THE Atomic Energy Commission of the United Nations finds today that it has caught up with and must face in all their complex difficulty the two central problems of the ageold disarmament question: How can the world limit production of weapons of destruction? How can it insure effective control of that limitation? As these weapons become increasingly more devastating, the challenge to man's ingenuity and vision becomes correspondingly more impelling. But in essence the issues are the same as those debated for years at Geneva between the two world wars.

For over ten years, from the early 1920's until 1934, the League of Nations wrestled with the problem of limiting armaments. The failure to get results at that time has rather obscured the fact that some useful work in this field was done at Geneva, and that this work bears on many of the problems now faced by the Atomic Energy Commission.

At Geneva it was necessary to decide what weapons to limit or ban; what should be the nature of the limitations; how to make certain that the limitations would be carried out; and, finally, how to impose effective sanctions if they were not carried out. Today we do not need to discuss what we want to ban in the field of atomic weapons. The great issues now turn on the methods to be adopted with regard to supervision and sanctions.

Paradoxically enough, the League Disarmament Conference failed just because it was approaching the point of achievement, not because of its futility. This paradox is explainable by the attitude of Germany. Hitler could not afford to let the Conference succeed. It would block his plans for rearmament. He was safe in playing along while the conferees at Geneva dawdled and debated. But when, late in 1933, real progress was made on a concrete program, Hitler broke up the Conference. The agreement which was being drafted was to be a treaty with teeth; there was a definite program to limit and reduce armaments, and it was to be subject to control on the spot. It would have been next to impossible for Hitler to have signed such a treaty and agreed to the measures of supervision, and at the same time to have carried out a program of secret rearmament.

Now that we have the documents revealed at the Nuremberg trial it no longer is necessary to speculate about Hitler's ideas on the subject. The notes of his cabinet conferences of October 13 and October 14, 1933, disclose his decision to sabotage the Disarmament Conference. The secret record shows that Hitler described the control regulations as "particularly intolerable," and he added that "the necessity arose to defeat these proposals [i.e. arms limitation and control proposals] and thereby cause the disarmament conference to be dissolved." Hitler could not accept any scrutiny of his military establishment.[i]


We may draw some encouragement from the fact that while in the past Soviet Russia and the United States have not always seen eye to eye on the subject of armament limitation, there nevertheless have been certain elements in their respective positions which brought them closer together on this subject than has been the case with most other countries. Throughout the period between the two world wars Soviet Russia held a consistent and a clear-cut position. On every possible occasion, from the Genoa Conference in 1922 to the Geneva Conference in 1932-34, the Soviet Union energetically pressed for total disarmament; and when she found that no states were prepared to follow her in such a radical step, she advocated a proportionate reduction of armaments.

The far-reaching Soviet proposal for "immediate, complete and general disarmament" was submitted to the Geneva Preparatory Commission on November 30, 1927. This was a meeting called to prepare the groundwork for the full-dress conference. The Soviet proposal went the limit. All armed forces were to be abolished, as well as war, navy and air ministries; military budgets were outlawed; and scientific research in the field of armaments was to be forbidden. Only small weapons for domestic police needs and small craft for sea patrols would be allowed. This program was to be controlled by a permanent international commission, with local commissions of control in every contracting state. Trade unions and workingmen's organizations were to join with the representatives of the legislative bodies of the contracting Powers (rather than with government officials) in carrying out the controls. The international control commission was to be entrusted with "bringing pressure by non-military measures upon any state which disturbed the normal progress of disarmament." The decisions of the international control commission were to be reached by majority vote and were to be binding on all states. These Soviet proposals were among the most far-reaching in respect of the limitation of sovereign authority that any country has ever suggested.

When the Soviet Delegation saw that proposals for total disarmament were not likely to be successful, they submitted a program based on the principle of proportionate reduction. The more heavily armed states were to reduce their land forces by 50 percent and the less heavily armed a third or a fourth, following a graduated scale. The control measures for this partial disarmament scheme were to be no less rigid than those proposed under the total disarmament plan.

