything that could be called a general settlement, for some time to come. Third, unless the contest in atomic armaments is in some way moderated, our whole society will come increasingly into peril [Page 1076] of the gravest kind. The task of framing and pursuing a national policy which is solidly based on all three of these propositions cannot be easy.
Simply stated, the difficulty we face is that we must deal with both the Soviet Union and the arms race. In recent years, American policy has been heavily preoccupied with the Soviet danger, and most of our actions have been responses to Soviet actions and threats. In particular our policy toward atomic weapons has been hardened and sharpened in the contest with the Soviet Union until there is now in our posture a rigidity and totality of commitment which seem very dangerous. In one sense, of course, the whole contest in weapons is primarily a result of Soviet behavior. But it is important to conduct this contest on terms that preserve our own freedom of action and give proper weight to the transcendent dangers of the weapons themselves. The analysis in Part II of our position on atomic weapons shows that new measures are needed if we are to attain the flexibility which is essential to any effort to play an active and not a passive role in these affairs.
Flexibility—freedom of action—seems to us, indeed, to be the first basic requirement for American policy in the present situation. It would be very easy for this nation, in the face of the double dangers of Soviet totalitarianism and atomic war, to let events develop so that in the end a catastrophe of some sort became unavoidable.
The meaning of freedom of action may perhaps be sharpened by considering its relevance in a range of policy wider than that of armaments alone. The great constructive steps of American policy in recent years, in the European Recovery Program, in NATO, and in the reconstruction of Japan, have aimed to restore the freedom of action of the free nations, to regain the initiative, and to create a situation in which the non-communist world is sufficiently strong and united to be able to go about the works of freedom in peace.
This attempt to regain the initiative through a policy of collective action and effort seems highly relevant to the problems and dangers of the arms race itself. One of the great hopeful possibilities of the present lies in the development by every available means of the social and political coherence of all the non-Communist nations. More specifically, the strengthening of the ties that connect the non-Soviet world is one of the great lines of policy which may be helpful in reducing the dangers of a world full of atomic weapons. Decisions about armaments should be closely related [Page 1077] to this objective, which often has requirements more subtle than those of a purely military estimate.¶
In the field of armaments, quite obviously, there can be no complete freedom of action. It is always within the power of the enemy to impose upon us a heavy level of effort and a sustained emphasis upon armed strength. What is not inevitable is a rigid commitment to a specific form of military action. It is important to understand that an arms race is not something either black or white—either totally unlimited or firmly regulated by international treaties. The problem of arms policy is to develop the kind of strength which may be needed to reduce the Soviet danger while at the same time keeping to a minimum the danger of a catastrophic resort to atomic weapons on both sides. In such an effort there are useful steps which fall far short of a treaty of arms regulation. Any development which gives us freedom to reduce our own commitment to the use of atomic weapons will tend to decrease the possibility of an atomic war. So too will measures which combine a defensive character with a deterrent effect upon the Soviet Union. For it is always possible that a real decrease in the sharpness of the arms race itself might be achieved by acts and not by treaties.
Even negotiation, which seems so remote, so unmanageable at present and unlikely in the immediate future, is not to be wholly dismissed. The dangers of the arms race are at least as great for the Soviet Union as they are for the United States, and the passage of time may well increase the pressure on the Kremlin for serious consideration of alternatives to its present policy. It would be unwise to neglect the possibility that negotiation may become feasible in the reasonably near future. It seems important that American policy should not permit the continuance of a situation in which our own rigidities would inhibit us from creating an opportunity to negotiate.
The problem of policy toward armaments, in short, is at present centrally a problem of increasing the freedom of action of the American Government. The recommendations which follow suggest certain changes in policy and posture which would in our view begin to increase the flexibility of our policy toward armaments. They offer ways in which we can make it less likely that the result of the present crisis will be an all-out atomic war. Taken together they will sensibly increase the chance of finding a way toward a real moderation of the present contest, and they may somewhat increase [Page 1078] the currently slender chance of a genuine settlement and a comprehensive regulation of armaments.
