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Case 342, Part A

THE END OF THE U.S. ATOMIC MONOPOLY


William Taylor Fain & David S. Painter
Georgetown University

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL
Do Not Duplicate This is Copyrighted Material for Classroom Use. It is available only through the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. 202-965-5735 (tel) 202-965-5811 (fax)

THE SOVIET ATOMIC BLAST


On September 3, 1949, a United States Air Force WB-29 weather reconnaissance aircraft on a routine mission from Japan to Alaska landed with its sensors clouded by traces of radioactivity. Hours later, the same aircraft recorded significantly higher levels of radiation in the same area, prompting the Air Force Long Range Detection Center to declare an official alert. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Washington was notified immediately. Within four days laboratory analysis in the United States determined that the radioactive samples collected by the Air Force were the product of nuclear fission probably conducted somewhere in the Soviet Union, possibly the result of an accident at some previously unknown Soviet nuclear reactor, or, equally possible, the by-product of an atomic explosion. On September 14, the AEC appointed a panel of prominent scientists under the direction of Dr. Vannevar Bush, former chief of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, to determine the source of the radiation. Five days later, on September 19, the Bush Panel concluded that the collected data were [c]onsistent with the view that the origin

of the fission products was the explosion of an atomic bomb.1 Later on September 14, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff informed President Truman of the Bush Panels findings and urged him to make an immediate public announcement of the panels conclusions. The AEC urged the same course of action the following day. Truman initially demurred, saying he wished to avoid creating an atmosphere of panic at a time when crises all over the worldthe recent devaluation of the pound, the continuing dollar shortage in Europe, the failure of the Dodge plan in Japan, and the impending Communist victory in Chinahad heightened international tensions.2 On September 21, however, he agreed to make an announcement before the Soviets did. The following day, Truman informed Sen. Brien McMahon, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, of the Soviet explosion. On September 23 the president informed his cabinet and the press: I believe the American people, to the fullest extent consistent with national security, are entitled to be informed of all developments in the field of atomic energy. That is my reason for making public the following information. We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U.S.S.R. Ever since atomic energy was first released by man, the eventual development of this new force

Copyright 1989 by Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. ISBN: 1-56927-342-1 Publications, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 200571025 http://data.georgetown.edu/sfs/programs/isd/

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Case 342, Part A

by other nations was to be expected. This probability has always been taken into account by us. Nearly 4 years ago I pointed out that scientific opinion appears to be practically unanimous that the essential theoretical knowledge upon which the discovery is based is already widely known. There is also substantial agreement that foreign research can come abreast of our present theoretical knowledge in time. And, in the Three-Nation Declaration of the President of the United States and the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and of Canada, dated November 5, 1945, it was emphasized that no single nation could in fact have a monopoly of atomic weapons. This recent development emphasizes once again, if indeed such emphasis were needed, the necessity for that truly effective enforceable international control of atomic energy which this Government and the large majority of the members of the United Nations support.3 Public reaction to the news of the Soviet explosion was surprisingly mild in both the United States and Europe. Most newspapers reported the facts without sensationalism and, many chose to quote Gen. [Omar] Bradley [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs] and Gen. [Leslie] Groves [former military supervisor of the wartime Manhattan Project] to the effect that the news was not alarming.4 The news of the Soviet atomic test was an unpleasant though not entirely unexpected jolt to strategic planners who had come to rely on the U.S. atomic monopoly as a constant in their calculations. U.S. nuclear scientists had predicted in 1945 that the Soviets would require three to five years to produce an atomic weapon of their own. In fact, four years and six weeks had passed between the first U.S. atomic test at Alamogordo and the Soviet explosion estimated to have taken place on August 29. Still, policymakers had been taken by surprise. The perception of the Soviet Union as a technologically backward nation in which whatever creative spark that existed was stifled by an oppressive state had made policy makers subconsciously push the five year estimate back several years.5

with a report detailing its projected nuclear weapons requirements through 1956. The report concluded that significantly more fissionable material was necessary to fulfill its requirements than was being produced by the United States at the time. Expanded production of such material would be quite expensive, and therefore problematic, given President Trumans strict budgetary ceiling. Therefore, before rendering a decision on the JCS report, the president appointed a Special Committee of the National Security Council consisting of Secretary of Defense Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and Chairman of the AEC David Lilienthal to study the matter. Their report, delivered on October 10, concluded that: 7. . . . the proposed acceleration of the atomic energy program is necessary in the interests of national security based upon the following considerations: a.The views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that this accelerated program will constitute a net improvement in our military posture both as a deterrent to war and as preparation for war should it prove unavoidable. b. The views of the Atomic Energy Commission that it is feasible to meet the requirements of the proposed program. c. The views of the Department of State that the proposed expansion is not untimely from the viewpoint of possible international repercussions, particularly in view of the recent atomic explosion in the USSR. d. . . . The Special Committee further concludes that the recent atomic explosion in the USSR increases the urgency with which the proposed program should be undertaken and executed, but this acceleration should be clearly understood to be a projection of previous plans based upon our own capabilities, rather than as a counter-development to the Soviet explosion.6 Nine days later President Truman approved the findings of the Special Committees report. Paraphrasing the wording of the report, he enumerated the advantages of the accelerated program as: 1) lower unit cost of weapons; 2) increased military effectiveness; 3) decreased logistical and manpower requirements; and 4) greater flexibility in military operations.7 On October 20, Truman issued a prepared statement about the expansion:

U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY AND THE SOVIET BOMB


On June 14, 1949, two and a half months before the Soviet explosion, the JCS had presented the AEC

Case 342, Part A

End of U.S. Atomic Monopoly

[Reading] In view of certain recent statements about the construction program of the Atomic Energy Commission, I want to clarify the present status of a recent development within the program. A decision has been made to expand the facilities of the Atomic Energy Commission. This decision is the result of careful studies directed towards finding means of increasing our production capacity in an orderly fashion. It is a matter which has been under consideration for many months by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense, as well as the National Security Council. I have authorized the Atomic Energy Commission to initiate the construction program now with funds available now available, and I expect to recommend to the Congress early next year a financial plan which will enable the Commission to carry its program through.8 In the question and answer period which followed, Truman was asked whether the decision to expand the atomic program had been in any way influenced by the Russian bomb. He responded, No, it was not.9

