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1946

The United States presents the Baruch Plan

The United States presents the Baruch Plan for the international control of atomic weapons to the United Nations. The failure of the plan to gain acceptance resulted in a dangerous nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

In August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, becoming the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons during wartime. The successful use of the bombs not only ended World War II, but also left the United States with a monopoly on the most destructive weapon known to humankind. As Cold War animosities between the United States and the Soviet Union began to develop in the months after the end of the war, a sharp discussion ensued in the administration of President Harry S. Truman. Some officials, including Secretary of War Henry R. Stimson and Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace, argued that the United States should share its atomic secrets with the Soviets. The continuing U.S. monopoly, they argued, would only result in growing Russian suspicions and an eventual arms race. Others, such as State Department official George F. Kennan, strenuously argued against this position. The Soviets, these people declared, could not be trusted and the United States would be foolish to relinquish its atomic “ace in the hole.”

The battle between these two groups was apparent in early 1946, when the United States proposed the formation of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) to establish an international control over the spread and development of nuclear weapons and technology. Bernard Baruch, a trusted adviser to U.S. presidents since the early 20th century, was tapped to formulate the American proposal and present it to the United Nations. Baruch sided with those who feared the Soviets, and his proposal reflected this. His proposal did provide for international control and inspection of nuclear production facilities, but clearly announced that the United States would maintain its nuclear weapons monopoly until every aspect of the proposal was in effect and working. The Soviets, not surprisingly, rejected the Baruch Plan. The United States thereupon rejected a Soviet counterproposal for a ban on all nuclear weapons.

By 1949, any discussion of international control of nuclear weapons was a moot point. In September of that year, the Soviets successfully tested a nuclear device. During the next few years the United States and Soviet Union raced to develop an ever-more frightening arsenal of nuclear weapons, including the hydrogen bomb, MIRV missiles (missiles with multiple nuclear warheads), and the neutron bomb (designed to kill people but leave structures standing).

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