A Decade of American Foreign Policy 1941-1949
International Control of Atomic Energy (1)

Statement by the Representatives of Canada, China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, October 25, 1949

On 24 October 1949, the representatives of Canada, China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States of America agreed to send to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, for transmission to the General Assembly, the following interim report on the consultations of the six permanent members of the Atomic Energy Commission:

"In paragraph 3 of General Assembly resolution 191 (III) of 4 November 1948, the representatives of the Sponsoring Powers, who are the Permanent Members of the Atomic Energy Commission, namely, Canada, China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, were requested to hold consultations 'in order to determine if there exist a basis for agreement on the international control of atomic energy to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes, and for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons".
"The first meeting took place on 9 August 1949. The consultations have not yet been concluded and are continuing but, in order to inform the General Assembly of the position which has so far been reached, the six Sponsoring Powers have decided to transmit to it the summary records of the first ten meetings."

It was agreed by the group that any of the representatives of the Governments taking part in these consultations retained the right to submit to the Assembly their observations on the course of the consultations so far. The representatives of Canada, China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States accordingly submit to the General Assembly this statement, which represents their joint views, in the hope that it may assist the Assembly in its consideration of this problem.


It was found desirable to approach these consultations from the viewpoint of general principles rather than specific proposals which had been the basis of most of the discussion in the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. To this end, the representative of the United Kingdom offered a list of topics as a basis for discussion. Included in this paper was a Statement of Principles relating to each topic (Annex 1). It was pointed out that the United Kingdom Statement of Principles was based on the plan approved by the General Assembly, (2) but at the same time covered the essential topics with which any plan for the prohibition of atomic weapons and the control of atomic energy would have to deal. The list of topics was then adopted as the basis for discussion. The representatives of Canada, China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States made it clear that their Governments accepted the Statement of Principles set forth in this paper and considered them essential to any plan of effective prohibition of atomic weapons and effective control of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. They expressed the readiness of their Governments to consider any alternative proposals which might be put forward, but emphasized that they would continue to support the plan approved by the General Assembly unless and until proposals were made which would provide equally or more effective and workable means of control and prohibition.


At the request of the Soviet representative, the question of the prohibition of atomic weapons was taken up first. The texts which served as a basis for the discussion were point four of the Statement of Principles, and a Soviet amendment submitted to replace that text (Annex II). In the course of the discussion, the Soviet representative declared that the representatives of all six Sponsoring Powers were in agreement in recognizing that atomic weapons should be prohibited, and he therefore drew the conclusion that his amendment should be accepted. The other representatives pointed out that it had always been agreed that the production, possession or use of atomic weapons by all nations must be prohibited. But it was also agreed that prohibition could only be enforced by means of an effective system of control. This was recognized even in the Soviet amendment, but the remainder of the amendment contained a repetition of the earlier Soviet proposals for control which were deemed inadequate.

The Soviet representative insisted that two separate conventions, one on prohibition and the other on control, should be put into effect simultaneously. The other representatives maintained that the important point to be resolved was what constitutes effective control, and that this control had to embrace all uses of atomic materials in dangerous quantities. In their view the Soviet proposals would not only fail to provide the security required but they would be so inadequate as to be dangerous. They would delude the peoples of the world into thinking that atomic energy was being controlled when in fact it was not. On the other hand, under the approved plan, the prohibition of the use of atomic weapons would rest not only on the pledge of each nation, but no nation would be permitted to possess the materials with which weapons could be made. Furthermore, the Soviet Government took an impracticable stand as regards the question of timing or stages by which prohibition and control would be brought into effect.


On this topic, the Soviet representative maintained that the entire system of prohibition and control must be put into effect simultaneously over the entire nuclear industry.

The representatives of the other Powers pointed out that this would be physically impossible. The development of atomic energy is the world's newest industry, and already is one of the most complicated. It would not be reasonable to assume that any effective system of control could be introduced and enforced overnight. Control and prohibition must, therefore, go into effect over a period of time and by a series of stages.

