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Letter to Senator Flanders on Disarmament.

March 14, 1951

Dear Senator Flanders:

I appreciate very much the letter of February 26, 1951, signed by you and a number of other Senators and Representatives, in which you urge that we follow up the plea for peace through disarmament, made in my address before the United Nations General Assembly last October.

This expression of your views will give added strength to the efforts of the free nations to establish a just and lasting peace in the world. While we must continue to build up vigorously our military strength as long as world conditions make such course essential, we must, at the same time, keep on working toward the control and reduction of armaments and armed forces. We must work toward the time when material and human resources, rather than being used for armaments, can be used to advance the well-being of mankind. That is and must remain our goal.

We have been working toward this end in the United Nations. As you know, the Charter of the United Nations gives to the General Assembly and the Security Council responsibility to work out principles an plans for disarmament by the member nations.

At the time the Charter was adopted, it was hoped that this great objective of the United Nations would be carried out speedily and without international friction.

This has not proved to be the case. The laborious effort of five years has been thwarted by the constant opposition of one of the great powers.

To keep the record straight, I think would be well to review briefly the history of these events.

At its first meeting in January 1946, the General Assembly established a United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and gave it the task of developing a plan for the control of atomic energy, under effective safeguards, to insure its use for peaceful purposes only, and to bring about the complete prohibition of atomic weapons.

This Commission labored long and diligently. It came up with a comprehensive plan which the General Assembly approved, in November 1948, by an overwhelming majority.

However, the Soviet Union refused to prove the plan adopted by the General Assembly. As a consequence, the plan could not be put into effect, since no agreement for the control of atomic weapons can be effective if any one of the great nations refuses to cooperate.

Meanwhile, the United Nations had set up a second Commission to consider the control and reduction of the ordinary weapons and instrumentalities of war. This was the Commission for Conventional Armaments. In general, it had the task of developing a plan to regulate armed forces and armaments other than those falling within the atomic category. As one of its first projects, this Commission worked out a plan for taking a census or inventory of the non-atomic armaments and of the armed forces of all principal nations, subject to supervision and verification by a body of international inspectors. The purpose of this plan was to obtain the verified information necessary for the development of an intelligent system of armament reduction and control.

This plan made sense and was swiftly accepted by the majority of the United Nations in December 1949. But here again a majority was not enough. The Soviet Union, one of the major military powers, refused to accept this proposal. And, as in the case of the plan for controlling atomic energy, this refusal made it impossible to put the program into operation.

At the same time that the Soviet Union has been following a course of obstruction in the United Nations toward all concrete disarmament proposals, it has been building up its own armaments as a central feature of its expansionist foreign policy.

At the end of World War II, the United States hastily demobilized and reduced the size of its armed forces. So did other free nations. But the Soviet Union continued to maintain armed forces at a high level-far higher than necessary for purely defensive purposes. Furthermore, it encouraged a ruthless program of rearmament on the part of the nations which have fallen under its control and influence.

The great disparity between the armaments of the Soviet Union and its satellites on the one hand, and the free nations on the other, is one of the basic reasons for the defensive alliances and defense programs which are now being jointly pursued by the nations of the free world. Since the Soviet Union has failed to cooperate in any genuine plan for the international limitation of armament, we have been compelled to look to our defenses.

It is essential to our national security that we build up our defenses as quickly and vigorously as possible. We do not know what further aggressive plans may be in the making by the adversaries of the free world. But by rearming, the free world may attain benefits above and beyond preparedness against attack. Our defense program, if carried through, will have the effect of discouraging aggression, and may eventually lead to a change in the tactics of the Soviet Union and of its current satellites, which would ease the present international tension. That is our great hope.

Our present armament program, therefore, has a double purpose. It is above all an effort to prevent a world conflict, while at the same time it is an effort to prepare our defenses to meet such a conflict if it is forced upon us. What we are striving for is peace and international order.

In the field of disarmament, the free nations have been unable to make any progress while their own military forces have been inferior to those of the Soviet Union. But paradoxical as it may seem, when the free nations have built up their forces, they may be able to convince potential aggressors that the control and reduction of armaments is a desirable policy.