the AEC must turn its energies immediately to the manufacture of a hydrogen bomb.10 Strauss urged a quantum jump in atomic planning and requested that the matter of the hydrogen or Super bomb be placed on the agenda of a special meeting of the GAC in October. Meanwhile, Dr. Ernest Lawrence, director of the University of California Radiation Laboratory, and his colleague Dr. Luis Alvarez, both highly respected and influential physicists, concluded independently that accelerated research on the hydrogen bomb was vital to U.S. security. Both decided to lobby the AEC on behalf of the hydrogen bomb during a previously scheduled trip to Washington in the second week of October. Stopping first in Los Alamos to consult with their colleague Edward Teller on the matter, Lawrence and Alvarez continued on to Washington arriving on the afternoon of October 8. Within the hour they were at the AEC headquarters meeting with Strauss who showed them his memorandum of three days earlier and pledged his cooperation. On October 10 the scientists were invited to lunch with Sen. Brien McMahon, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy and his Chief of Staff William Borden, both of whom had been convinced by Strauss that research on the so-called Super was critical to the preservation of U.S. strategic posture. By the end of the luncheon both legislators and scientists were more than ever convinced that the superweapon might well save the nation from the Soviet threat.11 Before leaving Washington later that afternoon, Lawrence and Alvarez met with AEC Chairman Lilienthal to discuss their ideas for expanded research on the Super, but they found him unreceptive. Disturbed by the moral ramifications of the weapon, Lilienthal refused to consider the option at the time. In his diary that day, he noted uncomfortably that Lawrence and Alvarez had been drooling over the H-bomb. . . . Is this all we have to offer?12 The possibility of building a super bomb based on nuclear fusion rather than fission had been discussed as early as 1942 by Edward Teller, a Hungarian-born physicist, and his colleagues at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico. Teller estimated that weapons based on the fusion principle might produce explosive energy yields as great as one thousand times those of fission weapons. Work on thermonuclear weapons was suspended during the war in favor of the more feasible and thus strategically more important atomic fission bomb.13 In the summer of 1945, after the first successful atomic blast, Teller and his colleague Dr. Robert

THE SUPER
Meanwhile, on October 5, AEC Commissioner Adm. Lewis L. Strauss, who was known as a hardliner where the Soviet Union was concerned, had issued a memorandum to his fellow AEC Commissioners which argued: 1) When the Soviets exploded the atomic bomb the U.S. forever lost its monopoly in the atomic weapons field. 2) At the moment that the Soviet had as many atomic bombs as it needed, the Kremlin would strike. It mattered not whether the U.S. had 1,000 or 100,000 more bombs than the enemy. 3) The U.S. must find a way to hold back a third world war until the Soviet hunger for conquest was weakened by internal strife. 4) Our only hope was to create a new and greater deterrent to Soviet aggression, a weapon many times more powerful than the A-bomb. Hence,

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Case 342, Part A

Oppenheimer had again begun studying the feasibility of the Super. In a report to Secretary of War Henry Stimson, the scientists wrote that the weapon was probably feasible and that the U.S. should proceed with its development. The following spring, a conference of scientists was held at Los Alamos to discuss the status of research on the nuclear fusion process. The scientists report, published on June 12, concluded that weapons based on thermonuclear reactions were on the whole workable, but that a Super Bomb Project would necessarily involve a considerable fraction of the resources which are likely to be devoted to work on atomic developments in the next years.14 Mindful of the economic cost of developing the Super, the U.S. government opted instead to pursue less expensive fission weapons programs.

9) Glen Seaborg, University of California (in Europe at the time of the meeting) Robert Oppenheimer, Chairman of the GAC, had enjoyed a brilliant scientific career and outstanding record of government service. As wartime director of the Los Alamos laboratory, he had presided over the first successful atomic explosion. In a much quoted 1948 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Oppenheimer had written [i]n some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.15 By the autumn of 1949, Oppenheimer had come to oppose a crash research program on the Super for both moral and practical reasons. In a letter to James Conant, he wrote: I am not sure the miserable thing will work, nor that it can be gotten to a target except by oxcart. It seems likely to me even further to worsen the unbalance of our war plans. What does worry me is that this thing appears to have caught the imagination, both of the Congressional and military people, as the answer to the problem posed by the Russian advance.16 For three days the GAC engaged in intensive discussion of the Super issue and heard presentations from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Omar Bradley, who expressed the militarys interest in acquiring the weapon, and State Department Policy Planning Staff Chief George F. Kennan, who explained his interest in reemphasizing the quest for international control of atomic energy. On October 30, the Committee presented its findings to the AEC in a lengthy three part report.17 Part I described certain recommendations for action by the Commission directed toward the common defense and security. The GAC endorsed plans to expand facilities for the processing of uranium and plutonium and to increase supplies of ore. It also recommended an accelerated research and development program for fission weapons and delivery systems and for so-called booster systems which used some elements of fusion technology. Part II of the report dealt with the Super, describing what was known about its technology and the strategic economics of its production. The GAC noted that the weapons explosive power was potentially unlimited and that it could cause thermal and radiation damage to an area of several hundred square miles. The super would bring about the destruction of innumerable human lives; it is not a

THE SCIENTISTS AND THE SUPER


Between October 28 and 30, the General Advisory Committee to the AEC convened, as requested by Commissioner Strauss earlier in the month, to consider the feasibility and desirability of accelerated research on the Super. Created by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 simultaneously with the AEC, the GAC consisted of nine scientists and leaders in technological fields charged with consulting the AEC on matters of scientific and policy-making importance. In October 1949 its members were: 1) J. Robert Oppenheimer, Chairman 2) James B. Conant, President of Harvard University 3) Lee A. DuBridge, President of the California Institute of Technology 4) Enrico Fermi, University of Chicago Institute for Nuclear Studies 5) Isidore I. Rabi, Columbia University 6) Hartley Rowe, Vice President and Chief Engineer, United Fruit Company 7) Oliver E. Buckley, President of Bell Telephone Laboratories 8) Cyril S. Smith, Director, Institute for the Study of Metals, University of Chicago

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weapon which can be used exclusively for the destruction of material installations of military or semi-military purposes. The GAC believed that no experimental approach short of actual test would be able to prove the feasibility of the weapon and that many tests would likely be necessary. All problems considered, the Committee concluded that an imaginative and concerted attack on the problem has a better than even chance of producing the weapon within five years. In Part III, the Committee stated unanimously that we all hope that by one means or another, the development of these weapons can be avoided, and recommended that the United States not accelerate its research on Super technology. In two addenda to the report, the GAC members outlined two different lines of reasoning behind their recommendation. In the first, James Conant wrote for a six-man majority of the GAC that we base our recommendation on our belief that the extreme dangers to mankind inherent in the proposal wholly outweigh any military advantage that could come from this development. Further, the majority was concerned that a superbomb might become a weapon of genocide.18 Enrico Fermi and I.I. Rabi, in the second addendum, expressed the same reservations in equally impassioned terms: . . . we believe it important for the President of the United States to tell the American public, and the world, that we think it wrong on fundamental ethical principles to initiate a program of development of such a weapon. At the same time it would be appropriate to invite the nations of the world to join us in a solemn pledge not to proceed in the development or construction of weapons of this category. If such a pledge were accepted even without control machinery, it appears highly probable that an advanced stage of development leading to a test by another power could be detected by available physical means. Furthermore, we have in our possession, in our stockpile of atomic bombs, the means for adequate military retaliation for the production or use of super.

