THE latest types of weapons -- the robot bomb, the rocket, the jet-propelled airplane -- are, fortunately, coming into extensive use only as this war draws to a close. If the collective intelligence of mankind is unequal to the task of preventing another war, these weapons and others even more terrible will be used in perfected form at the outset, perhaps with instantly decisive effect. In earlier times those who were the strongest in mere muscular strength were the ones who profited from the anarchic lack of collective security. The stupendous scientific developments of the last hundred years have now been brought to the point where it is entirely conceivable that an anemic professor in an underground chamber may reach over and touch a button and kill a thousand men a thousand miles away.

In considering how to guard against a catastrophe which threatens the total destruction of the civilization built up painfully by mankind through the centuries, we must ask whether we have not reached the point where the discoveries of science must become the common property of all, for the use of all. Can we permit any more secrets if machines secretly produced threaten to destroy us all? Can there any longer be private research, in the old sense of the word, for military purposes or for the commercial processes which can serve those purposes?

Modern war is total war. It demands the participation of every citizen. It absorbs all, or nearly all, the resources of the state. It strikes directly at the person and property of every individual. Because it does this, and because modern weapons have attained such range, speed and destructive power, the civilized nations are joining in a world-wide organization to prevent the recurrence of total war. In this task, the people of the United States are taking a leading part and are likely to continue to do so.

This fact will profoundly affect future American foreign policy and future American military policy. The two policies must be coördinated. Power and objectives must be brought into balance. The degree of preparedness which it is necessary for us to maintain in order to meet emergencies and accomplish our national purposes should be determined: 1, by the nature of the dangers against which we must guard; 2, by the ability of the international organization to deal with those dangers at their source.

To maintain a just balance between these two considerations will not be easy. There will be those who lack faith in the international organization and urge that we keep ourselves in a higher state of military readiness than necessity demands; and there will be those who insist that to maintain military power as insurance tends in itself to break down confidence in the international organization and to undermine its authority. The only specific by which these conflicts of opinion can be reconciled is ordinary common sense, for the conditions we shall encounter in the immediate future will be new in the affairs of states and we have little experience to guide us in dealing with them.

The bare bones of the problem may be described as follows. The proposed international organization is not a world government, but a partnership of sovereign states to accomplish certain concrete purposes in which all the partners have a common interest. For successful operation, at any rate in its initial stages, the organization requires a certain degree of military readiness on the part of the principal states, especially those which assume the definite military obligations foreshadowed in the Dumbarton Oaks proposals. The question of how to disarm and control Germany and Japan is an additional problem. That task may continue to be the subject of special arrangements or may, in time, become part of the obligations of the international organization. The principal military Powers of the United Nations group will have to consider their armaments both in the light of developing conditions in the world as a whole and in relation to the particular job of keeping Germany and Japan disarmed. They then will have to plan their armaments both from the point of view of their obligations to each other and from the point of view of their individual security.

The very foundation of any successful partnership is good faith between the partners. No partnership which is not based upon mutual confidence can hope to be effective, or even to exist for any length of time. Thus it is to be presumed that the Great Powers will exchange full information regarding their actual armed forces. Presumably, also, under the pressure of economic factors each will seek to relieve itself of as much of the burden of maintaining large armaments as it reasonably can. This will be true of every state which does not cherish aggressive designs. But the desire to disarm will be tempered by the prudence which, for some time to come, will suggest to many minds in all countries that the international organization, after all, offers an untried means of protection and that some reinsurance is still necessary in case it does not prove capable of meeting its future task.


Let us now, in the light of these general considerations, examine one specific consideration introduced by the nature of modern warfare -- the fact that states now strike at one another through the air. Warfare today, as already remarked, draws upon the whole resources of the nation. It is a war of production, of machines and devices, as well as of men. Nations no longer send out soldiers to fight while the mass of the civilian population remains comfortably at home in comparative safety. The nation wages total war, and total war is waged against it; all the national resources are used against the enemy and all are subject to attack.