In the face of the plans of the free world for increased defense forces, Soviet propaganda is beginning to take notice of the belief of the free nations that Soviet armed strength is excessive. We can expect great propaganda efforts by the Soviet system to deflect the free nations from their defense plans. We must not be deflected. But as we continue to increase our defenses, we must press, by every possible means, for a real change in the attitude of the Soviet Union.

My address on October 24 suggested a new procedural approach to the question, in the hope that it might offer a way out of the existing deadlock. I suggested the possibility of combining the work of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and the Commission on Conventional Armaments in a new and consolidated disarmaments commission.

The General Assembly, on December 13, 1950, established a committee of Twelve to study the proposal. This committee is directed to work on the "ways and means whereby the work of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Commission on Conventional Armaments may be coordinated and on the advisability of their functions being merged and placed under a new and consolidated disarmament commission." This committee has had two meetings, the second of which was held on March 2. The United States Representatives at the United Nations have been actively pushing the work of this committee. We hope that it will be able to make recommendations which will revitalize the efforts of the United Nations for international disarmament.

Before we can enter into any concrete program to reduce armaments we must be sure that the principles which I outlined in my address of October 24 are adhered to. A program of disarmament must include all kinds of weapons, must have unanimous agreement of all the nations having substantial armaments and armed forces, and must be so thoroughly and continuously policed as to be fool-proof These are the principles on which we stand and which we continue to offer to other nations as the basis for any plan for armaments reduction and control.

Such a program is difficult to achieve even when there is a reasonable degree of trust and confidence between nations. It is almost impossible unless there is free and open interchange of information across national borders.

As you indicated in your letter, increased freedom of communication is, therefore, a necessary step in an effective program of disarmament.

The need for authentic information has been pointed up by recent Soviet assertions concerning the size of its own armed forces in relation to those of the free nations. The United States would welcome a thorough exploration of this subject. On March 2, 1951, our Deputy Representative on the United Nations Commission on Conventional Armaments reasserted the position of this country and invited a census, under United Nations auspices, of armed forces of the member nations.

Continuing emphasis on disarmament is a necessary and vital part of our foreign policy. We must always be seeking for new approaches to this problem and we must take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to work toward genuine disarmament proposals.

I am very happy indeed that this major element in our foreign policy has your support and that of your colleagues in both Houses of Congress. I want to have your continued counsel and advice in these matters. I hope that when I return to Washington I will have an early opportunity to discuss these questions further with you and your colleagues as you suggested in your letter.

Sincerely yours,


[The Honorable Ralph E. Flanders, United States Senate, Washington, D.C.]

Note: The letter of February 26 urged that the President's plea for peace through disarmament, made before the United Nations Assembly on October 24 (see 1950 volume, this series, Item 271), be followed up by definite proposals to be made by our representative on the United Nations Council.

The Congressmen suggested "That the first step proposed be the lifting of the iron curtain and the resumption of at least that degree of freedom of communication between all the peoples of the earth which existed between the nations of Western Europe and the American continents prior to the second World War; that the proposal be for complete disarmament of all nations under the direction and surveillance of the United Nations; that a United Nations Commission be set up to effect disarmament in an orderly, complete and rapid way; that a United Nations Police Force be established in accordance with the original intention of the Charter which shall be superior in size and armament to any forces available to the member nations for the maintenance of civil order; and finally, that the proposal be permanently in effect and repeatedly offered until it is accepted."

The letter was signed by Senators Ralph E. Flanders, Lester C. Hunt, H. Alexander Smith, Walter F. George, Estes Kefauver, Margaret Chase Smith, Robert C. Hendrickson, Charles W. Tobey, Lister Hill, Mike Monroney, Edward J. Thye, A. Willis Robertson, and John C. Stennis, and by the following members of the House of Representatives: Brooks Hays, Laurie Battle, and A. S. J. Carnahan. In addition, the following members of the House authorized the affixing of their signatures to the letter: James C. Auchincloss, Frances P. Bolton, Waiter H. Judd, Christian A. Herter, Robert Hale, and John W. Heselton.

The letter of February 26 and the President's reply were released at Key West, Fla.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to Senator Flanders on Disarmament. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230283

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