recommendation to the president on the Super question. The Commission was unable to reach a consensus on the issue. Lilienthal, Pike, and Smyth counseled against pursuit of the Super, while Strauss and Dean favored accelerated research. On November 9, Lilienthal presented the president with the AECs report. The report concluded that the hydrogen bomb was probably feasible and would have unlimited power, but it would require at least three years to develop. Furthermore, to beat the Soviets in a race to acquire it would take a maximum effort by the U.S., which would be impossible to keep secret; likewise, it was believed that any Russian thermonuclear test could be detected. The report also concluded that for the United States and the USSR both to develop the H-bomb would greatly intensify and change the character of the arms race.19 The report reflected the split within the Commission. Lilienthal, Pike, and Smyth urged the president to announce publicly as soon as possible that it did not appear at this time that the development of this weapon is consistent with this countrys programs for world peace or our own long term security. Strauss and Dean, on the other hand, urged Truman to take the opportunity to press the Soviet Union for a renewed effort at international control of atomic weapons. If that failed, they recommended accelerated development of the Super. In an appendix to the report, Lilienthal, Dean, and Smyth included their personal observations on the issue. Lilienthal wrote that he could find no basis for a belief that the Superbomb would add to our strength. Moreover, there is reason to believe that it will actually diminish that over-all strength. He also suggested that proceeding with the development of thermonuclear weapons might in effect close the door on policies for promoting peace, giving the impression to the rest of the world that we are going far beyond any possible military needs, that we have abandoned our program for peace and are resigned to war. Finally, he reasoned that the benefits of building H-bombs was far outweighed by their cost: As is pointed out in the General Advisory Committee letters, without Superbombs we do continue to maintain a deterrent against the Russians in our power to retaliate with our stockpile of atomic weapons. The difference in the amount of damage that could be inflicted on Russia by Superbombs as compared with A-bombs is not significant; it does not, in my opinion, by any means constitute enough difference to outweigh the serious damage to your policy (which is the

THE AEC REPORT


In the first week of November; the five-man AEC, consisting of Lilienthal, Strauss, Sumner Pike, Henry Smyth, and Gordon Dean, met to consider the recommendation of the GAC and to formulate its own

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Case 342, Part A

policy of this country) that is involved in starting down the road of the Superbomb program.20 Dean, expressing his own views and those of Strauss, countered: To announce that we will not undertake such a development is to grant the USSR a potential monopoly in this field. This would in my opinion have a bad effect upon the American people. It might well shake the confidence of our friends in western Europe. It would have no good effect on the Kremlin. In my opinion it would be a mistake to renounce the development at a time when considerable precise knowledge of the weapon is lacking and to make this renunciation without first having a considered judgment as to its military and psychological value in deterring an aggressor or waging a war.21 Smyth argued that developing the Super would contribute little to national security and would probably worsen the general standing of the U.S. in the world. He called for a fresh attempt at negotiating with the Soviets for international control, arguing that an announcement not to develop the hydrogen bomb would have a tonic effect on the discussions: I feel that discussion will be more vigorous and fruitful if it starts from a negative decision than from one to go ahead. A negative decision is a gesture of good faith and optimism. Also, incidentally, such a decision is more easily reversed than a one to go ahead full speed at the present time. Though a bare announcement of a decision without a correlated statement of policy does not appear likely to be fruitful, it does not seem wise to me to state at this time what circumstances might cause us to reverse our course of action and to go ahead with development of the Super, I would not want to make our position dependent on some specific act or statement by the Russians, nor to have the threat of a Super bomb development hanging over negotiations.22

secret, was made known to the public on November 18, 1949. In a speech calling for strict secrecy in nuclear matters, Sen. Edward C. Johnson of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy also noted that considerable progress had been made by American scientists toward creating a bomb 1,000 times as powerful as that dropped on Nagasaki.23 The following day, President Truman ordered that secrecy measures be strengthened with respect to discussion of the Super. On November 19, Truman instructed Adm. Sidney Souers, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council to reform the Special Committee of the NSC which had advised him on the expansion of the atomic energy program earlier in the year. Souers was to lead a working group which would aid Defense Secretary Louis Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and AEC Chairman Lilienthal in making recommendations as to whether and in what manner the United States should undertake the development and possible production of super atomic weapons. A month went by, however, before the Special Committee formally met.24 Trumans action and the Washington Post article prompted reactions from George F. Kennan, Director of the State Departments Policy Planning Staff On November 18, Kennan prepared a list of nine questions which he felt would have to be answered for the United States to arrive at a rational decision concerning the development of the super-bomb: 1. Would the use of the super-bomb constitute a menace to civilization itself through the possibility that it would pollute the earths atmosphere to a dangerous extent? 2. Would our development of this weapon in itself prove a deterrent to war? 3. Assuming the Soviet Union possesses the weapon, would possession of it by the United States deter or impede in their seeking to spread their influence by methods of intimidation? 4. Would our development of this weapon make a foregone conclusion that it would be used in case of war? 5. Would our development of the super-bomb increase our military capacity as compared with increased production of atomic bombs?

THE DEBATE CONTINUES


The debate over the Super, heretofore kept highly

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6. Would the development of the super-bomb detract significantly from the economic strength of the country? 7. Would the possession of the weapon as a means of creating terror serve the interests of the United States either as a preventive of war or as a means of winning it? 8. What would be the moral effect in the United States and throughout the world of our developing this weapon of mass destruction, the ingredients of which have no peaceful applications whatever? 9. Should our decision on the question be determined by what Russia may or may not do with respect to developing the super-bomb?25 In a letter to the president dated November 21, Sen. Brien McMahon, chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, extolled at length the advantages to be gained by possession of the Super, stressing the cost efficiency and ease of delivery. He asserted that the various military possibilities inherent in the Super seem clear even to a layman, and that if we let Russia get the Super first, catastrophe becomes all but certainwhereas, if we get it first, there exists a chance of saving ourselves. McMahon suggested that President Truman go before the United Nations and explain that both the United States and the Soviet Union were able to build this terrible weapon: You could point out that the possibility of ravaging 1,000 square miles at a single blow does not decrease the danger from ordinary fission bombs but that it dramatizes and renders still more urgent the need for effective international control. Thus the horror and revulsion which the super inspires in moral beings might be harnessed and made to penetrate a world-wide pressure of pubic opinion upon the Kremlin to accept a sane and worthwhile control plan.26 Following the split of the AEC on the Super issue, Lewis Strauss left Washington for a California vacation. After almost three weeks of reflection, he was convinced more than ever of the necessity to accelerate development of the hydrogen bomb. In a memorandum dated November 25, Strauss made clear his feeling that the United States must obtain the technology for the Super before the Soviets, who, he wrote, as atheists were not likely to be dis-

