53. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization (Flemming) to the Under Secretary of State (Hoover)1

I am concerned over the current copper situation. Some of the disturbing elements in the situation are: the existing shortage in U.S. supply; the continuing unsatisfactory status of the national stockpile; the present strike at the Northern Rhodesian mines; and the increasing shipments to the Soviet Bloc. It is the last element that prompts this memorandum.

Copper, in appreciable quantities, is reaching Soviet destinations in both an illegal and a legal manner.

In regard to the illegal traffic, it is my understanding that we, in concert with the other governments of the COCOM countries, are taking all measures to minimize such shipments, and with some success. I trust that continued pressure will lead to further curtailment.

In regard to the legal traffic, the volume exceeds by far the quantities anticipated when certain categories of copper were removed from quantitative control during the revision of the COCOM control lists last August. In copper wire alone, 35,000 tons have moved behind the Iron Curtain since August and an additional 24,000 tons are being prepared by the British for shipment during the balance of the calendar year. It is clear that the relaxation of controls in this instance has resulted in a frustration of the agreed COCOM policy for effective control of strategic materials to the Bloc. While copper in refined form remains an embargo item, copper in form of wire is reaching the Soviets in sufficient tonnage to largely offset the benefits to be expected from an embargo undertaking. [Page 227] Thus, on the broad concept of the COCOM arrangement, it is manifest that copper wire should be restored to the embargo list.

On other grounds there is a U.S. urgency for action to secure a general embargo on copper wire and related copper products. First, there is the action of last Friday by the Department of Commerce to further curtail U.S. exports of copper to friendly nations. Second, also on Friday last, I authorized the sale to industry of copper in the Defense Production Act inventory and material in transit thereto, and I further authorized diversion from DPA contracts through March 31, 1955.2

From a public relations point of view and otherwise, the position of the Executive Branch of Government would be untenable in view of these recent actions unless positive and prompt action were taken by the Government to attempt in every way possible to stop the flow of copper to the Soviet Bloc. In meetings on this subject in the Economic Defense Advisory Committee and its subcommittees, the ODM has constantly advocated an absolutely firm U.S. position in negotiating for a return to the earlier embargo status for copper wire and related copper products.

For the reasons enumerated above and particularly because of the recent release of DPA copper, I urge you to exercise a maximum negotiating effort to restore the earlier international embargo on copper, whether in negotiations at the COCOM conference table or in discussions with the British.

I enclose a copy of a memorandum for you as Chairman, Operations Coordinating Board, which explains our interest in developing immediate further information on this area of economic warfare which is being practiced on us by the Soviet Bloc.3

Arthur S. Flemming
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 460.509/3–855. Secret.
  2. For text of the Defense Production Act of 1950, see 64 Stat. 798.
  3. Not attached to the source text. The memorandum was, however, attached to Hoover’s reply of March 22 to Flemming’s memorandum. In his letter, Hoover notes the following: “We are at the moment exploring with the British available information on the illegal movement of copper metal to the Soviet Bloc and hope that as a result of this exchange and current negotiations in the Coordinating Committee the controls over copper wire will be substantially tightened in the near future.” (Department of State, Central Files, 460.509/3–855)

    Polto 1833 from Paris, March 19, reported that a U.S. Delegation held bilateral talks with all COCOM delegations principally concerned with the copper problem “in order make clear total U.S. concern copper and intentions U.S. actively press for embargo copper wire and cable.” (Ibid., 460.509/3–1955).