Important as these objectives are, however, we would not present these recommendations if we were not persuaded that they serve a broader purpose as well. The whole of our analysis has made it clear to us that the dangers of the arms race cannot be separated from the reality of the Soviet threat and the need for collective strength in the free world. What persuades us of the soundness of our recommendations is that they seem serviceable and indeed highly desirable when considered in this broader framework of our principal national purposes, and when measured against the deepest traits of our national tradition.
The five recommendations which follow are not intended to be exhaustive or even very systematic. Yet in various ways they relate to those aspects of the problem which seem to us most important. The first is concerned with the way in which our government and our people are able to think about these matters. The next two indicate two specific ways in which we think a balanced judgment should lead to changes in our approach to problems of the defense of the free world. One of these ways relates to our allies and is in a sense a statement that the kind of adjustment in thinking about the problem which we urge here at home is needed also with our allies. The other has to do with the direct defense of the United States. Our last two recommendations deal with the ways in which it seems wise to talk about the problem of armaments in diplomatic discussion; we urge a decrease in the level of American activity in the United Nations and an increased attention to problems of direct communication with the Soviet Union.
1. Candor to the American Government and People.
We think it of critical importance in the development of a national policy which takes full account of the realities of the arms race, that the United States Government should adopt a policy of candor toward the American people—and at least equally toward its own elected representatives and responsible officials—in presenting the meaning of the arms race. The best and wisest government, in this country, is always dependent in large measure upon the support of the American people, and this support, if it is to have the strength and solidity which are necessary in great affairs, must rest upon an adequate basic understanding of the realities of the situation. What is true of the people as a whole is true also of large numbers of officials who staff the government at levels below the highest and whose activities have much to do with the execution of policies determined at the top.[Page 1079]
The central fact on which this Report is based is one of which the American people and most of their government are not responsibly aware. It is that the American stockpile of atomic weapons has been increasing rapidly for the past seven years and is likely to multiply at least as rapidly in the immediate future. The pattern of atomic development is such that what is true for the United States can well be true, in essence, for the Soviet Union. Within the time span of current planning the Soviet Union may have many hundred atomic bombs; within ten or fifteen years she could have several thousand.** This prospect is necessarily one of very great danger.
We believe that the American government and people are at present very far from showing a responsible awareness of this danger, and accordingly we believe that it is a matter of urgency that such awareness should become much more widespread. The only way we know of to accomplish this task is for those who are fully informed on the subject of atomic energy to take the rest of the government and the people into their confidence by a straightforward statement of the size and shape of the growing destructive power of atomic weapons. Such a statement should include an effectively informative account of the quantities and rates of increase which are involved. We believe, in short, that it is essential for the American Government and people to know the basic meaning of the atomic arms race.
We think it difficult to overestimate the importance of such an act of candor. It has been our experience that without a direct and informed understanding of the rates of atomic development, most men are reluctant to give full value to warnings which they hear from others. The more responsible the citizen, indeed, the more he is likely not to pay full attention to the problem of atomic weapons as long as present security restrictions are enforced. A man who is in the habit of trying to think in rational terms will naturally hesitate to attempt a judgment on any matter on which he knows himself to lack important information; he will tend to leave the problem to those who know the facts.
In addition to providing the facts and figures, the United States Government should direct public attention specifically and repeatedly to the fact that the atomic bomb works both ways. The official position of the United States toward the Russian atomic bomb has been that this development is simply something we expected and planned for. This position may well have been desirable at the time [Page 1080] of the first Soviet explosion, in order to prevent a possible reaction of hysteria. But three years have passed; the present danger is not of hysteria but of complacency. Official comment on atomic energy has tended to emphasize the importance of the atomic bomb as part of the American arsenal. There is an altogether insufficient emphasis upon its importance as a Soviet weapon, and upon the fact that no matter how many bombs we may be making, the Soviet Union may fairly soon have enough to threaten the destruction of our whole society. In these matters, there is no substitute for authoritative official warnings. It is well known that this is a topic surrounded by secrecy, and the only voice which has full authority is that which comes from high in the government.