suaded from producing the weapon on moral grounds. Further, he attempted to counter the assertion by the GAC and his fellow AEC Commissioners that the H-bomb was somehow morally more objectionable than the fission bombs which preceded it. In sum, I believe that the president should direct the Atomic Energy Commission to proceed with all possible expedition to develop the thermonuclear weapon.27 During its regularly scheduled meeting of December 13, the General Advisory Committee again took up the matter of the Super. After careful reexamination of their views, the members of the Committee decided that they were satisfied with the conclusions expressed in the October 30 report. In order to clarify the range of factors affecting their decision, the members appended to their December report to the Commissioners four personal letters from Drs. Buckley, Rowe, Fermi, and DuBridge and a memorandum from the Secretary, Dr. Manley.28 Buckley believed that research on the thermonuclear process should be continued but based his opposition to development of a hydrogen bomb on four arguments: 1) its feasibility was uncertain; 2) it would cost at least one billion dollars to develop and would divert resources from established fission bomb research; 3) it would not add appreciably to American military strength, 4) if the U.S. could build one so could the Russians. Rowe echoed Buckleys view that the Super offered no military advantage over standard fission weapons which might be neglected during a crash research program on fusion weapons. Further, he feared the psychological and moral ramifications of the Super for American democracy. Fermi admitted that the Super might have some advantages over atomic weapons in attacking troop concentrations and heavy buildings but asserted that there were few Soviet targets large enough to warrant use of thermonuclear weapons. Moreover, the resources expended on producing one hydrogen bomb could be used to produce four uranium bombs and four plutonium bombs. DuBridge felt that U.S. development of a thermonuclear weapon would stimulate the Soviets to pursue one of their own. A more practical use of resources, he claimed, would be to develop a workable defense against the Super. He also opposed the pursuit of the Super on psychological, diplomatic and moral grounds. Manley argued that development of the Super was incompatible with previously articulated U.S. policy aimed at establishing international control of atomic energy. He contended further that enough

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fission bombs could achieve the same total destruction as fusion weapons and that possession of the Super would add only marginally to the total power of Americas anticipated atomic stockpile.

THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE NSC


The reconstituted Special Committee of the NSC, consisting of secretaries Acheson and Johnson and AEC Chairman Lilienthal, met for the first time on December 22. Lilienthals previously stated objections to the Super were well known to his colleagues and were based upon both practical and moral considerations. Lilienthal was shocked at the degree to which U.S. military strategy relied on atomic bombs and was determined that the United States should be made less dependent on the use of high yield weapons against urban targets. Lilienthal contended that a thorough reassessment of U.S. military strategy was in order before a technological fix was sought to the problem posed by the Soviet test. He believed that adopting a technological solution, and thus increasing Americas reliance on its nuclear arsenal, would decrease any potential Congressional and public support for conventional rearmament and would hurt efforts to secure international control of atomic energy.29 Morally, Lilienthal was in fundamental agreement with the members of the GAC who feared that the hydrogen bomb was incapable of destroying military targets without causing extensive collateral damage to surrounding civilian areas and thus might become a weapon of genocide. In short, the AEC Chairman opposed accelerated research on the Super. As he had written earlier in the fall, We keep saying we have no other course. What we should say is We are not bright enough to see any other course.30 Secretary of Defense Johnson came to the meeting enthusiastic over the prospect of an American thermonuclear weapon. For the last four years the Pentagon had pursued a military strategy which relied more and more on the use of atomic weapons as a means to promote and protect U.S. security. To many U.S. strategic planners, the Super appeared to offer even greater advantages.31 The first detailed military study on the Super had been conducted by the Pentagons Military Liaison Committee (MLC) to the AEC shortly after the adverse recommendation of the Commission had been brought to the attention of the Joint Chiefs. On November 17, the MLC reported that the construction of a 1,000 KT to 10,000 KT weapon was feasible within three years. Such a weapon would be as

powerful as nine atomic bombs and could destroy an area of sixty-five square miles. The cost of developing the Super was indeterminate but would surely divert substantial resources from existing fission weapons research. While there were only four Soviet cities with an area greater than sixty-two square miles, a judicious mixture of thermonuclear and atomic weapons could avoid a waste of fissionable material. Use of hydrogen weapons, the MLC claimed, would reduce the delivery effort. Further, the Super would have a significant psychological effect on the nation which possessed it. Failure to acquire it before the Soviets would be demoralizing to the American people and would have grave political repercussions that might raise serious questions concerning the continued unity of spirit, confidence, and determination of the western nations.32 The Joint Chiefs accepted the MLCs conclusions and on November 23 presented Secretary Johnson with a detailed report which maintained that possession of a thermonuclear weapon by the USSR without such possession by the United States would be intolerable. The JCS also argued that a unilateral decision on the part of the United States not to develop a thermonuclear weapon will not prevent the development of such a weapon elsewhere. Since the United States possessed the capability to pursue development of the Super it was imperative that it do so. The report concluded that the foregoing considerations decisively outweigh the possible social, psychological, and moral objections which may be considered to argue against research and development.33 On December 16, the defense members of the Special Committees working group circulated a memorandum of their own concerning The Military Implications of Thermonuclear Weapons. After repeating the Joint Chiefs November 23 memo verbatim, the members discussed at length the repercussions of sole possession by the United States, by the Soviets, possession by both nations as well as considerations of timing, effort, and international control policy. They concluded that expedited research was critical. Secretary Johnson adopted the conclusions of these papers before the December 22 meeting of the Special Committee.34 Secretary of State Dean Acheson, under attack for losing China, felt that the United States needed to deal with the Soviet Union from a position of unquestioned strength and was inclined to believe that the Super would help cement that position. Moreover, Acheson was unconvinced by the moral arguments of the scientists against hydrogen bomb

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End of U.S. Atomic Monopoly

research. As he noted in his memoirs, Those who shared this view were, I believe, not so much moved by the power of its logic (which I was never able to perceiveneither the maintenance of ignorance nor the reliance on perpetual good will seemed to me a tenable policy) as by an immense distaste for what one of them described as the whole wretched business.35 Earlier in the fall, the Secretary of State had spoken with Oppenheimer who tried to sway him to the side of the scientists. Acheson later told a colleague, You know, I listened as carefully as I know how, but I dont understand what Oppie was trying to say. How can you persuade a paranoid adversary to disarm by example?36 Acheson relied heavily on Paul Nitze, Deputy Director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff for advice during this period. In a memorandum dated December 19, Nitze recommended: 1. That the President authorize the A.E.C. to proceed with an accelerated program to test the possibility of a thermonuclear reaction; 2. That no decision be made at this time as to whether weapons employing such a reaction will actually be built beyond the number required for a test of feasibility; 3. That the N.S.C. reexamine our aims and objectives in the light of the USSRs probable fission bomb capacity and its possible thermonuclear bomb capability; 4. That, pending such a review, no public discussion of these issues on the part of those having access to classified materials in this field be authorized.37 Acheson sought to clarify his thoughts on the question of atomic weapons and American security in a memorandum dictated on December 20.38 I. It is of immediate importance that the United States Government review and decide its position regarding the essentiality and probable use of weapons of mass destructionparticularly atomic weaponsso far as our security is concerned. Why? 1) Because we are, in effect, deciding now to rely upon and use such weapons. Why is this so? a) Because while we had atomic weapons and no other nation had, it came to be regarded as a

