March 28

This Day in History

Cold War

Mar 28, 1946:

Acheson-Lilienthal Report released

The State Department releases the so-called Acheson-Lilienthal Report, which outlines a plan for international control of atomic energy. The report represented an attempt by the United States to maintain its superiority in the field of atomic weapons while also trying to avoid a costly and dangerous arms race with the Soviet Union.

The March 1946 report had been instigated by a rather hastily assembled proposal put forward by Secretary of State James Byrnes at the Moscow Conference in December 1945. Byrnes presented a hazy plan for some sort of United Nations control of atomic energy; Soviet leader Joseph Stalin agreed to the idea. President Harry S. Truman was livid when he learned of Byrnes's proposal. By the time of the meeting in Moscow, Truman had come to the conclusion that the Soviets were dangerous adversaries who must be met with force. Giving up America's nuclear monopoly was not appealing. Nevertheless, he ordered the Department of State to put together a preliminary plan, assuming that America had such a huge head start in atomic power that the Soviets could never really catch up. In addition, perhaps an international body could help avert a potentially dangerous arms race with the Soviets.

Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, administrator of the Tennessee Valley Authority David Lilienthal, and others hammered out a proposal by March 1946. The Acheson-Lilienthal Report suggested that an international body—such as the United Nations—have control over atomic materials and the means of producing nuclear energy. Information on atomic energy would be shared, research facilities would be divided among the nations involved, and the international body would conduct inspections. In the meantime, while this organization was being established, the United States would maintain its atomic monopoly.

In June 1946, Truman selected businessman Bernard Baruch to present the plan at the United Nations. Baruch, however, changed many of the key points of the plan and insisted that the United States would have an ultimate veto power on any issues arising in connection with the plan. The Soviets quickly rejected the idea so the vote was never held in the United Nations. The United States and the Soviet Union would go their own ways in developing their nuclear arsenals. In 1949, the Soviets exploded an atomic device and the nuclear arms race was on.

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