Nor is it true any longer that these resources -- the centers of industry, the internal transportation facilities, even the homes of the people -- can be protected by armies defending the frontiers or advancing from them into enemy territory. Similarly, it no longer is true that they can be protected by command of a sea which an enemy must cross in order to attack them. Science, mobilized along with the other resources of a nation, has given to warfare a succession of new weapons which have steadily increased in range, speed, destructive power and terribleness. These new weapons for the most part move through the air, where no material barriers can be erected. They strike at the centers of national power, directly and without warning. In a few years' time it will be possible to aim such attacks from any point on the surface of the earth against any other point.

Means of defense will be developed, of course, against such weapons, partly through scientific research, partly by the device of putting dwellings, factories and military installations under ground. (If we continue to wage wars, more and more men will have to burrow into the bosom of the earth for safety, leaving the open air and sunlight in which mankind has thrived.) If our plan is to depend upon counter-research to provide technical means of defense, the question of time is of prime importance. Those who contemplate aggression will be stimulated to develop some new means of offense against which no defense has yet been worked out. If they were to produce a weapon of overwhelming power, the results might be decisive before there was time to counteract it. The chances that an aggressor nation might come forward suddenly with such a weapon would obviously be much greater if the scientists of every country were working in watertight compartments, each clutching his own secrets tightly to his bosom.

Science in general may be said to move on parallel lines in various localities. There have been many disputes in the past as to just where and when a given discovery was first made; rarely in peacetime is any new advance in science announced without the claim being made that the same goal has almost been attained elsewhere. If the labors of all scientists in all peace-loving states are pooled, the chance of a sudden surprise by a new "terrorweapon" will be greatly reduced.

Obviously, the progress of scientific research and development in the use of such weapons, and in means of defense against them, is a most important factor in future military policy. It is perhaps the most important factor. The degree of perfection to which man's instruments of self-destruction have already been carried makes it vitally necessary that the use and even the possession of such instruments be restricted by law -- that is, by common agreement. This is the inexorable force which is impelling the peoples of the world to seek safety in union.

But this approach toward union has not yet extinguished nationalism. Suspicion and uncertainty still exist between nations. The practical problem of how to control scientific research and development in the military field is, therefore, far from easy to solve. It may be considered under two headings -- as it affects the relations of the United Nations (and particularly the great military Powers which are the pillars of the new organization), and as it concerns the disarmament and future restraint of the present enemy Powers.

In the first category, the vital question is this: Shall there be a complete and continuous interchange of information on the progress of scientific research among the United Nations, without any reservations? An interchange of this sort, on an all-out and completely reciprocal basis, exists today between the United States and the nations of the British Commonwealth, through the media of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and other joint agencies. Can and will this sort of interchange be extended to include all the other members of the new international organization, and will it be continued when the immediate pressure of military necessity has relaxed?

We might as well frankly face the fact that the great question mark in this proposition is Soviet Russia. Up to the time of the recent Crimea Conference our exchange of information of any kind with the Russians left a great deal to be desired. They told us very little, even about military operations, and they were not members of the Combined Chiefs of Staff or of any of the other combined technical agencies. Possibly political reasons, stemming from the fact that Russia is not at war with Japan, have accounted in part for the Russian attitude; but it certainly is true to say that the Russians have kept their western Allies at arm's length in matters even relating to the war against Germany.

The future of the international security organization depends in large part on whether the Russians can be persuaded that this "Chinese wall" with which they have surrounded their country, for reasons which have seemed to them good, need no longer be maintained. Perhaps a beginning was made in this direction at the Crimea Conference; the communiqué of that Conference, referring to military matters, said that "the fullest information was interchanged." But far more is needed. If the new organization is to succeed, there must be complete confidence between partner and partner; and in no field is it of greater consequence than in that of military-scientific research and development. A secret armament race between the United States and Russia would keep the world in terror and would undermine the whole structure of world security which we are hoping to build. It seems almost certain to come unless each partner keeps the others fully informed as to the new weapons which its scientists are developing and as to defenses which they are devising against existing weapons.

It is hard to see how such confidence can be assured without freedom of communication, of travel, of press and radio, and of academic and scientific interchange. The mere statement of these conditions shows how long and difficult is the road that must be traveled. The journey will hardly be completed in a single stage. A step-by-step advance, on a strictly reciprocal basis, will perhaps prove to be the only method of progress. The political and social differences of years and the unfortunate mistrusts which they engendered will not be dissipated easily; but we may hope that the comradeship of arms, the winning of a common victory and the tremendous stake which both peoples have in the preservation of peace may all have an influence in bringing about an eventual solution.