powerful deterrent to war and a guarantee of our security; the Atomic Energy Act authorizes production of weapons upon this theory; they came to play a large part in military planning; and Russian behavior over the past few years overcame popular aversion to the use of the weapon. Thus acceptance of and reliance upon it has grown more subtly than through any articulate major premise. b) Because, having assumed commitments relating to the defense of Western Europe, as necessary for our own defense, we do not have any other military program which seems to offer over the short-run promise of military effectiveness. Therefore, we are proceeding with the development of atomic weapons and carriers. (Note: This reasoning does not prove that atomic weapons provide the promise of military success. That will be examined later.) c) And because also our proposals for international control will not be accepted by the Russians, a situation which produces deadlock and means the inevitable continuation of production and mutual plans for use. 2) It is also necessary to review and decide our position regarding the essentiality of atomic weapons because without it our position on international control (as well as other policy matters noted below) becomes confused and dangerous. a) We cannot over a period of time carry conviction (and this is of vital importance in the cold war) in advocating and directing the effort for international control and abolition of atomic weapons, if at the same time our military reliance on them is growing. b) We cannot consider profitably any proposals which might be acceptable to the Russians and might prohibit for practical purposes in peacetime all production of fissionable materials in sufficient quantity to make bombs, unless we know whether we want to do so, or not. c) If we proceed with further development of atomic weapons, without a clear idea of our attitude toward their use, control or abolition, we will affect the attitude of the Russiansand

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the chances of avoiding war, the attitude of our alliesand the course of the cold war, and the attitude of our own public. In other words, we will affect in various ways the direction of drift. 3) The absence of a clear decision will confuse military planning and this in turn will confuse foreign policy and commitments. a) Planning for the defense of Western Europe will before long raise in acute form questions of the use of atomic weapons. i. If plans are based on non-use, or use in retaliation only, serious consequences may follow, unless the full implications of such plans are taken fully into account in other areas of policy and action. ii. If plans are based upon initial use, and others rely thereon, the United States may have lost the moral right of freedom of action even though, at a later date, our national interest may demand different action. iii. If alternate plans are made, an impression of indecision is given. b) Aside from these immediate problems, the task of the planners will be gravely affected by a decision one way or the other on this central question and by the developments which would grow out of either decision. 4) It is important to review and decide our position on the use of these weapons because to do so will enable us to identify and possibly decide some major questions affecting foreign policy. Some of these are: a) Which are the most immediate dangers to our security? Those involved in the cold war or those involved in military aggression? b) Will military aggression, if it comes, be directed against us or against our allies? c) If against us, what are the problems involved and how does use or non-use of atomic weapons affect their solution? d) If against our allies, the same questions.

e) How does the availability of atomic weapons to both sides now affect the possibility of their use? The possibility of precipitating war? The outcome of the cold war? What will be the trend in this respect in the future? II. Which danger is most imminent and pressing upon us? That which pertains to the cold war or the danger of military aggression? 1) Soviet theory informs us that their primary attention is directed toward the former. a) They believe that the capitalist world is doomed by internal decay. b) They do believe and advocate active and subversive activities within capitalist societies by the communist parties. c) They do not believe that the overthrow has to come through communist arms in the first instance, but they believe that the capitalist world will not finally surrender power without a resort to arms and that, therefore, at some time they may be attacked. d) They would prefer a war between capitalist countries in which they intervene at the decisive moment, but in view of the unlikelihood of that coming about might intervene in confused situations created by satellites or subversive groups. 2) Russian history is divided, but Soviet history seems to be against military adventures which entail any risk. a) The Crimean war, the Russo-Japanese war and World War I show tendencies toward aggressive adventure. But these latter may be said to have involved no great risk and to have lessons that risk is hard to estimate. The great care to escape involvement in the capitalist war of 1939 supports the thesis that the lesson was learned. 3) A cold appraisal of the world situation would seem to give the Politburo reason to think that their chances in the cold war are not bad, that their dogmas are being proved true, and that military risks to speed the inevitable are not necessary or desirable. They might well conclude that more effort was needed to grease

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End of U.S. Atomic Monopoly

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the wheels of economic and social confusion abroad. 4) This would be a sensible conclusion. Our allies are not strong and have a long way to go to get strong. They are divided on some of the essential stepsGermany, colonialism in Asia and Africa, policy in the Middle East. The American people may tire or become confused. Our problems take perseverance of purpose and use of resources. They take a large degree of unity and persistence of purpose. Democracies are not noted for these qualities. 5) This is important. They need and want the people, industry and resources of Western Europe. They do not want to destroy them. Success in the cold war achieves these. The hot war may lose all this and more too. 6) This is also important. The loss of Western Europe or of important parts of Asia or the Middle East would be a transfer of potential from West to East, which, depending on the area, might have the gravest consequences in the long run. Conclusion on Point II. The weight of the evidence leads to the belief that the Russians will put their chief reliance on the cold war. It is here that we must meet the most pressing dangers and not from military aggression. Against this is the danger that a) They may think they are going to be attacked and foolishly attack first. b) That failure in the cold war, the growth of Titoism, and the possible instability of the regime may lead to unpredictable action. This seems unlikely but not impossible. The point is made not to disregard the dangers of military aggression but to devise policy to give priority to what comes first. III. In the case of military aggression by the U.S.S.R. is it likely to be directed first against us or against our allies? The answer would seem to be, either a simultaneous attack against both, or an attack against some other nation or nations. An

attack against the U.S. alone seems too difficult, pointless, and hazardous. The point which the question and answer, if correct, brings out is this: The function of the atomic weapon in regard to the defense of continental United States is to prevent the attack or to stop it by reason of the general punishment inflicted on the enemyretaliation. It can hardly have, in this field, a more specific military purpose. In the case of a protracted war, other factors would immediately have important bearing. These other factors would have to do with the course of the war in other areas. Before coming to this, let us appraise the influence of atomic weapons on preventing or stopping the war. IV. What can be said about the effect of atomic weapons in preventing or stopping the assumed war against the United States? Without treading on military ground, consider the problem in two parts: (a) a war started against the United States and others simultaneously; and (b) a war started against our allies only. 1) If there were no atomic weapons, it seems unlikely that an attack would be made against the United States. This leaves out of consideration other weapons of mass destruction. If there were none of these, the conclusion that there would be no attack against us seems highly probable, through sheer difficulty. 2) Would the same be true if it were firmly believed on both sides that such weapons would not be used except in retaliation; but that they would be promptly and vigorously used in retaliation? This involves a calculation as to whether the enemy believed the risks were worth it. In this case it is fair to believe that the risks would not be worth it and there would be no direct attack on the United States, or that the probability of attack would be lessened. This is no inconsiderable consideration to be ignored, if true. 3) Inject a new factor. Suppose a third nation, say Britain, had atomic weapons. Two questions: Would that make use against us more likely?