Article 43 of the Soviet Draft Convention stated:

With a view to ensuring genuine control, the Permanent International Commission of Control shall be entitled to carry out investigations on the spot in the event of reasonable suspicion of a breach of the present Convention and of the subsequent supplementary Agreements on the reduction and limitation of armaments, and to appoint for this purpose special commissions of enquiry.

Both the Conventions proposed by the Soviets, that for total as well as that for proportionate disarmament, first introduced into the preparatory work at Geneva, were again pressed when the plenary Conference met in 1932. At this Conference, Mr. Litvinov pointed out that a new conflict was impending, which, "owing to modern improvements in the weapons of destruction threatens humanity with incredible disaster, unprecedented devastation." He added that "in these circumstances the task of the hour is not the repetition of any attempts to achieve some reduction of armament or war budgets . . . but the actual prevention of war with the creation of effective security against war. This task can only be carried out by means of total and general disarmament."

Without attempting to detract in any way from the value of the Soviet contribution to the disarmament discussion of those days, we may usefully put the Soviet disarmament program into the perspective of over-all Soviet policy. Total universal disarmament, if it could be realized and controlled, would, of course, be particularly appealing to a state like Soviet Russia -- or, for that matter, to the United States. The geographic position of these nations, their great expanse of territory, large populations and industrial possibilities, give them an inherent defensive strength and a war potential far exceeding those of most other states. In a totally disarmed world, no countries would be stronger or more secure than the U.S.S.R. and the United States.

The policy on armaments adopted by Soviet Russia in those years, combining as it did the idea of total disarmament (or at least a radical reduction of armaments) with rigid control, also fitted into the general Communist ideology. According to Lenin, the modern state was an instrument of the capitalist class, and the organs of that state existed to maintain the capitalist class. The future Socialist state, according to Lenin, would need no armies, navies or similar state organs, which existed only to suppress the proletariat.

The Sixth Congress of the Communist International, which met in the summer of 1928, set forth this position with complete frankness in describing the aim and purpose of the proposals which Soviet Russia had submitted to the Preparatory Disarmament Commission in Geneva and which she later submitted to the General Conference:

The aim of the Soviet proposals was not to spread pacifist illusions, but to destroy them; not to support Capitalism by ignoring or toning down its shady sides, but to propagate the fundamental Marxian postulate, that disarmament and the abolition of war are possible only with the fall of Capitalism . . . it goes without saying, that not a single Communist thought for a moment that the imperialist world would accept the Soviet disarmament proposals . . . after the Soviet proposals for complete disarmament were rejected, the Soviet Delegation in March 1928 submitted a second scheme which provided for partial disarmament and for a gradual reduction of land and naval forces. This was not a concession to pacifism; on the contrary, it served to expose more completely the attitude of the Great Powers toward the small and oppressed nations. The Soviet Government's position on the question of disarmament is a continuation of Lenin's policy and a consistent application of his precepts.

The Communist position in those days before World War II was certainly influenced by the philosophy that disarmament can be achieved only in a Socialist world; that capitalist states make war inevitable; and that disarmament proposals emanating from the capitalist world are gestures designed to satisfy the proletariat in those states and are, in effect, manœuvres in preparation for war. Hence the Soviet Government felt that its suggestions regarding disarmament were calculated to expose the hypocrisy of the capitalist states, even though it considered as a foregone conclusion that they would not be accepted.

Even granting that this was the underlying motivation for the Soviet position, the fact nevertheless remains that the spokesmen for the U.S.S.R. consistently declared at Geneva their willingness to accept any real measures for the reduction of armaments, even though these did not approximate the drastic suggestions they themselves sponsored. There is no reason to doubt that they would have participated in the plans which were in process of being worked out when the Nazis sabotaged the Geneva Conference.


