Courtesy Reuters

Atomic Energy and American Foreign Policy

ONE reason the political problem raised by the discovery of the means to release atomic energy is so vast is that it contains inherently contradictory elements. Only by international action can we reap the potential benefits of atomic energy, which are so great for all mankind; only by international action can we find any security against the bomb, which has destructive possibilities that are so appalling. But if the bomb is thus the sharpest spur to internationalism, it is also the sharpest reminder that American foreign policy must not forget that American security is endangered as never before. The bomb provides the greatest temptation to aggression ever offered an ambitious people or an unscrupulous leader, and against it the traditional modes of national defense are clearly inadequate. New strategies are called for, alike in the military and the political fields.

An attempt to encompass the problem must begin with a review of the scientific factors conditioning the release of atomic energy and the technical circumstances in which the bomb was developed. There is no short-cut to an understanding of the political and social problems involved; and no simple "yes" or "no" answer can be given to the various proposals made for dealing with them. The present paper aims merely to summarize and place in juxtaposition the facts about atomic energy which have special significance in the formulation of foreign policy, and to see how they apply in the case of the United States.


The discovery of uranium is not recent. It was recognized as a metallic constituent of pitchblende in Germany at least as early as the middle eighteenth century. Until 1789 it was generally thought to be tungsten, but in that year W. H. Klaproth proved it to be a new element and named it after the planet Uranus, then newly discovered in the heavens. It was rather inert in its chemical properties, and until 1938 was considered to have only minor commercial importance as an alloying metal (

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