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Would Britain use them if others did not, except for retaliation? A fair answer in both cases is, NO. So, as to an attack on the United States, it would seem much less likely if it were known that we would not precipitate atomic warfare, but would retaliate if such warfare were introduced by others. 4) Insofar as an attack on our allies is concerned, the considerations are different. Suppose both the United States and Russia had stockpiles but that ours was greater, would the known determination on our part to use them in the first instance deter attack? No one can say. It would be a factor. Possibly a great factor. But let us suspend judgement and consider other aspects of the problem. 5) Would it stop an attack once begun by other weapons? Here we are not speaking of technical military use, but of its effect on changing the will of the rulers to press on with the war. We can say with more assurance that it is doubtful whether its use would have such an effect. By hypothesis its use would have been expected and discounted. Aside from its military effect upon troops in motion, the effect would have to be worse than the expectation to break the will of the aggressors. 6) Would it stop the attack by destruction of war industries and supplies? This postulates a fairly long war and a possibility of sustained strategic air penetration of the enemys territory. If troops were equipped and in motion fairly close to objectives, and not faced by strong resistance, these factors would not be of great importance. 7) Would it stop the attack by purely military means? This is for the military to answer, but it is hard to see how this would be done. V. What is the real relation of the atomic weapon to the vulnerability of our western allies to Russian attack? 1) To what degree does our accumulation of atomic weapons act as a defensive shield for our allies? What can be done to substitute for this shield?

2) Does a continued reliance upon the atomic defensive shield prevent progress toward the substitutes therefor? 3) How important would be a further substantial strengthening of the economies of Western Europe? 4) What contribution would be incorporating western Germany into Western Europe? 5) What contribution would the withdrawal of Russian troops from Eastern Europe make? 6) What could be done in the field of conventional armaments either to build up adequate European defensive strength or through international control of conventional armaments to restore a balance in Europe? VI. The effect of passage of time upon these considerations. 1) Would a continued accumulation of atomic weapons and means of delivery actually stimulate the outbreak of war? It does not appear that this would be likely until such time as the U.S.S.R. considered that its atomic capabilities were sufficient to offset ours and had a clear superiority in other fields. 2) Is it true that within 510 years the U.S.S.R. may be expected to have a stockpile of atomic weapons of sufficient size effectively to neutralize the present advantage which we possess and might this time be shortened if the U.S.S.R. developed a thermonuclear reaction? 3) If this is so, would we be better off addressing ourselves now to finding substitutes for the defensive shield our atomic weapons are now giving our allies? The Special Committee meeting of December 22 degenerated into an inconclusive head-to-head confrontation between Lilienthal and Johnson. As the official history of the Joint Chiefs put it: Mr. Johnson insisted that the issues were narrow and technical, having to do mainly with the value of the super bomb as a weapon. On this score, he said, all in the Department of Defense were agreed that the potential military uses justified going ahead with a development program. Only if

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the Soviet Union agreed to the U.S. plan for international control of atomic energy would the Defense Department agree to forego the super bomb. Mr. Lilienthal insisted on the importance of the moral issue. The purpose and course of mankind were tied to the decision. It was inconceivable not to consider what Secretary Johnson disparagingly referred to as philosophy.39 Because of what Acheson called the acerbity of Louis Johnsons nature, the meeting broke up.40 Consultation between the members continued only on an individual basis before the Committee met one final time on January 31.

The Joint Chiefs also argued that foregoing research and development on thermonuclear weapons would have dire consequences in terms of the United States global security interests: In the present world, where peace and security rests so completely on the military capability of the United States vis--vis Communist aggression, it would be foolhardy of the United States voluntarily to weaken its capability by such a renunciation. Public renunciation by the United States of super bomb development might be interpreted as the first step in unilateral renunciation of all atomic weapons, a course which would inevitably be followed by major international realignments to the disadvantage of the United States. Thus, the peace of the world generally and, specifically, the security of the entire Western Hemisphere would be jeopardized.43 As to the moral questions surrounding the H-bomb, the Joint Chiefs declared that: There are undoubtedly a number of moral objections which may be considered to argue against research and development by the United States leading to the development and test of a thermonuclear weapon. The above military considerations outweigh such possible objections. In addition, it is difficult to escape the conviction that in war it is folly to argue whether one weapon is more immoral than another. For, in the larger sense, it is war itself which is immoral, and the stigma of such immorality must rest upon the nation which initiates hostilities.44 Secretary Johnson forwarded the report to the President on January 19. The following day, Gen. Bradley met with the JCAE to present the JCS reports conclusions. By the end of the meeting the Committee seemed to be firmly behind the development of the Super.45 Meanwhile, George Kennan had assembled his views on the question of international control of atomic energy and weapons of mass destruction in a 79-page memorandum to Secretary Acheson. Kennan argued: The real problem at issue, in determining what we should do at this juncture with respect to international control, is the problem of our attitude toward weapons of mass destruction in general, and the role which we allot to these weapons in our own military planning. Here, the

FINAL ARGUMENTS
On January 10, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy assembled to discuss the hydrogen bomb. Sen. McMahon reviewed the events of the previous months, read to the members the report of the General Advisory Committee of October 30, and then read the text of his November 21 letter to the president which reportedly drew warm approval from Senator Knowland and most of the other members.41 On January 13, the Joint Chiefs presented an assessment of the hydrogen bomb question to Secretary Johnson. Regarding the weapons military utility and affordability, they asserted: The nature of modern war is such that defense alone cannot bring about a favorable decision. They [the Joint Chiefs] believe that the truism, the best defense is a good offense, is still valid. Hence, they are convinced that it is necessary to have within the arsenal of the United States a weapon of the greatest capability, in this case the super bomb. Such a weapon would improve our defense in the broadest sense, as a potential retaliatory weapon, as well as a defensive weapon against enemy forces. The assignment of some facilities and materials for a super weapon would to some extent interfere with the research and development program for military and peacetime application of atomic energy. However, the cost in money, materials, and in industrial and research effort in developing a super bomb appears to be within the capability of the United States without materially interfering with improvement of existing weapons and other means of defense.42

