The Acheson-Lilienthal Report


The board of consultants met for the first time on January 23rd, conferring briefly with the Secretary of State's Committee on Atomic Energy respecting the board's assignment to study the problem of international control of atomic energy. For more than seven weeks since that time we devoted virtually our entire time and energies to the problem we were directed to study and report upon. We visited the plants and installations at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, and spent days consulting with numerous scientists, industrial experts, and geologists, authorities in the technical fields concerned with atomic energy. Since February 25th this board has met almost continuously, developing and writing the following report. Our absorption in this task does not, of course, assure the soundness of the recommendation which is the product of our deliberations. But it is relevant as a measure of how important and urgent we feel it to be that the Government and the people of the United States develop a rational and workable plan, before the already launched international atomic armament race attains such momentum that it cannot be stopped.

We have concluded our deliberations on this most difficult problem, not in a spirit of hopelessness and despair, but with a measure of confidence. It is our conviction that a satisfactory plan can be developed, and that what we here recommend can form the foundation of such a plan. It is worth contrasting the sense of hope and confidence which all of us share today with the feeling which we had at the outset. The vast difficulties of the problem were oppressive, and we early concluded that the most we could do would be to suggest various alternative proposals, indicate their strengths and limitation, but make no recommendations. But as we steeped ourselves in the facts and caught a feeling of the nature of the problem, we became more hopeful. That hopefulness grew not out of any preconceived "solution" but out of a patient and time-consuming analysis and understanding of the facts that throw light on the numerous alternatives that we explored. Five men of widely differing backgrounds and experiences who were far apart at the outset found themselves, at the end of a month's absorption in this problem not only in complete agreement that a plan could be devised but also in agreement on the essentials of a plan. We believe others may have a similar experience if a similar process is followed.

We have described the process whereby we arrived at our recommendation, to make it clear that we did not begin with a preconceived plan. There is this further reason for describing this process. Others would have a similar experience if they were able to go through a period of close study of the alternatives and an absorption in the salient and determining facts. Only then, perhaps, may it be possible to weigh the wisdom of the judgment we have reached, and the possibilities of building upon it.

The plan of the report itself may be briefly described, as an aid in reading it:

In Section I. we examined the reasons that have led to a commitment for the international control of atomic energy and the early proposal for realizing this objective by a system of inspection.

In Section II. the essential characteristics of a workable plan for security are stated, and the considerations that favor the development of a plan are set out. By the time this discussion is concluded, the outlines of a workable plan as we see it are apparent.

In Section III. the essentials of an organization that puts such principles into effect are described.

In Section IV. we consider the problems of the transition period leading from the present to the full operation of the plan.

We have tried to develop a report that will be useful, not as a final plan, but as a place to begin, a foundation on which to build. Many questions that at later stages should and must be asked we have not touched upon at all. We recognize that securing the agreement of other nations to such a plan will raise questions the precise contours of which can hardly be drawn in advance of international meetings and negotiation. We have not, of course, undertaken to discuss, much less to try to settle, problems of this character. The newly created Atomic Energy Commission of the United Nations, when its deliberations begin, will deal with many of these in joint discussion. Indeed, this process of joint international discussion is itself an integral part of any program for safeguards and security.

We desire here to express our great indebtedness to the Secretary of the Secretary of State's Committee on Atomic Energy, Mr. Herbert S. Marks, Assistant to the Under Secretary of State, and to the Secretary of this board, Mr. Carroll L. Wilson. They have contributed in many ways to the work of the board. Whatever value our work may prove to have owes a great deal to their acumen, diligence, and high quality of judgment. We wish especially to thank General Groves and his associates in the Manhattan District and the industrial contractors for facilitating our inspection of the installations at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos, and Captain Joseph Volpe, Jr., for his liaison services. We are also indebted to a number of other officers and staff members of the Manhattan Project for their cooperation. As a result of this cooperation we have had unlimited access to the entire range of facts and activities involved in our assignment, and this has been most helpful.

It has not been possible for security reasons to set forth in this report all of the facts which we have taken into account, but we believe that those which are set forth are a sufficient basis for a useful appraisal of our conclusions and recommendations.

March 16, 1946