The plan approved by the General Assembly on 4 November 194n (sic.) does not attempt to define what the stages should be, the order i8 (sic.) which they should be put into effect, or the time which the whole process of transition would take. The reason for this is that no detailed provisions on stages could be drawn up until agreement is, reached on what the control system should be, and the provisions, would also depend on the state of development of atomic energy in the various countries at the time agreement is reached. Until then, detailed study of the question of stages would be unrealistic.

Meanwhile, the approved plan covers the question of stages in so, far as it can usefully be carried at present. The plan provides that the schedule of stages of application of control and prohibition over all the many phases of the entire nuclear industry is to be written into the treaty, with the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission as the body to supervise their orderly implementation. No other commitment or position on this question is contained in the approved plan.


(a) Means of Control

The Soviet representative insisted, as in the past, that any plan of control, to be acceptable to the Soviet Union, must be based on the Soviet proposals for control, originally put forward in June 1947 (Document AEC/24, 11 June 1947), which provide for periodic inspection of nationally owned plants producing or using atomic materials, when declared to an international control organ by the Governments concerned.

The representatives of Canada, China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States recalled that the nuclear fuels produced or used in such plants are the very nuclear explosives used in the manufacture of weapons. A new situation therefore was created in the field of armaments where the conversion of a peaceful industry into a war industry could take place rapidly and without warning.

In dealing with such materials a system of control depending merely on inspection would be ineffective. For ordinary chemical or mineral substances and their processing inspection might provide adequate guarantees, but atomic development presented special problems which could not be solved in this way. Materials used in the development of atomic energy were highly radioactive and could not, therefore, be handled except by remote control. The process of measuring atomic fuels was extremely intricate and, at the present stage of our knowledge, subject to appreciable error. It would be impracticable to rely on the inspection of plants and impossible to check the actual amounts of atomic materials inside piles or reactors against the amounts shown in the records.

A system of inspection alone would not prevent the clandestine diversion of atomic materials to war purposes from plants designed for peaceful use and would provide no guarantee that, in spite of any treaty, a nation which was determined to continue the secret manufacture of atomic weapons would be prevented from doing so. A plan based on periodic inspection, on which the Soviet Union insists, would be even less adequate than one based on continuous inspection.

The Soviet representative dismissed these arguments as exaggerated or non-existent.

Since there was evidence that an atomic explosion had been produced in the Soviet Union, the Soviet representative was asked whether he had any new evidence derived from Soviet experience to support his contention that periodic inspection would be sufficient to assure control. No answer has yet been received to this question.

The five Powers remain convinced that any system of inspection alone would be inadequate and that in order to provide security the International Control Agency must itself operate and manage dangerous facilities and must hold dangerous atomic materials and facilities for making or using dangerous quantities of such materials in trust for Member States.

(b) Ownership

During the consultations, the question of ownership, which has often been represented as the real obstacle to agreement on control, was the subject of an extended exchange of views.

The Soviet representative argued that international management and operation were equivalent to international ownership; and that neither international ownership nor international management and operation was essential to control. He stated that his Government would not accept either.

The representatives of the other Sponsoring Powers refuted the interpretation put by the Soviet representative on ownership, management and operation. For the reasons given they believed that the management and operation of dangerous facilities must be entrusted to the International Agency. Management and operation were clearly among the more important rights conferred by ownership. Since effective control would be impossible unless these rights were exercised by the Agency, the nations on whose territories such facilities were situated would have to renounce important rights normally conferred by ownership. This did not necessarily mean the complete devolution of the rights of ownership to the Agency; for example, the Agency would not have the right arbitrarily to close atomic power plants; it would have to conform to national legislation as regards public health and working conditions; it could not construct plants at will but only in agreement with the nation concerned. Moreover, the Agency would not be free to determine the production policy for nuclear fuel since this would follow provisions to be laid down in advance in the treaty. The treaty would also determine the quotas for production and consumption of atomic fuel. Finally, the Agency would hold materials and facilities in trust and would not therefore be able to manage or dispose of them arbitrarily or for its own profit but only for the benefit of Member States.