We believe, then, that the United States government should tell the story of the atomic danger, and in particular we believe that it should explain the rate and impact of atomic production, that it should emphasize the growing capability of the Soviet Union, and that it should direct attention to the fact that beyond a certain point we cannot ward off the Soviet threat merely by “keeping ahead of the Russians.” We believe that official disclosure and recognition of these realities is the basic condition for a sound national attitude toward the problems of the atomic arms race.
Objections to this course usually rest on two basic arguments. The first is that if American people learn of their peril, they may either lose heart in the struggle to stand firm against Soviet expansionism or perhaps go overboard in favor of a preventive war. The second is that it would be folly to let the Soviet Union know either our level of atomic armament or the character of our fear of atomic attack. We are not persuaded by either of these contentions. We are wholly persuaded that this country does better when it knows the truth, and we would not want to be in the shoes of a government which had to deal with a nation which awoke to reality after a long period of concealment and deception. And while we are not sure it would be good to keep our proper fears a secret from the Soviet Union, we are sure that it cannot be done. This is the sort of country which has no way of concealing its basic concerns from foreigners except by concealing them from its own people, and in matters of this kind that price is much too high. As for our supply of atomic weapons, we think it is now fully large enough to make it highly desirable that Soviet leaders should be left in no doubt about it. The extreme secrecy which now shrouds this matter seems to us a plainly obsolete remainder from the days when there were very few bombs indeed and it was important not to have our weakness known. There are many things about atomic energy which it is highly important to keep secret as long as we [Page 1081] can, but the general size of our supply of atomic weapons is no longer one of them.
Just as our own inquiry has been based throughout on a sense of the central importance of the realities of the atomic contest, so we think that there can be no appropriate adjustment of American policy until these realities are brought home to the American government and people. As long as the truth of the atomic arms race is buried in a very few informed minds (and often pushed back out of daily consideration even by those who know the truth), there is no possibility of framing policy in such a fashion as to take due account of the national danger. American foreign policy rests upon two great internal forces; one is the power of public opinion, and the other is the interplay of energies in a large and sprawling government of checks, balances, offices, and men. At present both of these great forces, in very large measure, are governed by a basically insufficient assessment of the realities of the world in which we live. It is bad enough to be in a very dangerous world; it is still worse to be unaware of the danger.
We believe that nothing else is possible, in all that bears upon decreasing the national peril, until the government and the people are accurately informed. In the end, it is the province of the nation to make its own foreign policy, and we are not among those who believe that we are necessarily wiser than the people and government of the United States, when they are truly informed. The analysis which we have attempted rests on our own conviction that the danger of the atomic arms race is great and growing. Other and better conclusions may be reached by others, starting from a similar awareness of danger; we hope that this may be the case. It is precisely because we respect the power and judgment of our government and people that we so strenuously object to a situation in which all Americans except a handful of overworked and harried officials are deprived of basic information which is not worth keeping secret.
2. Atomic Armaments and the Unity of the Free World.
We think it is urgently important that the American Government should undertake to bring its policy toward atomic weapons into harmony with its policies for the development of a lasting community of free nations.
We have already stated our conviction that it must be a major objective of American policy to increase by all available means the sense of community of the non-Soviet world. Undertakings and institutional developments which serve this end are among the indispensable safeguards against the outbreak of war; if the free world weakens, the danger of atomic weapons must increase, and the reverse [Page 1082] is also true. In a general sense, therefore, any contribution to the strength and unity of the free world is likely to be helpful in reducing the danger of atomic armaments.