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crucial question is: Are we to rely upon weapons of mass destruction as an integral and vitally important component of our military strength, which we would expect to employ deliberately, immediately, and unhesitatingly in the event that we become involved in a military conflict with the Soviet Union? Or are we to retain such weapons in our national arsenal only as a deterrent to the use of similar weapons against ourselves or our allies and as a possible means of retaliation in case they are used? According to the way this question is answered, a whole series of decisions are influenced, of which the decision as to what to do about the international control of atomic energy and the prohibition of the weapon is only one. We must note, by way of clarification of this question, that barring some system of international control and prohibition of atomic weapons, it is not questioned that some weapons of mass destruction must be retained in the national arsenal for purposes of deterrence and retaliation. The problem is: for what purpose, and against the background of what subjective attitude, are we to develop such weapons and to train our forces in their use? We may regard them as something vital to our conduct of a future waras something without which our war plans would be emasculated and ineffectiveas something which we have resolved, in the face of all the moral and other factors concerned, to employ forthwith and unhesitatingly at the outset of any great military conflict. In this case, we should take the consequences of that decision now, and we should obviously keep away from any program of international dealings which would bring us closer to the possibility of agreement on international control and prohibition of the atomic weapon. Or we may regard them as something superfluous to our basic military posture as something which we are compelled to hold against the possibility that they might be used by our opponents. In this case, of course, we take care not to build up a reliance upon them in our military planning. Since they then represent only a burdensome expenditure of funds and effort, we hold only the minimum required for the deterrentretaliatory purpose. And we are at liberty, if we so desire, to make it our objective to divest ourselves

of this minimum at the earliest moment by achieving a scheme of international control. We should remember that more depends on this basic decision than simply our stance toward the problem of international control. It must also have an important effect on our domestic atomic energy program, and particularly on what we do about the superbomb. If we decide to hold weapons of mass destruction only for deterrent-retaliatory purposes, then the limit on the number and power of the weapons we should hold is governed by our estimate as to what it would take to make attack on this country or its allies by weapons of mass destruction a risky, probably unprofitable, and therefore irrational undertaking for any adversary. In these circumstances, the problem of whether to develop the superbomb and other weapons of mass destruction becomes only a question of the extent to which they would be needed to achieve this purpose. It might be, for example, that the present and prospective stockpile of conventional bombs, combined with present and prospective possibilities for delivery, would be found adequate to this purpose and that anything further in the way of mass destruction weapons would be redundant, or would fall into an area of diminishing returns. If, on the other hand, we are resolved to use weapons of mass destruction deliberately and prior to their use against our allies, in a future war, then our purpose is presumably to inflict maximum destruction on the forces, population and territory of the enemy, with the least expenditure of effort, in full acceptance of the attendant risk of retaliation against us, and in the face of all moral and political considerations. In this case, the only limitations on the number and power of mass destruction weapons which we would wish to develop would presumably be those of ordinary military economy, such as cost, efficiency, and ease of delivery. Depending, therefore, on which of these courses is selected, our decision on the superbomb might be one of two diametrically opposite ones. Kennan left little doubt as to where he stood on this issue: It is entirely possible that war may be waged against us again, as it has been waged against us and other nations within our time, under these

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15

concepts and by these weapons. If so, we shall doubtless have to reply in kind, for that may be the price of survival. I still think it vital to our own understanding of what it is we are about that we not fall into the error of initiating, or planning to initiate, the employment of these weapons and concepts, thus hypnotizing ourselves into the belief that they may ultimately serve some positive national purpose. I doubt our ability to hold the respective weapons in our national arsenal, to fit them into our military and political plans, to agree with our allies on the circumstances of their use, and to entertain the prospect of their continued cultivation by our adversaries, without backsliding repeatedly into this dangerous, and possibly mortal, error. In other words, even if we were to conclude today that first use would not be advantageous, I would not trust the steadfast-

ness of this outlook in a situation where the shadow of uncontrolled mass destruction weapons continues to lie across the peoples of the world. Measured against this alternative, an imperfect system of international control seems to me less dangerous, and more considerate of those things in international life which are still hopeful.46 Acheson remained skeptical, however, as he explained to Lilienthal on January 26, The continuing Soviet threat and the collapse of the Nationalist government in China made it hard to counter the demand for bigger weapons.47 On the morning of January 31, 1950, the Special Committee came together to finalize its recommendations to the President on the question of the Super.

NOTES
1. Kenneth W. Condit, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, vol. 2 of The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1979), 523. 2. Richard G. Hewlett and Francis Duncan, Atomic Shield, 1947/1952, vol. 2 of A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1969), 366. 3. Public Papers of the President of the United States: Harry S. Truman 1949 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 485. 4. Hewlett and Duncan, Atomic Shield, 369 5. Herbert York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller and the Superbomb (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Co., 1976), 42. 6. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1949, vol. 1, 564 (hereafter FR). 7. Condit, JCS and National Policy, 535. 8. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1949 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 522 9. Ibid., 523. 10. James R. Shepley and Clay Blair, Jr., The Hydrogen Bomb: The Men, The Menace, The Mechanism (New York: David McKay, 1954), 21. 11. Hewlett and Duncan, Atomic Shield, 377. 12. Barton J. Bernstein, Truman and the H-Bomb, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (March 1984), 13. 13. Tellers initial ideas on how to build such weapons proved to be incorrect; see Ronald E. Powaski, March to Armageddon: The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1939 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 54. 14. York, The Advisors, 24. 15. York, The Advisors, 47. 16. Shepley and Blair, Hydrogen Bomb, 70. 17. Robert C. Williams and Philip L. Cantelon, eds. The American Atom: A Documentary History of Nuclear Policies from the Discovery of Fission to the Present, 19391984 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), 117120. 18. Conants personal view was that [t]he real answer [to the Soviet bomb] was to do a job and revamp our whole defense establishment, put in something like Universal Military Service [and] get Europe[e] strong on the ground. Bernstein, Truman and the H-Bomb, 13. 19. FR 1949, 1:576585. 20. Ibid., 582583. 21. Ibid., 583. 22. Ibid 584585. 23. Washington Post, 18 November, 1949. Johnson delivered the speech on November 2, but the story was not picked up right away. 24. Bernstein, Truman and the H-Bomb, 15. 25. FR 1949, 1: 585587. 26. Ibid., 588595. 27. Ibid., 596599. 28. Condit, JCS and National Policy, 550553. 29. Warner R. Schilling, The H-Bomb Decision: How to Decide Without Actually Choosing, in Stanley I. Kutler, New Perspectives on the American Past, vol.2, 1877 to the Present (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1969), 476477. 30. Bernstein, Truman and the Bomb, 13. 31. David Alan Rosenberg, American Atomic Strategy and the Hydrogen Bomb Decision, Journal of American History 66 (june 1979); 6287. 32. Condit, JCS and National Policy, 547. 33. FR 1949, 1: 595596. 34. Ibid., 604610.

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35. Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years at the State Department (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1969), 346. 36. Bernstein, Truman and the H-Bomb, 15. 37. FR 1949, 1:610611. 38. FR 1949, 1:612617. 39. Condit, JCS and National Policy, 550. 40. Acheson, Present at the Creation, 348.