The United States sponsored proposals at the Geneva Conference which had certain characteristics in common with those put forward by the Soviets. President Hoover's plan, submitted on June 22, 1932, included an overall reduction of one-third in the strength of land armies over and above the so-called police component. Naval forces were to be reduced in various categories by a third or a quarter. Mr. Litvinov welcomed these proposals "the more because to some extent they proceed along the same lines as the Soviet proposals which were not accepted." They included, he said, "some of the important principles which the Soviet delegation put forward in the Preparatory Commission and at the Conference -- namely, the objective method of proportional reduction. . . ." The Hoover proposal, as well as the Draft Convention submitted to the Conference by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald on behalf of the British Government, looked to a drastic overall cut in the armed forces of the world. Progress was really being made.

On one important point over a long period of years prior to 1933 the American Delegation had been at odds with many of the continental European Delegations. The United States had not favored the principle of supervising and controlling disarmament measures on the spot, that is to say, on the various national territories. This attitude reflected our nationalistic and isolationist tendencies of that day. We did not propose to have foreign commissions of control prying around in our countryside. Our position was stated to the Preparatory Disarmament Commission by Mr. Hugh Gibson on September 27, 1926:

The American Delegation has opposed the proposition to establish supervision and control of national armaments by an international agency, since it has felt that any limitation agreements must rest primarily upon international good faith and respect for treaties.

It took considerable education and a long period of evolution to bring about a change in the American attitude. The debates at Geneva, including the position of the Soviet Delegation as set forth in the Draft Conventions which they submitted, undoubtedly had their influence. The point to note is that the Soviets then were favoring arms control on the spot; the United States was maintaining a position against it. The rôles were just the reverse of what they became later.

As time went by and the weight of the arguments in favor of control on the spot accumulated, the Government of the United States reversed its position. The states of Europe quite obviously were not disposed to reduce their armaments solely on the basis of mutual promises. Each had to be sure that its good faith would be met by equal good faith on the part of the others. Hitler was looming large on the European scene. In the face of that situation, the United States agreed to the principle of effective supervision of arms limitation. Mr. Norman Davis announced this decision to the Conference on May 22, 1933, in the following terms:

Finally, we believe that a system of adequate supervision should be formulated, to ensure the effective and faithful carrying-out of any measures of disarmament. We are prepared to assist in this formulation and to participate in this supervision. We are heartily in sympathy with the idea that means of effective, automatic and continuous supervision should be found whereby nations will be able to rest assured that as long as they respect their obligations with regard to armaments the corresponding obligations of their neighbors will be carried out in the same scrupulous manner.

And a few days later, on June 1, Mr. Davis stated that "adequate measures of supervision are an essential part of any effective system of disarmament" and that "controlled disarmament is the safest road to peace."

It was not Soviet Russia that was blocking progress; it was only Hitler's Germany that would not hear of a "controlled disarmament."


On November 15, 1945, the heads of government of the three states which had worked together on the atomic bomb project during the war issued a statement known as the "Truman-Attlee-King Declaration." This initiated the program for dealing with atomic energy. The three governments proposed that for the purpose of "eliminating the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes and promoting its widest use for industrial and humanitarian purposes" a commission should be set up by the United Nations. This commission was to make proposals for the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends, for the control of atomic energy to insure its use only for peaceful ends, for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction; and, finally, "for effective safeguards by way of inspection and other means to protect complying states against the hazards of violations and evasions."

When the Foreign Ministers of the U.S.S.R., the United Kingdom and the United States met in Moscow in December 1945, they approved the proposals concerning the establishment of a United Nations commission. Specifically, in joining the United States and the United Kingdom in this action, the Soviet Government approved the principle of effective safeguards included in the Truman-Attlee-King Declaration. And when on January 24, 1946, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution establishing the Atomic Energy Commission, it gave the Commission terms of reference which included the program outlined in the Declaration.