But just as the successful pursuit of national policies in the United States demands a relationship of trust and candor between the government and the people, so in the affairs of the non-Soviet world there can be no real mutual security without mutual confidence. At present there is danger that a failure to reach some common understanding on matters of atomic policy will gravely weaken the mutual confidence of the major free nations.
We think it is time for the whole problem of the use of atomic weapons to be shared in considerable measure with the major nations with which we are allied.‡‡ The military importance of such trust is almost self-evident and has recently been emphasized by General Bradley, but we think there is also great political value to be gained from spreading the responsibility for judgment on these matters.
No small part of the uncertainty which surrounds the field of atomic weapons derives from a widespread feeling that the United States is clutching the atom to its bosom and may at any moment get angry and hurl it in the general direction of the Kremlin. This feeling, in our view, is quite unjustified, and in fact the United States government has constantly given important weight to the fears and feelings of its allies. But the appearance of aloofness has been maintained, and this appearance does no good and much harm. The balance of feeling of the free world would be improved if it were generally understood that the United States considers the use of atomic bombs to be a legitimate area of allied discussion.
We also think that if the major allies of the United States can be given a sense of shared responsibility, their understanding of the weapon and its political meaning may be improved. The course of the atomic arms race has much meaning for Europe—there is high significance both in the increasing role of atomic weapons in the defense of Western Europe and in the increasing danger which arises from European vulnerability to Soviet atomic bombs. If the major countries of the Atlantic community approach these dangerous questions separately, it is hard to see how they can avoid serious misunderstandings which can only increase their difficulties. A somewhat different but important difficulty could also arise with some urgency in connection with the Far East. It may be hard to get general agreement on these matters, but clearly some candor in [Page 1083] discussion and some common responsibility in planning are essential first steps.
In urging a higher level of inter-allied communication on the problems of the atomic arms race, we are certainly not suggesting that the United States Government should tie its own hands and surrender the right to decide for itself, in an emergency, whether and how it will use its atomic weapons. No allied connection need have this effect. What we are urging is rather that all the allied states stand to gain if they can reach a common appreciation of the character of the problem. If this is to be done, the first condition is that they be reasonably frank with each other.
3. American Continental Defense.
No problem has forced itself upon us more insistently and regularly, in the course of our work, than that of the defense of the continental United States. Nominally this question would seem to fall outside the range of our assignment, but in fact it is impossible to consider the problem of armaments and policy without giving careful attention to the whole subject of defense against weapons of mass destruction. Arms regulation and continental defense are complementary methods of achieving the goal of safety against the danger of a surprise knockout blow. They are thus interlocked in a variety of ways, and no policy can be consistent and effective unless it applies to both subjects the same fundamental attitude. It is not too much to say, in our view, that unless continental defense is taken seriously, arms regulation must seem a foolish goal, while if real attention is given to defensive measures, the whole approach to moderating the dangers of the arms race may become more manageable. Let us try to explain these conclusions.
In at least five ways, an intensified effort of continental defense can serve to improve the position of the United States Government with respect to the threat of atomic destruction. First and most obviously, every improvement in our defenses delays the time at which the Soviet Union will be able to strike a knockout blow—or to put the matter another way, it reduces the amount of damage which the Russians can do at any one time. Any such improvement also makes it more difficult and expensive to achieve any given result, for while bombs are relatively cheap, bombers are not.
Second, the very act of increasing our attention to continental defense is bound to help in developing a healthy sense of the dangers of the atom. Evidently the sense of danger and the level of effort on continental defense are interlocking; each increase in one will help to increase the other. Equally clearly there is a point at which both could become excessive—but we think it plain beyond argument that this point is not yet in sight.[Page 1084]
Third, both as it improves our defensive capacity and as it sharpens our awareness of danger, a continental defense effort will help the United States Government take a posture in which it can face the possibility of serious negotiations on the regulation of atomic weapons. In thinking about such negotiations it is important to raise the ceiling of our danger and to be clearly aware that the ceiling is there; both these purposes are served by an intensified effort to protect ourselves.
