1. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 4, 19552


  • Review of United States Policy on Control of Armaments


  • State
    • Secretary Dulles
    • Under Secretary Hoover
    • Mr. Murphy, G
    • Mr. Key, IO
    • Mr. Wainhouse, IO
    • Mr. Bowie, S/P
    • Mr. Smith, S/AE
    • Howard Meyers, UNP
  • Defense
    • Secretary Wilson
    • Deputy Secretary Anderson
    • Major General Loper
  • AEC
    • Chairman Strauss

Mr. Dulles said the purpose of this meeting was to consider the reports on this subject prepared by the Department of Defense and by Mr. Bowie of the State Department,3 and to decide what recommendations should be made to the NSC.

Mr. Bowie noted that the basic issue posed by the Defense paper was that it was not in the security interests of the United States to have any disarmament for the foreseeable future. This proposition ought to be explored, as well as what headway might be made in this Special Committee4 on the disarmament problem, and finally whether decisions should be taken with regard to the meetings of the United Nations Disarmament Commission Subcommittee of Five which would soon commence in London.5

Mr. Anderson said that the Defense position could be summarized somewhat as follows. Everyone would like to believe they could achieve true disarmament, with substantial reduction of armed forces and armaments of such nature that no country would go to war to settle its international disputes. There are two kinds of weapons: conventional and atomic. So far as the U.S. is concerned, basically we could be hurt most effectively by nuclear attack on the continental United States but had to take into consideration the fact that conventional armaments as well as atomic armaments could be used effectively on our allies. Consequently, a realistic disarmament plan could not divorce conventional and nuclear armaments. When considering a realistic disarmament plan, the Defense Department was concerned that the U.S. would probably adhere more conscientiously to a disarmament agreement than the Soviet Union. The nub of the problem was that, if it is not possible to have an effective control system which would be proof against evasions or violations, then was it in the U.S. national interest to agree to a disarmament scheme of lesser safety? The Defense Department did not believe it was in the U.S. interest to do this. Fundamentally there must be an effective control which would insure that there was a balanced reduction of conventional and nuclear armaments. While it was difficult to achieve such an effective disarmament system, we must face up to this problem rather than taking a lesser system as our goal. The United States was now at a point where [Page 3] it could expand its armaments rapidly. If we now should disarm under a disarmament agreement to which the United States really adhered, this would cause us to lose the convertability factor now built up in our industrial system which enabled a rapid change over to manufacture of armaments. This situation did not hold true for a totalitarian state, which can make such changes more easily and more rapidly.

General Loper said that one of the major points which the Defense Department had tried to make was that any effective disarmament plan required the Soviets to accept a control system of such extensive nature that its acceptance involved a radical change in the attitude of the Soviet leaders toward the rest of the world. If the Soviets in fact were really to make such great changes in their political and strategic orientation, there were other areas than disarmament in which the Soviet intent could be more easily ascertained without raising the very great problems which disarmament posed because of its necessary infringements on national sovereignty. Among such other areas would be the renunciation of the Comintern, agreement on an Austrian State Treaty or on a unified Germany, and willingness really to support the concept of free trade. Soviet agreements in these other areas would make a disarmament agreement come almost as a matter of course.

General Loper believed that the purpose of the Special Committee of the National Security Council was not to develop a detailed disarmament plan but to review basic policy toward control of armaments set forth in NSC 112. This document stated the general principles upon which United States policy in this field was based. The Defense Department believed that NSC 112 should be revised in at least two respects:

it was not possible to establish a balance of military power by agreeing to numerical limits on armed forces. This would be only a temporary balance and could easily be upset to the advantage of the totalitarian nations, as Mr. Anderson had indicated.
the United Nations Atomic Energy Control Plan, or any other plan, could not actually guarantee that nuclear weapons would be eliminated because of the impossibility of accounting fully for past production of fissionable materials. If the United States continued to say it wished to eliminate nuclear weapons, this would actually endanger the free nations because of this fact. It had been suggested that perhaps we should support a plan to reduce the number of nuclear weapons instead of to eliminate them. For that purpose, an augmented United Nations Atomic Energy Control Plan would probably be appropriate. General Loper believed that a number of working papers which had already been prepared in implementation of NSC 112 would be appropriate as the basis for a new disarmament plan.