In the United States, meanwhile, a committee on atomic energy was set up in the Department of State under the chairmanship of Mr. Dean Acheson, assisted by a board of consultants headed by Mr. David E. Lilienthal, for the purpose of giving some form and substance to the Truman-Attlee-King Declaration, the Moscow Decisions and the resolution of the General Assembly constituting the Atomic Energy Commission. The committee reported that there was no hope for security without an international enforcement system. They further concluded that inspection and similar policing methods would not by themselves be sufficient: the technical problem was such that a measure of control was needed at every stage of the activity in dealing with the raw materials. The only hope of attaining effective control of atomic energy, according to the report, lay in the creation of an organization with positive functions in the field of development and management of all intrinsically dangerous nuclear operations. For this purpose a special Authority would be necessary, the control powers of which would start with raw materials and include production plans and research activities.

When the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission took up its assigned task, Mr. Bernard M. Baruch, the United States representative, put forward a series of proposals built on the findings of the Acheson-Lilienthal Committee. There was to be created an international Atomic Development Authority having broad powers of control, supervision and management, beginning with the raw materials as they came from the ground and extending through all phases of atomic energy development. The Authority would be established by stages. These, while bringing the Authority into full operation as quickly as possible, would be so devised that the security of no nation would be jeopardized in the event that a breakdown occurred in the transition period. It was proposed that the Authority should possess a great measure of autonomy and should not have its hands tied by any system requiring unanimity in voting. It was further proposed that certain specified acts, such as the production and use of an atomic bomb, seizure of the Authority's facilities, or any willful interference with the activities of the Authority, should be stigmatized as international crimes and appropriate punishment should be provided in the event of violation. All of these proposals were to be embodied in a specific treaty to which all nations would be invited to subscribe. Once the nations had adhered, no nation would be permitted to commit any breach of the treaty without facing appropriate sanctions.

The counterproposals put forward by the U.S.S.R. envisaged a convention outlawing the production and use of atomic weapons and stigmatizing certain acts as international crimes, but made no provision for the punishment of persons committing such crimes except by the nations of which those individuals were citizens. No provision was made for inspection or supervision or for any international machinery of control, beyond the Security Council operating under its present responsibilities as laid down in the United Nations Charter.

The ensuing discussions in the Atomic Energy Commission soon revealed that the other delegations, excepting that of Poland, had grave doubts concerning the effectiveness of the Soviet proposals. The Mexican and the French delegates pointed out, for example, that if all that was required was a statement of intent not to use atomic weapons, no further action was necessary inasmuch as all states belonging to the United Nations had in signing the United Nations Charter agreed not to go to war. Clearly, therefore, if the nations of the world had renounced war as an instrument of national policy, then under the Soviet conception there was no need to be concerned about the control of any particular weapon of war. Other delegates emphasized the lesson of all previous history that mere declarations not to use particular weapons had been dismal failures.

Informed support of the United States proposals increased very markedly among most of the delegates as the discussions proceeded. As they became more fully aware of the wide implications of the problem, they could find no alternative to a thoroughgoing international control system which would entrust to an international Authority positive powers for the development of atomic energy coupled with rights of inspection to the extent necessary to forestall any attempts at violation and evasion.

With the general views of the delegates elaborated in some degree, the Commission then turned to its Scientific and Technical Committee for a study of the technological feasibility of control. In a series of some 20 informal meetings, the Scientific and Technical Committee arrived at a unanimous report. The report concluded that on the basis of the available scientific facts there was no reason for supposing that effective control was not technologically feasible. No attempt was made to evaluate the political feasibility of any system or systems by which effective control might be achieved. The report was a presentation of the basic scientific and technical facts demonstrating that the same atomic energy activities might lead either to peaceful or destructive ends and that these peaceful and destructive possibilities were so intimately interrelated as to be almost inseparable. It analyzed the principal activities involved in the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, and described the points of danger and the character of the dangers which would exist at each stage unless appropriate safeguards were established against the use of atomic energy for destructive ends.

