65. Letter From Secretary of State Dulles to Chancellor Adenauer 1

Dear Mr. Chancellor: I have received and pondered your letter of July 22.2 President Eisenhower has also read it. We wholly agree with you that the prospect of nuclear war is so terrible that all means should be taken to seek to avert it. Even to contemplate it seems un-Christian. You can be confident that that attitude pervades our Government.

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None of us enjoys seeing our nation in the business of making weapons which can so disastrously affect all humanity.

The question is what to do? We have done all that we can think of to bring about some agreed and dependable elimination of this threat. This letter is to describe for you something of the dilemma in which the Free World is placed by Soviet intransigence and arrogance.

You will recall that immediately after the end of the Second World War when the United States had a monopoly of atomic weapons we offered to give up that monopoly and to turn over to an international agency of the United Nations the entire control of the production and use of atomic energy so as to assure that it could not be used for destructive purposes. This proposal the Soviet Union rejected, being determined itself to develop this field of atomic missiles.

The attitude thus expressed in 1946 has continuously been evident in our policies. You will recall that in December 1953, President Eisenhower made his “Atoms for Peace” proposal where he asked the Soviets to agree with us to put fissionable material in a world bank for peaceful purposes.3 So far this proposition, now nearly three years old, is still in the debating stage, primarily because of Soviet refusals and equivocations.

Last March President Eisenhower proposed that after a date to be agreed upon, production of fissionable materials anywhere in the world would no longer be used to increase the stockpiles of explosive weapons.4 The Soviets have never even taken note of this proposal which was personally made by President Eisenhower to Chairman Bulganin.

We are earnestly studying further proposals that can be made, as pointed out by President Eisenhower in his letter of August 4 to Chairman Bulganin.5 We have not ceased, and never shall cease, to seek ways to meet the peril you refer to.

If only the Soviets would accept the type of strict and thorough international control which we have repeatedly proposed, then many other things would readily follow. Here again the Soviet Union has been obdurate.

For us to desist from making these new weapons on a one-sided basis would not contribute to the security of the Free World or to peace.

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Surely we would not wish a situation to exist where the Soviet Union had preeminence in this field and could use that preeminence to dominate the world and impose its will. I cannot think of any worse fate than for the world to acquiesce in a situation where this vast power was in the hands of men who profess to be atheists and materialists, who accept no moral inhibitions of action which might seem to promote their power.

Therefore, the United States is determined, unless and until there can be a dependable system of control, to maintain military power in these new weapons sufficient, we believe, to deter their use by the Soviet Union. In view of the rejection by Soviet leaders of moral restraints, these other deterrents must be provided.

We recognize, as you say, that the mentality of the Soviet rulers is such that they would risk a war when the United States would never do so. But we are taking constant steps to assure that if they should do so, the first hour would not be decisive in their favor. The situation is such, and we are confident and determined that we can keep it such, that no initial strike could destroy our retaliatory power. And so long as that is the case, we believe that the Soviets will not strike.

You say that the German Federal Republic will work with all its strength for a controlled disarmament in the field of nuclear weapons. I can assure you that we welcome this approach and we can in this matter stand side by side. I beg you, however, not to assume that this is an easy task. We have been through ten years of frustration. But we are still determined, and welcome your country as a comrade in this struggle.

You suggest that the development of new weapons, and United States concentration upon maintaining a position of deterrence in this respect, is leading us too much to neglect conventional forces.

It is, of course, true that our military establishment and disposition have constantly been adjusted and adapted over the last decade to take account of changing factors, including the changes in weapons and technology. President Eisenhower, in his press conference of August 8, had this to say:6

“There is a streamlining coming about. I don’t believe in talking of reduction because when you are talking about defense forces you are talking about their power, their effectiveness, their capability.

“And the mere fact that now one man can shoot a machine gun at the rate of 700 rounds a minute, and it used to take in the flintlock days about 1400 men to get off that many shots, it doesn’t mean you have had any reduction of power because you have one man shooting them instead of 1400, does it?

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“Well, now, that is the kind of thing that we ought to apply intelligently as we go along. Otherwise, we are being stupid, as I see it.”

At the same time we have been constantly aware of the importance of maintaining flexible capability in responding to any aggression. We have maintained and will continue to maintain such capability.

Accordingly, I cannot see in our program any basis for Europe losing confidence in the reliability of the United States.