There might well be other rights which would normally be conferred by ownership and which were not specifically mentioned in the approved plan. Their disposition would follow a simple principle. If there were rights, the exercise of which could impair the effectiveness of control, individual nations would be required to renounce them. Otherwise they might retain them.

If individual nations agreed to renounce national ownership of dangerous atomic materials and the right of managing and operating plants making or using them, in favor of an International Agency acting for the international community, such agreement would be on the basic principle, and there would be no need to quarrel over terminology.

(c) Sovereignty

A further argument put forward by the Soviet representative was that to confer on any international agency the powers suggested in the Statement of Principles would constitute a gross infringement of national sovereignty and would permit the International Agency to interfere in the internal economy of individual nations.

In answer to this argument it was pointed out that any plan for international prohibition and control must involve some surrender of sovereignty. The representatives of the other Powers argued that it was indefensible to reject a plan for the international control of atomic energy on the purely negative ground that it would infringe national sovereignty. The ideal of international co-operation and, indeed, the whole concept on which the United Nations was based would be meaningless if States insisted on the rigid maintenance of all their sovereign rights. The question was not one of encroachment on sovereignty, but of assuring the security of the world, which could only be attained by the voluntary association of nations in the exercise of certain rights of sovereignty in an open and co-operating world community.

The Soviet representative remarked that, while some representatives had stated that their Governments were prepared to waive sovereignty provided that the majority plan was accepted, the Government of the U. S. S. R. would not agree to do so.


It appears from these consultations that, as in the past, the Soviet Union will not negotiate except on the basis of the principles set forth in the Soviet proposals of June 1947.

The essential points in the Soviet control proposals, and the reasons for their rejection by the other five Powers, as brought out in the consultations, are as follows:

The Soviet Union proposes that nations should continue to own explosive atomic materials.

The other five Powers feel that under such conditions there would be no effective protection against the sudden use of these materials as atomic weapons.

The Soviet Union proposes that nations continue, as at present, to own, operate and manage facilities making or using dangerous quantities of such materials.

The other Five powers believe that, under such conditions, it would be impossible to detect or prevent the diversion of such materials for use in atomic weapons.

The Soviet Union proposes a system of control depending on periodic inspection of facilities the existence of which the national Government concerned reports to the international agency, supplemented by special investigations on suspicion of treaty violations.

The other five Powers believe that periodic inspection would not prevent the diversion of dangerous materials and that the special investigations envisaged would be wholly insufficient to prevent clandestine activities.

Other points of difference, including Soviet insistence on the right to veto the recommendations of the International Control Agency, have not yet been discussed in the consultations.


These consultations have not yet succeeded in bringing about agreement between the U. S. S. R. and the other five Powers, but they have served to clarify some of the points on which there is disagreement.

It is apparent that there is a fundamental difference not only on methods but also on aims. All of the Sponsoring Powers other than the U. S. S. R. put world security first and are prepared to accept innovations in traditional concepts of international co-operation, national sovereignty and economic organization where these are necessary for security. The Government of the U. S. S. R. put its sovereignty first and is unwilling to accept measures which may impinge upon or interfere with its rigid exercise of unimpeded state sovereignty.

If this fundamental difference could be overcome, other differences which have hitherto appeared insurmountable could be seen in true perspective, and reasonable ground might be found for their adjustment.


List of Topics and Statement of Principles Prepared by the Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

1. International system of control:

(a) There should be a strong and comprehensive international system for the control of atomic energy and the prohibition of atomic weapons, aimed at attaining the objectives set forth in the resolution of the General Assembly of 24 January 1946. Such an international system should be established, and its scope and functions defined by an enforceable multilateral treaty in which all nations should participate on fair and equitable terms.

(b) Policies concerning the production and use of atomic energy which substantially affect world security should be governed by principles established in the treaty. Production and other dangerous facilities should be distributed in accordance with quotas and provisions laid down in the treaty.

2. International Control Agency:

(a) There should be established, within the framework of the Security Council, an international control agency, deriving its powers and status from the treaty under which it is established. The Agency should possess powers and be charged with responsibility necessary and appropriate for the prompt and effective discharge of the duties imposed upon it by the terms of the treaty. Its powers should be sufficiently broad and flexible to enable it to deal with new developments that may hereafter arise in the field of atomic energy.