Since this report represents the unanimous factual findings of the scientific members of the delegations of the 12 countries represented on the Atomic Energy Commission (including, of course, Soviet Russia), it is of considerable importance. By indicating that there is no technological obstacle to establishing an effective system of control, it clearly implied that whatever difficulties might stand in the way would be primarily political.


When the General Assembly of the United Nations met on October 29, 1946, Mr. Molotov laid the whole question of the reduction of armaments on its doorstep. He proposed a resolution to the effect that in the interest of consolidating international peace and security a general reduction of armaments was necessary; and that this should include the banning of the manufacture and use of atomic energy for military purposes. The Molotov resolution said nothing about machinery for supervising or controlling either any general measures of disarmament or the specific prohibitions in the field of atomic energy. These prohibitions appeared to rest, under the terms of the resolution, on a simple declaration of intent, without any means being specified for insuring compliance or control. Almost simultaneously, however, Generalissimo Stalin, in reply to a series of questions put to him by Mr. Hugh Baillie of the United Press, is quoted as having stated that as far as atomic energy was concerned "a strong international control is needed."

The American position has been that it would be the height of futility to start out once again over the weary and winding trail pursued by the League of Nations. This preliminary work has been done once; it does not need to be done all over again. To sign a treaty banning atomic warfare would be simple enough, but it would not give the world the assurance of security for which it longs. A mere declaratory treaty would be unlikely to prove effective either in preventing war or in preventing the use of atomic weapons should war come. What is needed is to find out at the very outset: (1) what effective measures of control are technically feasible (the progress here has been gratifying); and (2) whether these are politically realizable. It was on the second point that the United Nations seemed to be stalemated. Mr. Molotov's resolution of October 29 read exactly like scores of resolutions introduced into the Geneva discussions, from the early 1920's on, by almost every delegation except that of Soviet Russia. In those days no delegation was more caustic in attacking the futility of such resolutions than the Soviet.

The appeals made by Mr. Litvinov to the Disarmament Conference in 1934 were prophetic in pointing out the consequences of failure. In a last effort to save something out of the wreckage, he proposed "that the Conference be transformed into a permanent and regularly assembling Conference of Peace." The Conference which he had in mind "should sit for the prevention of war and its terrible consequences. It should work out, extend and perfect the measures for strengthening security, it should give a timely response to warnings of impending danger of war and to appeals for aid, to SOS's from threatened states, and it should afford the latter timely aid within its power, whether such be moral, economic, financial or otherwise." Mr. Litvinov concluded by stating "the coöperation of the Soviet Government in an international cause, or with any international organisation, brought with it the tremendous moral force of an increasingly powerful State of 170 millions, which had finally broken with the common past -- of military conquest, plunder and annexation -- and during the sixteen years of its new existence had given abundant proof of its sincere devotion to peace." In one of his final statements to the conference Mr. Litvinov proposed that the continuing peace conference which he had suggested "could concern itself with questions of security and disarmament, with control of the execution of undertakings entered into in connection with chemical warfare, and likewise with every other preventive means for the preservation of peace."


The position taken by Mr. Litvinov in those days, and reaffirmed during his absence by other Soviet delegates, including Mr. Dovgalevsky, did not represent a personal policy. It was a policy consistently followed by Soviet Russia in all the disarmament discussions over a dozen years or more. Even though this policy, as the proceedings of the Comintern of 1928 indicate, may have been put forward in part to expose the attitude of the capitalist states, this is not by any means the whole story. Those who heard Mr. Litvinov -- and I was among them -- could not but be impressed with the fact that he was interpreting to us the striving of the Russian people to find an assurance of peace in face of the terrible menace which was looming before them. What Mr. Litvinov predicted came true. Many of us who were in Geneva at the time came away deeply influenced by his declarations. The evolution in American policy, particularly as regards the necessity for on-the-spot supervision of measures of disarmament, was due in no small part to the common sense and logic of what the continental European states, including Soviet Russia, had to say in favor of a program of rigorous control of the instruments of destruction.