Never has any nation in history pursued so unswerving a course of enlightened unselfishness as has the United States during recent years. We have, contrary to our traditions and our instinctive desires, maintained a powerful military establishment, particularly since the Korean War showed that need. We have, through grants or loans, in the past decade given “foreign aid” in amounts which aggregate $50 or $60 billion. This year the Congress appropriated approximately $1 billion more for “foreign aid” than last year, and this was during an election year when such appropriations are intensely unpopular. We are at the present time dedicating more than 10 percent of our gross national production to our security arrangements, and this figure is more apt to increase than to decrease. We are now maintaining about 3 million people under arms under a two-year conscription law. We are committed by treaty to common defense with 42 other nations of the world and there is no slightest evidence that we are not prepared to live up to our commitments.

If all this adds up to “undependability”, I wonder how “dependability” should be measured; and also where it is to be found? Of course, we do not attempt to maintain in Europe, and in Asia, and in the Middle East, United States ground forces equal to any that could be thrown against these areas from the Soviet-Chinese land mass. For us to attempt that would be folly, and would add up not to strength but to weakness. We consider that our role is to maintain the strength which will deter open Soviet aggression in these areas. But such a deterrent would never be created if we scattered our strength all around the world, since we could not conceivably be strong enough at every point around the 25,000-mile orbit of the Soviet-Chinese Communist world to match its striking power. To attempt that would be folly.

I do not believe for a moment that the need for ground forces has passed away. Recent developments in relation to the Suez reemphasize that point. What we face is a problem of sharing responsibilities. The United States can take, and is taking, the main burden of keeping ahead of the Soviet Union with respect to nonconventional weapons. This is a very heavy and expensive task indeed. We are [Page 143] also maintaining, and will maintain, a substantial ground force, But as we tarry the part of the task which seems most appropriate for us, should not the free countries of Europe and Asia, with their large reserves of manpower, carry the part of the task most appropriate for them? A particular responsibility, I feel, devolves upon the “divided” countries, because they can be subjected to so-called “civil war”, as was attempted in Korea. Both the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Vietnam are responding to this responsibility and I believe that you are eternally right in urging upon your country that it also should respond. If it should fail to do so, then your great nation would, I feel, be lacking in its indispensable contribution to the common cause.

This letter is written in a very personal and spontaneous way. It is not an official pronouncement of my Government, but it reflects my deep personal convictions and is written as a friend to a friend whom I deeply respect and admire. You may be sure that both the President and I constantly pray for the strength and wisdom to deal with the truly awful problem which confronts humanity.

Faithfully yours,

John Foster Dulles
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Strictly Confidential File. Secret; Personal and Private. According to notations on the source text, the letter was sent to O’Shaughnessy in a sealed envelope for delivery, and had been seen by Hoover, Radford, MacArthur, Eleanor Dulles, and Murphy. On August 10, Dulles wrote a note to Eisenhower recommending that the President see Adenauer’s July 22 letter to Dulles. The letter [3 pages of source text] was not declassified. (Ibid.) The note concludes:

    “I think the Chancellor has been already somewhat ‘straightened out’, but he is particularly sensitive because he feels that he is risking his political life on a program for German and conventional rearmaments, while many of his political opponents, and indeed many within his own party, seem to feel that this is outmoded and that this is shown by United States policy.” (Department of State, Central Files, 762A.00/8–1056)

    A notation on the August 10 note indicates that the text of Dulles’ letter to Adenauer was handcarried to the White House by Dulles for his meeting with the President at 8:30 a.m., August 11. In his memorandum of the conversation, Dulles noted, among other things:

    “I then showed President Eisenhower Chancellor Adenauer’s letter to me of July 22 and a draft of reply. President Eisenhower said that Chancellor Adenauer’s feelings were not very different from his own. He recalled that from the beginning he had taken the position that even though we had superiority in atomic weapons, we should, if it were practicable, bring about their elimination. He read the draft reply. He pencilled a few suggested additions and suggested orally one further addition at the end and said that he heartily concurred in the draft.” (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President)

  2. See footnote 1 above.
  3. For text of President Eisenhower’s speech before the U.N. General Assembly, December 8, 1953, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953, pp. 813–822.
  4. President Eisenhower’s proposals were made in a letter to Bulganin, dated March 1, printed in Department of State Bulletin, March 26, 1956, pp. 514–515.
  5. For text, see ibid., August 20, 1956, pp. 299–300.
  6. For the transcript of Eisenhower’s press conference, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956, pp. 660–671.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.