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Bernard Baruch presents the United States plan for international control of atomic energy to the United Nations, June 14, 1946.NEGOTIATING INTERNATIONAL CONTROL
(December 1945-1946)
Events > Postscript -- The Nuclear Age, 1945-Present

After American, British, and Canadian officials agreed at the November 1945 Washington meeting to a negotiating approach on international control, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes quickly arranged for the Big Three foreign ministers to meet in Moscow in mid-December.  Atomic energy, which the Soviets placed last on a long list of agenda items, was discussed only in terms of the United Nations proposal.  Surprising Byrnes with their willingness to cooperate, the Soviets acquiesced to the American proposal, which was based on the Washington joint declaration, but with one exception.  They agreed that the commission should be set up by the United Nations General Assembly, but, counter to the American plan, they insisted that the commission report to the Security Council and be accountable to it "in matters affecting security."  This was no mere procedural difference.  Most of the members in the General Assembly, where decisions were made by majority rule, were more closely aligned to the United States than to the Soviet Union.  In the Security Council, the Soviet Union possessed the veto and could effectively halt any commission actions that it found objectionable.

President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State Dean AchesonOn returning from Moscow, Byrnes named Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson to chair a committee to formulate policy on international control.  Also members were Vannevar Bush, General Leslie Groves, James Conant, and John J. McCloy.  The committee, in turn, set up a five-member board of consultants headed by Tennessee Valley Authority Chairman David E. Lilienthal and with Robert Oppenheimer as the panel’s resident physics expert.  Charged with producing a report, the board was granted considerable leeway as to its form and content.  The board followed Oppenheimer’s lead in recommending that an "Atomic Development Authority" be the centerpiece for controlling the atom.  The proposed international authority would have a world-wide monopoly in most of the major areas of atomic energy.  The concept of control relied not so much on safeguards and inspections as on a dynamic international organization of scientists and administrators committed to developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes and exercising proprietary authority over facilities, materials, and processes required for making atomic weapons.  Acheson’s committee warmly embraced the proposal and on March 17, 1946, forwarded to Byrnes what became known as the Acheson-Lilienthal report.

Bernard Baruch presents the United States plan for international control of atomic energy to the United Nations, June 14, 1946.That same day, President Harry S. Truman asked Bernard Baruch to be the lead United States negotiator at the United Nations.  At age seventy-five an "elder statesman" who had served American presidents in various capacities since World War I, Baruch inclined toward drafting his own proposal and feared being boxed in by the parameters set by the Acheson-Lilienthal report, which had become a public document.  After several months of give and take, however, he accepted the Acheson-Lilienthal plan largely as his own.  Baruch’s one major change was on the issue of enforcement.  The Acheson-Lilienthal plan intentionally remained silent on enforcement, not wanting to put forth terms that suggested mistrust of the Soviet Union.  Baruch, by contrast, insisted on specific penalties.  Violations would be met, he asserted, with "immediate and certain" punishment that would not be subject to Security Council veto.  On June 14, Baruch unveiled the proposal in a speech to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission.  The Baruch plan, as it came to be called, was, as Baruch paraphrased Abraham Lincoln, "the last, best hope of earth."

Andrei GromykoNot everyone saw it that way.  Five days later, Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet delegate, proposed an international convention prohibiting the possession, production, and use of nuclear weapons.  Only after the convention was implemented, Gromyko stated, should measures be considered to ensure "the strict observance of the terms and obligations."  He also rejected any attempts to negate the veto.  Gromyko later added that the Baruch proposals could not be accepted "either as a whole or in their separate parts."

Joseph Stalin (with Vyacheslav Molotov), February 1945The debate in the United Nations was a debate in name only.  In the following six months, neither side demonstrated the least inclination to alter its stated position.  For their part, the Soviets never expressed any intent either to negotiate seriously or, as an analysis by the American embassy in Moscow noted, abandon their "own gigantic atomic research project." In one of the rare recorded instances of a private diplomatic exchange, the Russian diplomat A. A. Sobolev told Franklin A. Lindsay, an aide to Baruch, that the Soviet Union was not interested in the Baruch proposals but sought "freedom to pursue its own policies in complete freedom and without any interference or control from the outside." Discouraged by the exchange, Lindsay concluded afterwards that stopping bomb production would in "no way induce the Russians to accept any form of international inspection and control." He added that this "strongly indicates that no general understanding based on mutual trust and cooperation is possible between the two systems of government."

As for United States policy, Baruch stayed the course.  Although disagreement among American officials existed on the veto issue, no consideration was given to making concessions on the overall proposal consisting of the atomic development authority and staged implementation of exchange and control.  The United States, believing that Soviet troops posed a threat in Europe with the rapid demobilization of American conventional forces, refused to surrender its atomic deterrent without adequate international controls.  Unwilling to surrender its veto power, the Soviet Union, in the end, abstained from the December 31, 1946, vote on Baruch’s proposal on the grounds that it did not prohibit the bomb.  Token debate on the plan continued into 1948, but the Baruch plan, in fact, was a dead letter by early 1947.  At the same time, the Soviet Union continued its crash effort to develop its own bomb.  The United States continued to develop and expand its own nuclear arsenal.  And, in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, the Cold War set in.

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Sources and notes for this page.

The text for this page is original to the Department of Energy's Office of History and Heritage Resources.  Portions were adapted from the History Office publication: F. G. Gosling, The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb (DOE/MA-0001; Washington: History Division, Department of Energy, January 1999), 55-57, and Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The New World, 1939-1946: Volume I, A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Washington: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1972), 469-476, 554-579, 583-584, 618-619.  Also used were McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988), 156-168, and Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945-1950 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 82-85.  The Moscow Communiqué by the Foreign Ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union [Extracts], December 27, 1945; The Baruch Plan: Statement by the United States Representative (Baruch) to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, June 14, 1946, and Address by the Soviet Representative (Gromyko) to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, June 19, 1946, are in Documents on Disarmament, 1945-1959, Volume 1, 1945-1956 (Department of State Publication 7008, August 1960), 3-5, 7-24.  The analysis of the American embassy in Moscow is in Walter Bedell Smith to H. Freeman Matthews, November 19, 1946, and the A.A. Sobolev/Franklin A. Lindsay exchange is in Lindsay to Bernard Baruch, October 21, 1946, both in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, Volume I, General; The United Nations (Department of State Publication 8573, 1972), 955-960, 1016-1019.  The photograph of Bernard Baruch presenting his plan to the United States is reprinted in Hewlett and Anderson, The New World, opposite page 561.  The photographs of President Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson and Andrei Gromoyko (with Eleanor Roosevelt and Nikita and Nina Khruschev) are courtesy the National Archives.  The photograph of Joseph Stalin with Vyacheslav Molotov is courtesy the Roosevelt Presidential Library (via the National Archives).

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