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Mr. Wilson remarked that history has demonstrated that armaments races have usually led to war, and there is also considerable evidence to support the argument that a disarmament agreement may create the same danger. He believed other issues must be settled before a disarmament plan could achieve its purpose. He did not see how there could be a partial disarmament plan which would be useful, because there was a great tendency to cheat in carrying out such an agreement. In this connection he referred to the Washington Naval Treaty and how the Germans developed pocket battle-ships as a means of getting around the limitations established in that treaty. If it were possible really to eliminate nuclear weapons, this might be all that would be needed in a disarmament agreement, but it must be recognized that if war should break out all nations which could do so would proceed to develop nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible despite any agreements previously reached to eliminate them. Thus, we were forced to consider the whole range of armaments and armed forces in developing a disarmament program. Mr. Wilson believed that we should not think that a disarmament agreement would be effective unless the causes of war themselves are eliminated. This conclusion led him to support the views previously expressed by Mr. Anderson and General Loper about the prior need for agreements in other fields before a disarmament agreement could be reached. He particularly wished to emphasize that the experience with the Communist countries after World War II and after the Korean armistice had made him most suspicious whether the Communists would keep any agreement which required such important restrictions on national sovereignty on their part.

Mr. Strauss said that the Atomic Energy Commission had examined this problem from the technical rather than from the philosophical point of view. He believed that complete technical disarmament was impossible because one could never assure that nuclear armaments had actually been eliminated. The AEC had developed a plan which was an attempt to find a middle ground between the positions taken by the Department of State and Defense. This had previously been circulated to the other departments (attached as Tab A).6 Mr. Strauss read the plan and then remarked that if a proposal by the United States of this general nature should be refused by the Soviet Union, it would place on the Soviets the onus for failing to make progress in the disarmament field. Moreover, he noted that this plan would not require the United States to make any reductions in the nuclear field until the completion of extensive disclosures of information [Page 5] in both the nuclear and conventional armaments fields and the verification of the accuracy and completeness of such disclosures. Thus, the most severe tests of Soviet intentions to honor a disarmament program would be provided before the U.S. began to limit its own nuclear capabilities.

General Loper remarked that the plan described by Admiral Strauss was acceptable, except for certain relatively minor matters, as a basis for the preparation of detailed working papers. For example, he did not agree with the position taken by this Atomic Energy Commission Plan that it was possible to determine a balance of armed forces on the basis of percentage reductions across-the-board.

Mr. Dulles said that he had two basic thoughts about this situation. First, he doubted that the U.S. could work out any disarmament plan with a powerful nation which we did not trust and which we believed had most ambitious goals. Second, he thought we had to keep trying to work out agreement on such a plan. He referred to past efforts in the disarmament field and how they had not really made progress because of the complexity of this problem. Moreover, if every last detail was not buttoned up, the Soviets would take advantage of any loopholes. Thus, between the complexity of the disarmament problem and the untrustworthiness of the Communists, he was not optimistic about any chances of success. On the other hand, this Special Committee could not decide that the problem was insoluble. The world would regard such a negative position as indication of U.S. desire to maintain its nuclear superiority or even as indication of U.S. intent to wage aggressive war. A decent respect for the opinions of mankind required us to try to solve the disarmament problem, as did our need to hold our allies with us. We could not in this group, however, pass on the details of such a disarmament plan but must probably be concerned with general principles and policies.

Mr. Wainhouse noted that we must try to solve this problem because, in addition to the points made by Secretary Dulles, the U.S. could not afford to hand the propaganda advantage to the Communists by not doing anything about the disarmament problem.

Mr. Dulles emphasized that, while what Mr. Wainhouse had said was true, we should not allow our propaganda desires to influence us to depart from a realistic and conservative attitude on this subject.

Mr. Bowie thought it was important, both from a public relations view and from the standpoint of our security, to explore all possibilities. Particularly, if we could find a way of removing the nuclear threat, we should explore that. The heart of the matter appeared to be whether it was possible to establish an effective inspection system and the feasibility of such an inspection system on the atomic side was made more difficult as time brought larger inventories of nuclear materials. He wondered whether it was possible to take the narrow end of [Page 6] the wedge and to test inspection in a smaller area than that of across the board disarmament? Perhaps a possibility would be offered by examining an inspection system to assure the cessation of nuclear fuel production.