Fourth, an improved continental defense is highly desirable from the point of view of its effect on the Soviet mind. It cannot be read as an aggressive move, and it should constitute real evidence of the fact that we believe atomic weapons to be dangerous for all concerned. It will also serve, in the measure of its apparent effectiveness, to dissuade Soviet leaders from attempting any catastrophic attack.
Finally, we should note that geography makes the Soviet atomic bomb such a grave threat to Europe that it seems improbable than any real safety can be achieved by any practicable effort. But if the United States can maintain some immunity to a knockout, the American connection may yet serve to protect the Western Europeans and so to quiet their fears. In this sense an improved continental defense is important to the whole free world; it may be at least in part a substitute for the very difficult and perhaps impossible task of defending Western Europe against the Soviet atomic threat.
In summary, then, we think it plain that there is every reason to proceed with greatly intensified efforts of continental defense. The only conceivable objection to such efforts would be a demonstration that they cannot have any significant success, and those of us who have looked at the problem believe that the balance of the evidence runs the other way. It is true, of course, that it will hardly be possible to achieve 100 per cent safety, and it is unlikely that the best efforts can bring us very close to that figure. But it is important always to remember that what we are trying to defend ourselves against is a knockout blow; in such a defense every little bit helps, and a relatively modest improvement may at any one time be decisive. We have tried to inform ourselves of the balance of scientific and technical opinion in the field of continental defense, and we are persuaded that at costs which are moderate in comparison with the total defense budget highly important progress can be made in providing an early warning system, in improving our set of weapons for knocking down bomb-carriers, in our anti-submarine defense, and in our planning for rapid recuperation after attack.
Moreover if research and development in this whole area are given a proper priority, still more impressive gains will become likely; the pattern of scientific research on military problems has [Page 1085] regularly indicated that we tend to make most progress in those areas where we care most and try hardest. Such progress might even give increased hope for the air defense of Europe.
In closing this section we should perhaps note one set of objections to an intensified continental defense effort which seems to us to fall wide of the mark. It is sometimes argued that there is grave danger in giving greater attention to this area, since such a change would require a lessening of our attention to the development of our strategic air capability. This argument seems to us to be based on the mistaken notion that we must have one or the other and cannot have both.
4. Disengagement from Disarmament Discussions in the United Nations.
We think it is time for the United States to minimize its participation in the discussion of problems of disarmament in the United Nations. These discussions have no real connection with the problems around which they seem to turn, and this disconnection can be misleading. Men tend to suppose either that there is a real connection, which would lead them to think of arms limitation in a most inaccurate way, or else—and this is still worse—they reach the conclusion that the United States is cynical about disarmament and is trying merely to press for some propaganda advantage. The subject of armaments is too important, and the real interest of the United States in limiting the arms race is too great for these disadvantages to be outweighed by considerations of psychological warfare.
In making this recommendation we do not wish to be understood as asserting that it was a mistake to do what was done. That is emphatically not our view. From the initial proposals of the United States Government in 1946 right through to the present day, there has been a constant and genuine effort to show the good will of the American position. But each major effort has come sharply to a halt against the wall of Soviet intransigence. And just as it seemed wise by 1948 to stop the detailed discussion of the problem of atomic energy because it had become an empty routine, so we think it is now time to recognize that the whole approach to arms regulation through commissions of the United Nations is unproductive and even misleading.
Naturally it is not desirable that the United States should announce its new view all of a sudden and without preparation. A shift of this sort should be foreshadowed by a period in which attention is directed to the fact that there has so far been no helpful response from the Soviet Union on any point. Depending on the readiness of the United States to proceed toward some sort of serious [Page 1086] negotiations, it might also be well to indicate the view that one reason for minimizing discussions in the United Nations is that it may be possible to make better progress elsewhere. In any case, we are not suggesting anything abrupt or unprepared.