(b) The personnel of the Agency should be recruited on an international basis.

(c) The duly accredited representatives of the Agency should be afforded unimpeded rights of ingress, egress and access for the performance of their inspections and other duties into, from and within the territory of every participating nation, unhindered by national or local authorities.

3. Exchange of information:

(a) The Agency and the participating nations should be guided by the general principle that there should be no secrecy concerning scientific and technical information on atomic energy.

(b) The Agency should promote among all nations the exchange of basic scientific information on atomic energy for peaceful ends.

4. Prohibition of atomic weapons:

(a) International agreement to outlaw the national production and use of atomic weapons is an essential part of this international system of control.

(b) The manufacture, possession and use of atomic weapons by all nations and by all persons under their jurisdiction should be forbidden.

(c) Any existing stocks of atomic weapons should be disposed of, and proper use should be made of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.

5. Development of atomic energy:

(a) The development and use of atomic energy even for peaceful purposes are not exclusively matters of domestic concern of individual nations, but rather have predominantly international implications and repercussions. The development of atomic energy must be made an international co-operative enterprise in all its phases.

(b) The Agency should have positive research and developmental responsibilities in order to remain in the forefront of atomic knowledge so as to render itself more effective in promoting the beneficial uses of atomic energy and in eliminating the destructive ones.

(c) The Agency should obtain and maintain information as complete and accurate as possible concerning world supplies of source material.

6. Control over atomic materials and facilities:

(a) The Agency should hold all atomic source materials, nuclear fuels and dangerous facilities in trust for the participating nations and be responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the treaty in regard to their disposition are executed.

(b) The Agency should have the exclusive right to operate and manage all dangerous atomic facilities.

(c) In any matters affecting security, nations cannot have any proprietary right or rights of decision arising therefrom over atomic source materials, nuclear fuels or dangerous facilities located within their territories.

(d) The Agency must be given indisputable control of the source materials promptly after their separation from their natural deposits, and on taking possession should give fair and equitable compensation determined by agreement with the nation concerned.

(e) Activities related to atomic energy, which are nondangerous to security, such as mining and milling of source material, and research, may be operated by nations or persons under license from the Agency.

7. Means of detecting and preventing clandestine activities:

The Agency should have the duty of seeking out any clandestine activities or facilities involving source material or nuclear fuel; to this end it should have the power to require reports on relevant matters, to verify these reports and obtain such other information as it deems necessary by direct inspection or other means, all subject to appropriate limitations.

8. Stages:

The treaty should embrace the entire programme for putting the international system of control into effect, and should provide a schedule for the completion of the transitional process over a period of time, step by step, in an orderly and agreed sequence leading to the full and effective establishment of international control of atomic energy and prohibition of atomic weapons.


Amendments Submitted by the Representative of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to Point 4 of the List of Topics Prepared by the Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

4. Prohibition of atomic weapons:

(a) An international convention outlawing the production, use and possession of atomic weapons is an essential part of any system of international control of atomic energy. In order to be effective such a convention should be supplemented by the establishment of a universal system of international control, including inspection to ensure that the provisions of the convention are carried out and "to protect States observing the convention from possible violations and evasions".

(b) The Atomic Energy Commission should forthwith proceed to prepare a draft convention for the prohibition of atomic weapons and a draft convention on control of atomic energy, on the understanding that both conventions should be concluded and brought into effect simultaneously.

(c) Atomic weapons should not be used in any circumstances. The production, possession and use of atomic weapons by any State, agency or person whatsoever should be prohibited.

(d) All existing stocks of finished and unfinished atomic weapons should be destroyed within three months of the date of entry into force of the convention for the prohibition of atomic weapons. Nuclear fuel contained in the said atomic weapons should be used for peaceful purposes.

(1) Department of State Bulletin of November 7,1949, pp. 686-690. U.N.Doe.A/1050. Back

(2) See Official Records, ABC., Fourth Year. Special Supplement No. 1. Back

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