The research reports reproduced here are the responsibility of the individual authors. Their reproduction does not imply any form of official or unofficial endorsement by NATO. The reports are offered in unedited form, as presented by their authors, with a view to make their findings available to a wide audience.

The Role Of Nuclear Weapons
And Its Possible Future Missions

[Back to Index]

GoOrigins Of Nuclear Strategies Of The "Nuclear Club" Members - Brief Overview

I.1. The United States

Very much is said about the history of the early years of the United States nuclear project - Manhattan Project - which led to creation of the first in the Mankind's history nuclear explosive device. It is well known that it was Albert Einstein who in August 1939 agreed to sign the letter prepared by Hungarian physicists Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller, emigrated to the United States, and send it to President Franklin Roosevelt to attract his attention to the potentially dangerous possibility of the military use of nuclear energy by Nazi Germany. Roosevelt has read the letter and decided "it required action".

The establishment of the ad hoc Uranium committee consisting of the director of Bureau of Standards and one each representatives of the Army and Navy became the action. But the report, prepared by the Uranium committee by early November 1939, while briefed to the President, remained in file, mute and inactive, well into 1940. (1)

It was only when the Brits let the U.S. administration in Summer 1940 know the conclusions of the British Cabinet Maud Committee's reports, describing the military applications of the nuclear energy and means to achieve them (see below), the Americans took the problem seriously. In June 1940 the National Defense Researches Committee (NDRC) headed by Vannevar Bush was established to study, among others, the feasibility of military applications of nuclear energy. The studies were carried out during Spring and Summer 1941 and in November 1941 the Uranium Project was subordinated to Office of Scientific Researches and Development (OSRD). (2)

On December 6, 1941 - one day before the Japanese attack against the main base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the White House made the decision to launch the full-scale work aimed to development and production of an atomic bomb. In ten days it was recommended to hand the responsibility over the project to the U.S. Army Engineer Corps and on the June 17, 1942 the Manhattan Engineer District was established to administer all the works in the military nuclear field. (3) That October Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves who was appointed the chief of the Manhattan Engineer District issued the criteria for the project's initial stage research laboratory which included calculated number of personnel stated as 265 person.

The first and the main purpose of the Manhattan Project was production of an atomic bomb before Germans would be able to do it to prevent their seizing a tremendous advantage in war-fighting capabilities. But as early as in November 1944 U.S. troops captured in Strasburg materials that convincingly proved that Germans were very far from creation of weaponiesed nuclear device (and even nuclear explosive device per se). (4) Thus it became clear there would not be German nuclear threat in that war.

Nevertheless the work which seemingly lost its importance and sense continued gaining the increasing momentum by the Spring and early Summer 1945. That was understandable not only due to the internal logic of the multi-million bucks scientific research project but political reasons as well. In April 1945 during briefing the President Truman on the state of the Manhattan Project the to be-Secretary of State James F. Byrnes attracted Truman's attention to the fact that the new bomb might allow the United States to dictate its own terms at the end of the war. (5)

The idea which was readily accepted by President Truman became the important point in his and Byrnes' policy towards the Soviet Union. It was Byrnes' deep belief that "Russia might be more manageable if impressed by American military might, and that a demonstration of the bomb might impress Russia." (6)

Definitely the United States administration's aspiration for the nuclear weapons was much more multi-dimensional than pure attempt to dictate the Soviet Union its will during the period after the end of the war in Europe. The USA fought the war in Pacific as well and it was considered important for the U.S. interests that the Soviet Union entered the war against Imperial Japan with whom it had Non-Aggression Act intact. Such the Soviet move would save lots of U.S. military lives and due to that reason was necessary for the U.S. administration.

The same reason made it nightmare for Truman who felt himself uncomfortable - over Stalin's barrel, highly dependent on the USSR for military intervention in Manchuria to tie up the Japanese Kwantun Army there. (7) Truman sought ways to resolve the problems in Pacific without being so dependent on the Soviet Union. Moreover, not being need a Soviet offensive in Manchuria to challenge the Japanese the United States might therefore have to trade away less in Europe what was still inevitable. (8)

At the same time the Truman administration fully recognized that - even taking into account the worsening of the Soviet-American relations since the late Spring 1945 (9) - "the Soviet Union did not represent immediate threat to the United States." (10)

Hence the U.S. administration's great interest in an atomic bomb in late Spring and Summer 1945 was mainly dictated by at least two deeply interconnected aspirations. The intention to apply pressure on the USSR was one of them while the urge to reduce the importance of the role the Soviet Union played for securing the U.S. interests in Pacific was the another one.

That approach with the first component enforced was left intact after the V-P Day as well. How sad it would be for the author to notice it but the U.S. National Security Council Memorandum NSC-7 of March 30, 1948 put the task of keeping "the overwhelming U.S. nuclear supremacy" the second in the list of the most important tasks of the country - the "rapid increase of the U.S. military power" being the first. (11)

The decision to launch full-scale development of the H-bomb, made by President Truman on January 30, 1950 after the news about the first Soviet nuclear test was convincingly confirmed, became the logical step in the chain of attempts to keep "the overwhelming U.S. nuclear supremacy". The idea that the possession by the USA of the H-bomb offered a return to nuclear supremacy over the Soviet Union and possibility to dictate the United States' will was one of the U.S. H-bomb supporters' important arguments they used to prove the idea for President Truman. (12)

 [ Go to Index ]  [ Go to Homepage ]  [ Go to Next Page ]