Our general belief that discussion in the United Nations should be minimized is matched by our feeling that there is nothing to be gained by a public revision of any of the proposals which the United States has supported during the last six years. In particular, we think it would not be useful to attempt a new and modernized version of the United Nations Plan for the control of atomic energy. Our feeling is that this plan bears the marks of its year of birth, and we are persuaded that what seemed right in 1946 is no longer wholly relevant in 1953; the world we now have is in many respects different from that of 1946, and these differences are important. But the fundamental difficulty here is not in the fact that the plan is six years old; it is rather in the fact that full-fledged plans presented publicly by one side are no longer the best method of seeking a workable arrangement. A modified version of the United Nations Plan might be relatively easy to prepare, but it would not have any real meaning, and as it aged, it would raise more doubts than it resolved. The United Nations Plan has the great merit that it is a monument to real hopes and good intentions; we do not see that it is a good idea to peck at it.
5. Communication with the USSR.
We believe that a real effort should be made to find ways of communicating with the rulers of the Soviet Union on the range of questions posed by the arms race. Even though serious negotiation hardly seems possible at present, we think that the lesser act of genuine communication could do no harm and might have real value.
An obvious reason for a constant effort to keep open the channels of communication is that it may permit us to detect any changes in the attitude of the Soviet Union toward the conflict with the West. It is possible, for example, that in the period of the succession to Stalin there may be such a change. It is also possible that the arms race itself may tend to modify Soviet thinking; anew attitude may develop as growing armaments on both sides bring us to a time when the two Powers have “enough” power to strike each other truly staggering blows.
But beyond these specific and speculative possibilities there are more general grounds for continuing communication. Two disquieting elements in the present arms race are the possibility that Soviet rulers may seriously underestimate the importance of atomic weapons and the certainty that the American government [Page 1087] is forced to work on the basis of an extremely limited and speculative understanding of Soviet capabilities and intentions. There is a chance that serious communication might be of some use in both of these matters. The danger of the arms race must be much increased if Soviet leaders fail to understand its real character; we believe that careful communication may materially reduce the chance of a disastrous Soviet miscalculation. And although we fully understand that it is not easy to decipher the true meaning of Soviet acts of communication, we think that even the most practiced deceiver tells more than he intends, and we are persuaded that it would be good to have a continuous record of the way the Kremlin sounds in communication on this subject.
We are inclined to emphasize the value of listening for sounds from Soviet representatives rather above that of any communication that the United States might be able to make, at least at the beginning. It is far from certain that we have it in our power at present to make ourselves heard and understood in the Kremlin; this is no argument for not trying, but it does suggest that it may be wise to think first of the values that may be derived from listening.
It takes two to communicate, and it is always possible that our best efforts to open conversation might be rebuffed. Of the five recommendations in this report, this is the one which depends on some response from the Soviet Union, and it is important to recognize this dependence. But we are persuaded that the United States has the diplomatic skills which would permit it to test the possibilities of communication without running any important risks, and we think it well worth it to try. If communication should prove possible, it would have just that real relationship to the dangers of our present situation which the present discussions in the United Nations lack, and in this sense it would be a fitting demonstration of the real American policy toward armaments.
The five recommendations with which we have concluded our work are none of them easy to carry out. In one form or another proposals like these have been made before and have met different kinds of opposition which prevented their acceptance. All of them will meet opposition of some sort now. It is not the province of a Panel of Consultants to decide whether it is practical now to try to overcome this opposition; that is a tactical decision and it is not our business. What we can say is that these are proposals of such a character that if they are to be carried out, they should be carried out thoroughly and well; none of these things is worth doing badly, and if they can be done only halfheartedly and against crippling resistance, they should not be done at all.[Page 1088]
One general requirement is however suggested by all five of our recommendations: it is that there is no escape from the fact that the problem of modern armaments is intimately connected with the largest and most critical problems of national policy. The importance of the arms race is such that it is closely related to our policy toward ourselves, toward our major allies, toward the national defense, and toward the Soviet Union. This sharp relevance, in our view, argues strongly for a close coordination of the basic authority and responsibility for all major problems of atomic armament. We believe that these matters deserve the constant and serious attention of the highest officers of the government.