It seems possible that, as one of the results of the Crimea Conference, the Soviet High Command may associate itself more closely with the existing Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff. As the world passes from the conditions of war to the conditions of organized peace, this enlarged Combined Chiefs of Staff might and should furnish the framework for the Military Staff Committee which is to advise the Security Council of the international organization on military matters. It would lie within the proper duties of this Committee to exchange information between the General Staffs of the participating states regarding scientific matters having a military application.


Within each participating state the closest sort of association will have to be maintained among its civilian scientists and research laboratories and its military staffs. This need has already been recognized in this country. A joint statement by the Secretaries of War and the Navy, released Feburary 12, 1945, said in part: "A recommendation from the Committee on Post-war Research has been received for the establishment by Congress of an independent agency to deal with the matter, but pending action on this recommendation and to assist in providing for continued civilian participation in the longer term scientific problems of national security when the Office of Scientific Research and Development proceeds to liquidate its activities as a temporary wartime agency, the National Academy of Sciences is hereby requested to establish promptly within the National Academy of Sciences a Research Board for National Security." The objective of this Board, the news release said, will be to continue the close coöperation between civilian scientists and the armed services which has proven to be such a vital element in the prosecution of the war, pending the creation of an independent agency by Congress.

In their statement, the two Secretaries continued as follows:

This war emphasizes three facts of supreme importance to national security. (1) Powerful new tactics of defense and offense are developed, around new weapons created by scientific and engineering research. (2) The competitive time element in developing these weapons and tactics may be decisive. (3) War is increasingly total war, in which the Armed Services must be supplemented by active participation of every element of the civilian population.

To insure continued preparedness along farsighted technical lines, the research scientists of the country must be called upon to continue in peacetime some substantial portion of those types of contribution to national security which they have made so effectively during the stress of the present war.

That is the problem as seen from the unilateral point of view of American national defense. It is a view which takes into account past experience, and the experience of this war in particular -- such, for example, as the realization that if the progress of German research and development had permitted the extensive use of the V-1 bomb against Great Britain a year earlier than was actually the case, that island might have been so laid waste as to be rendered useless as a base of operations for the Allied Air Forces and the Allied Armies. The duty of the War and Navy Departments is to be realistic, to provide for national security in the light of current realities. It is not their province to anticipate a political agreement which lies in the future. Nevertheless, the objectives which they have outlined above must be brought into accord with the commitments of the United States once the charter of the international organization has been formulated and the United States has ratified it. It is perfectly clear that the relationship of scientific research and development to military affairs will offer a similar problem in all countries which are members of the organization, and that in each it will be necessary to take steps to keep civilian research agencies and individuals in close touch with the armed services.

This creates a new set of difficulties. Much of the scientific research which bears on military matters is prompted by commercial competition -- competition between states which have government-controlled economies, and between corporations in those which have systems of private enterprise. In the latter, the competition may be either for domestic or for foreign markets. It might at first sight seem simple enough to require all discoveries and all scientific progress to be disclosed confidentially to a suitable national defense agency. But in countries operating under systems of private enterprise the personnel of any such agency would have to be drawn in part from the great laboratories, many of which are the private property of competing firms. And when we go further and say that all information bearing on such matters must be made available to the scientists of every nation, through the medium of the research agency of the Military Staff Committee, it becomes pretty clear that if everybody plays the game according to the rules there are going to be no secrets, except in areas of research which have no bearing on national or international security. It is, for example, asking a great deal of human nature to expect Mr. X, whose livelihood is chiefly derived from his salary as the chief research engineer for the ABC Corporation of New York, but who is also a member of the government's research board for national security, and as such in touch with the work being done by the scientists of a competing firm in England, to keep his two functions separate; or to expect a private firm to finance the work of such a scientist if the fruits of his labor are to be used by everyone. This sort of thing may be done in time of war; but it is different to require that it be done in peacetime.