Hewlett and Duncan, Atomic Shield, 399400. FR 1950, 1: 505506. Ibid., 506 Ibid., 511. Condit, JCS and National Security Policy, 556. FR 1950 1: 2930, 3940. Hewlett and Duncan, Atomic Shield, 404.

Case 342, Part B


THE END OF THE U.S. ATOMIC MONOPOLY
William Taylor Fain & David S. Painter
Georgetown University

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL
Do Not Duplicate This is Copyrighted Material for Classroom Use. It is available only through the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. 202-965-5735 (tel) 202-965-5811 (fax)

At about 10:30 on the morning of January 31, Secretaries Johnson and Acheson and Chairman Lilienthal along with their staffs filed into a second floor room of the Old State Building (now the Old Executive office Building) to hammer out a final draft of their recommendation to the President. There was still significant disagreement among the members on the desirability of accelerated research on the Super. Acheson and Johnson clearly favored development at this point, but Lilienthal kept repeating that he had a visceral feeling this is wrong. Nevertheless, he agreed to consider with his colleagues a draft recommendation written by State Department atomic energy advisor Gordon Arneson which suggested:1 (a) That the President direct the Atomic Energy Commission to proceed to determine the technical feasibility of a thermonuclear weapon, the scale and rate of effort to be determined jointly by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense; and the necessary ordinance developments and carrier program to be undertaken concurrently; (b) That the President defer decision pending the reexamination referred to in (c) as to whether thermonuclear

weapons should be produced beyond the number required for a test of feasibility; (c) That the President direct the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense to undertake a reexamination of our objectives in peace and war and of the effect of these objectives on our strategic plans in the light of the probable fission bomb capability and Possible thermonuclear bomb capability of the Soviet Union; (d) That the President indicate publicly the intention of the government to continue work to determine the feasibility of a thermonuclear weapon, and that no further official information on it be made public without approval of the President. The first recommendation reflected the views expressed by the Joint Chiefs on January 13. The second was made in deference to the views of Lilienthal and other members of the AEC and its GAC who hoped to delay in some fashion the production of thermonuclear weapons. The third recommendation was in conformance with the views of Lilienthal and others who had pressed for months for a fundamental review of U.S. strategic posture. It was supported by Acheson. Johnson disagreed strenuously with (b) believing that it conveyed a sense of uncertainty by the United States. He quickly acceded to the request for a reassessment of the U.S. strategic position, however. Acheson agreed to strike (b) recognizing that there was no need for an explicit statement to protect the Presidents option to defer that decision.

Copyright 1989 by Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. ISBN: 1-56927-342-1 Publications, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 200571025 http://data.georgetown.edu/sfs/programs/isd/

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Lilienthal apparently concluded that events had now moved so far that a formal dissent on his part was useless and capitulated to the views of his two colleagues. Any further protest might weaken the Commissions or his bureaucratic position. Lilienthal now agreed to support a recommendation in favor of accelerated research on the Super. He maintained however, the right to express his reservations to the President face to face. It was approximately 12:30 when the members of the Committee decided upon their recommendation and decided to walk next door to the White House to inform President Truman of their decision. Lilienthal later recalled Johnson saying that the heat was on in Congress, and every hour counted in getting this matter disposed of.2 The President, waiting in the Oval Office for the Special Committee to arrive, was actually in no doubt as to what his decision would be. When Truman read the Joint Chiefs recommendation in favor of development on January 19, he had said that it made a lot of sense, and he was inclined to think that was what we should do, Acheson recalled, and on the twenty-first, he indicated to his staff that he had made up his mind.3 After the Committee had been ushered into the Oval Office and presented the president with its report, Lilienthal recorded that Truman said that he had always believed that we should never use these weapons and that our whole purpose was peace; that he didnt believe we would ever use them but we had to go on and make them because of the way the Russians were behaving; we had no other course.4 Lilienthal attempted to outline his moral objections to the Super but was cut off by the president. Truman asked the Special Committee Can the Russians do it?, All members nodded. We dont have much time, Admiral Souers (also in attendance] said. In that case, asserted Truman, we have no choice. Well go ahead.5 Less than ten minutes after it had begun, the meeting was adjourned. Later that afternoon the White House issued a public statement announcing that the President had instructed the Atomic Energy Commission to continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons including the so-called hydrogen or super-bomb.6 Truman told his staff on February 2, there was actually no decision to be made on the H-bomb.7

In his opinion, the critical decision had been made the previous October when he ordered the expansion of atomic weapons production. His January 31 decision had followed naturally given the international and bureaucratic exigencies he faced. The development of atomic power by the Soviets, following the consolidation of Communism in Eastern Europe, the revolution in China, and the economic and labor unrest in Europe coalesced with the opinions of the State and Defense Departments that the United States operate from positions of strength in its military and economic policy to ensure that the president would decide in favor of accelerated research on the Super. On February 16, Brig. Gen. Herbert Loper, a member of the Military Liaison Committee to the AEC, wrote a memo speculating that if the Soviets had begun a concerted atomic research program in 1943, it was conceivable that they now had the ability to outstrip the United States in atomic weapons production. While admitting that this speculation might be fantastic, he urged that it be considered nevertheless. His superior, General Robert LeBaron, endorsed the memo and forwarded it to the Joint Chiefs on February 20. Four days later, after considering Lopers speculation, the JCS recommended to Secretary Johnson most urgently . . . immediate implementation of all out development of hydrogen bombs.8 The report was brought to the attention of the President who appointed Johnson, Acheson, and AEC Commissioner Henry Smyth to study the issue. On March 9, they recommended that Truman approve the concept that the thermonuclear weapon program is regarded as a matter of highest urgency for the nation and that he take steps to expedite the eventual production of fusion weapons. Truman approved the recommendation the next day. The United States was now formally committed to the development and production of nuclear weapons.9 As part of his January 31 decision, the President had authorized a review of Americas strategic goals and posture. On April 7, the product of that review, a lengthy memo drafted primarily by Paul Nitze, who had replaced Kennan as chief of the State Departments Policy Planning Staff, was circulated in Washington. Designated NSC-68, it would prove to be one of the most important and influential documents of the Cold War.10

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NOTES
1. Shepley and Blair, Hydrogen Bomb, 8788. 2. Bernstein, Truman and the H-Bomb,16; FR 1950 1:513517. 3. Bernstein, Truman and the H-Bomb, 16. 4. Ibid., 16. 5. Robert J. Donovan, Tumultuos Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 19491953 (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982), 155. 6. Public Papers of the President of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1950 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1956), 138. 7. Rosenberg, American Atomic Strategy, 86. 8. Rosenberg, American Atomic Strategy, 85; FR 1950 1. 9. Ibid., 51; FR 1950 1:538542. 10. Ibid., 234292.