Mr. Molotov's speech of November 28 brings an indication that some progress is being made toward breaking the deadlock on this point of supervision and control. He has proposed that two commissions be established within the framework of the Security Council: one to control the measures for the reduction of armaments, the second to control the execution of decisions regarding the prohibition of the military use of atomic energy. As he stated, many technical problems remain, and his suggestion falls short of the Baruch plan for an Atomic Development Authority. There is also the question whether the action of the commissions might be nullified by a veto in the Security Council. But now that there is agreement that supervision must be a part of any plan, we are justified in hoping that as the Soviets become better acquainted with our program for dealing with the dangerous stages of atomic energy they will share our own conviction both as to its necessity and its practicability. As the foregoing pages have shown, it was Soviet Russia that before the Second World War stood in the forefront of those pressing for practical disarmament measures as opposed to pious resolutions or mere treaty prohibitions.

Just as we can draw encouragement from this historical review of the Soviet position, we can also take some comfort from the evolution of the American position. Over the years, the United States has come to realize that it can safely accept certain limitations on its national sovereignty by participating in a universal system of real armaments controls. As an earnest of its sincerity, it has put forward the most drastic program ever offered for the elimination of a weapon of mass destruction.

In this analysis I have made no mention of the veto, since this was not a problem in the days of the Geneva disarmament discussions. The agreement on which we were then working was viewed in the same light as any other contractual arrangement. If any party failed to live up to its terms the other parties thereto were free to take action to repair the damage or to meet the danger. Today it would seem logical to expect that if we could once get a treaty precise in its terms as to the elimination of atomic weapons and the supervision of all dangerous activities in the field of atomic energy, the problem of the veto would tend to disappear. It is encouraging to be told by the experts that we can be quite specific; that we can agree in advance and precisely define the violations. Obviously, it would be futile to conclude a treaty providing for supervision and control in the field of atomic energy and then to permit action to be blocked by a single state in the event that the controls break down. It would be even more futile to accept the theory that the state which had broken the law could prevent the states which had not done so from enforcing it.

Measures to control any weapon, whether an atom bomb or some other, are, after all, only means to an end and not an end in themselves. The end, of course, is security and peace. Once the peace is broken, any weapon may be used; mere prohibitions are futile. It is true that poison gas was not employed in the last war, but I doubt whether anyone today believes that Hitler refrained from resorting to it for any moral or legal reasons. Germany was badly situated strategically to use it; retaliation would have been too swift and overwhelming.

The measure of our success in providing effective controls against atomic warfare will be the test of our ability to impose limitations or controls on weapons of any type. If we fail here, it will be a waste of time to try to limit the use of guns, rockets, ships, bacteria or gases. We are engaged in a pilot operation. That the operation is in the atomic field makes it of the utmost urgency but does not change the factors which condition the success of every effort toward disarmament. We can be sure of enlisting the great scientists of the world to help solve the technical problems of the present operation. What is needed first is an agreement by the political leaders. Then the technicians can set to work effectively, not only to master the most destructive weapon ever to threaten civilization but also to tame and direct to the beneficent uses of peace the incalculable powers of atomic energy.

[i] The golden opportunity to bring Germany into line had been lost more than a year earlier. The promising negotiations carried on in the spring of 1932 by Messrs. Stimson, MacDonald, Tardieu and Bruening had dragged out too long, due to the upset of the French Government; an agreement that was on the point of being concluded with pre-Hitler Germany was lost when Bruening's Government fell. In six months the world had Hitler to deal with.

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  • ALLEN W. DULLES, American member of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference in 1926, and legal adviser to the American delegation at the Three Power Naval Conference in 1927 and at the Disarmament Conference in 1932 and 1933; representative of OSS in Central Europe, 1942-1945, and Chief of the OSS Mission to Germany after V-E Day
  • More By Allen W. Dulles