Moreover, we must remember that even a country with a small military potential in the ordinary sense of the word may be dangerous in this new era of science. It is quite conceivable that some destructive weapon might be found which could be developed without enormous material resources. No such weapon is now known. The rocket and robot bomb make heavy drains on industrial facilities, and preparations for their production could not be concealed easily. If research is pooled (and particularly since, as we have noted, scientists everywhere tend to advance on parallel lines), any discovery looking to the launching of a decisive attack without vast preparations would probably be suspected in time to take counter-measures. But the particular problem shows the enormous difficulty of the whole complex of problems. The indications are that possible solutions may entail the loss of a great deal of individual freedom and the curtailment of the search for either commercial or military advantage.


The plans to be adopted for the restraint of the enemy states which have been proved to be enemies of humanity must take into account the virtual certainty that inside those countries keen and patient scientific minds will soon be hard at work seeking to circumvent whatever disarmament regulations are imposed by the victors. It is probably impossible to prevent scientific research in Germany and Japan, but it certainly is possible to prevent these nations from giving their discoveries practical application and development. For this it is necessary to frame adequate regulations and maintain adequate inspection. It further is necessary that the victor nations preserve their wills unweakened by "humanitarian" influences.

Research might perhaps be restricted to a considerable degree if the leading men of science of Germany and Japan, who have devoted their lives to contriving new weapons and new methods of slaughter, were confined on some distant island -- South Georgia, for example, down near the Antarctic Circle -- where the problems of mere existence would occupy their attention and where they would have few facilities for continuing their deadly work. If the younger generation were deprived of the "inspiration" of the great teachers, their progress along dangerous lines might be slowed. But while this might be a helpful means of hampering research in Germany and Japan we clearly cannot depend on it by itself to provide adequate safety.

The exact nature of the restrictions to be imposed upon German and Japanese industry -- or what is left of it after victory has been won -- remains to be determined. The decisions to be taken seem likely to be based on two major considerations: the necessity for preventing a German or Japanese military comeback; and the realization that if the restrictions are unnecessarily severe in their impact on the lives of the German and Japanese peoples, there eventually will be an unfavorable reaction within the victor nations themselves, especially in the United States and the British Dominions where the terrors of total war have not been directly experienced.

We may assume that Germany and Japan will be forbidden to possess or operate industrial facilities of a directly military nature. The difficulty will come when we begin to distinguish between a factory for turning out cannon and one for turning out steel bridges, or a chemical plant which produces explosives and one which produces dyestuffs. A like difficulty will arise when we come to the matter of scientific research and development. There seems no way of making certain that a group of professors hidden away in a garret will not be experimenting with, say, a death-ray or an atomic bomb. But neither is it going to be easy to make certain that the open and innocent-looking laboratory where a little group is trying to make advances in the production of synthetic dyes is not actually working overtime on a new poison gas; and only the most thorough system of inspection will prevent such experiments from being carried to the stage where they might constitute an actual menace.

There seems a great deal to be said for the development, as a permanent agency of the Security Council, of the corps of civilian technical inspectors suggested by President James B. Conant of Harvard University in a speech on October 7, 1944. "Ways and means must be found," observed Dr. Conant, "for recruiting a corps of civilian experts of the highest caliber. A tradition of reliability and a sense of international responsibility must be developed that will prevent an abuse of the inspectorial powers. . . . If an international organization is to have power to keep the peace, it must be provided with unprejudiced information, and if we in the United States are to keep our armaments at a moderate level, we must be confident as to the status of other powers." Dr. Conant thinks it is not too much to hope that such a corps of inspectors, whose first task will be to examine German and Japanese industry for possible sources of danger, might eventually "develop a tradition which anchors their professional loyalties to an association of nations rather than to their own country," and might become a world-wide armament inspection service whose reports would make possible the gradual and multilateral reduction of armaments by all the nations of the world.

These pages can do no more than state the problems inherent in the present situation. No attempt has been made to find specific solutions; these must be found through the process of trial and error, painfully and slowly, by the collective action of many minds. The problems seem plain, and so do the dangers. The problems must be solved and the dangers must be averted, for they menace every human being on this earth, and his children yet unborn. Science can contribute many more discoveries to our prosperity and well-being. But if collective intelligence cannot find ways to control the terrible instruments which individual minds have brought and will bring into being, the human race and all its works will be destroyed in blood and fire.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • GEORGE FIELDING ELIOT, military and naval correspondent of the New York Herald Tribune; author of "The Ramparts We Watch," "Hour of Triumph" and other works
  • More By George Fielding Eliot