Mr. Dulles said that he was inclined to agree with General Loper’s attitude with regard to Mr. Bowie’s suggestion. He thought it was much easier for the Soviets to reach agreement with us in other areas than the armaments field.

Mr. Strauss believed that, theoretically, it might be easier to reach agreements with the Soviets in other areas than disarmament, but that in practice the Soviets appeared psychologically committed to maintain the Comintern and to hold to their attitudes on other political issues such as the German question. This made it harder for the Soviets to make concessions in these areas, while there might be a new inducement in the armaments field, if we could put the right kind of psychological pressure on the Soviets to make such concessions.

Mr. Dulles recalled that the President had said that if we could get rid of nuclear weapons, he would not be disposed to insist on reductions in the conventional armaments field. The reason for this was the President’s belief that if we can insure that our industrial power could be kept intact, this would act both as a deterrent against a general war and as a major aid in winning a war.

Mr. Wilson said that he would like to hear the President bring this view up to date. He remembered that after the President realized the Soviets had a thermonuclear weapon, this had very much affected the President’s views on many matters. He wondered what was the President’s view on this subject now, particularly since it was clear that it was impossible to lose the secret of the atom and this meant that nuclear weapons would be developed and used eventually in another war.

Mr. Dulles asked what proposals should the Special Committee put up to the National Security Council at the January 20th meeting scheduled on the subject.7

Mr. Bowie suggested that it might be wise to bring in a qualified man of national prestige to take the lead in reviewing this problem and focus on a detailed plan, because of the variety of views now presented by the three concerned agencies.

Mr. Strauss noted that the Special Committee was supposed to review NSC 112 which was a matter of basic principles and not of a detailed plan. Could not this be done?

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Mr. Smith said that it would help the working level people, who would have to work out a detailed plan from such general principles, if it could be made clear whether or not the Special Committee supported the Defense concept put forth in General Loper’s paper that such a detailed plan should be so developed as to make it most unacceptable to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Wilson said he would not buy such an approach. He believed we should work out a fair plan which would be acceptable both to the US and to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Dulles assumed that all agreed that we should seek in all sincerity to find an effective disarmament plan. If this assumption was not correct, then this question would have to be taken to the President.

Mr. Strauss, Mr. Wilson and General Loper all agreed that this plan should be sought as an honest effort. General Loper explained that the point of view expressed in his paper sprang from the military services’ belief that any disarmament plan would not be in the U.S. interests without a basic change in Soviet intentions. However, this did not mean that we should proceed to develop a plan which was insincere and unfair.

Mr. Wilson suggested that the Special Committee should revise NSC 112 in broad terms, and then have working groups develop a detailed disarmament plan.

Mr. Dulles agreed and said that at this point, after the detailed plan had been developed, the Special Committee could examine the desirability of bringing in a new and top-level man to chair this review.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 600.0012/1–455. Top Secret. Drafted by Meyers on January 7. Another memorandum of the same meeting prepared for the file by Gerard C. Smith, January 5, is ibid., Disarmament Files: Lot 58 5 133, Chronological File—Disarmament—General.
  2. Regarding the Department of Defense report, December 11, 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 2, p. 1583. The report by Bowie, November 29, 1954, is not printed. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 66 D 95, NSC 1 12)
  3. Regarding the Special Committee, created by NSC Action No. 899, September 3, 1953, to review NSC 112, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 2, p. 1210. For text of NSC 112, “Formulation of a United States Position with Respect to the Regulation, Limitation and Balanced Reduction of Armed Forces and Armaments,” July 6, 1951, see ibid., 1951, vol. I, p. 477.
  4. Regarding this subcommittee, see Document 10.
  5. Tab A, AEC Draft Paper on International Control of Armed Forces and Armaments, December 15, 1954, not attached to the source text, is attached to another copy of this memorandum in Department of State, Disarmament Files: Lot 58 D 133, Chronological File—Disarmament—General.
  6. A memorandum of discussion at the 233d meeting of the National Security Council, January 20, by Gleason, indicates that regulation of armaments was not discussed at this meeting. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records)