In the end a Panel of Consultants cannot chart a course for those who hold responsibility. Our effort of description, analysis, and recommendation cannot be more than a piece of evidence to be judged by men who must chart their own course. We would not have it otherwise. The essential component in any resolution of our difficulties must be creative leadership.
This report includes an explanatory note drafted by Chase of S/AE and Bloom-field of UNA/P, dated Feb. 17. It states that certain passages of the report had been rewritten by the Department of State and the AEC so as not to reveal technical information determined to be restricted data under provisions of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, but that the burden of the argument of the report had not been altered in any way. Copies of this report are also in file 330.13/1–1553 and S/S–NSC files, lot 66 D 95. A brief summary prepared for Walter Bedell Smith, the new Under Secretary of State, is in file 611.0012/2–953. No copy of the unexpurgated version of the report has been found in Department of State files.
By memorandum of Feb. 4, NSC Executive Secretary Lay transmitted a copy of the report to the Council’s Senior Staff. (S/P–NSC files, lot 62 D 1, NSC 112) On the same day, Arneson of S/AE transmitted a memorandum to AEC Commissioner Henry D. Smyth enclosing a copy. (Disarmament files, lot 58 D 133, “Panel of Consultants on Disarmament”) By letter of Feb. 5, Assistant Secretary Hickerson sent a copy to Frank C. Nash, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. (330.13/2–553)
On Feb. 6, Hickerson transmitted a copy of the report to Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the new U.S. Representative at the United Nations. Hickerson’s accompanying letter reads in part: “The consultants completed their report around the middle of January 1953 and handed it to Mr. Acheson, the outgoing Secretary of State. Mr. Acheson thanked the members of the panel for their work and said that he would lay their report before Mr. Dulles. … Secretary Dulles has not yet had a chance to read this report. It therefore has no status other than that of the views of the consultants themselves. … We will let you know as soon as we are in a position to do so any views which the Secretary may have on the report.” (330.13/2–653)
Regarding NSC action on the report, see the extract from the memorandum of discussion at the 134th meeting of the Council, Feb. 25, p. 1110.↩
- No record of the meeting under reference has been found.↩
- Though we were appointed as Consultants on Disarmament, we have found that this word is in many contexts too sweeping, and we have preferred to speak of the regulation or limitation of armaments. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- It is important to understand the limits of the meaning which should be attached to figures about atomic stockpiles as used in the Report. Since atomic weapons can be made in widely different sizes and since a given amount of fissionable material can be used to make a few big bombs or many smaller ones, no one precise figure for the number of bombs that can be put together at any time has much meaning. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- In this discussion of the future we have somewhat discounted the possibility that the Soviet Union might as a matter of policy desist from continuous development in the field of atomic weapons. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- Although the present contest, by the size and power of its weapons, is fundamentally unique, there are two highly pertinent parallels in the recent history of European armaments. Both the building of a German Navy in the decades before 1914 and the building of a German Air Force in the 1930’s tended to pull Great Britain into the front lines of strategy, and both of these developments had profound political effects. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- In Annex I we append a short discussion of some of the general considerations which lead us to believe that a rather different sort of scheme may now be appropriate. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- While it seems to us plain that the development of the Atlantic Community is of the highest importance, we think it equally clear that it is urgent—though no doubt difficult—to develop appropriate lines of connection and joint action in other parts of the world. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- We should repeat our warning that estimates of numbers of bombs can be no more than rough indicators of the level of atomic armament; but in any case the actual quantities are not nearly as important as the fact that they are bound to multiply in time. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- This recommendation does not relate to the special problem of technical collaboration on the making of atomic weapons. [Footnote in the source text.]↩