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NPIHP Working Paper #15
October 2020

“Atoms for Police”:
The United States and the Dream of a Nuclear-Armed United Nations, 1945-62

Ryan A. Musto

Abstract: This paper examines the U.S. approach to the idea of arming the United Nations with nuclear weapons in the earliest decades of the Cold War. The main protagonist is Harold Stassen, who in 1945 publicly proposed a nuclear-armed UN air force as a way to control the bomb, stop proliferation, and strengthen the UN. The Truman Administration rejected the idea because of the questions it raised about the use of atomic weapons and the capabilities of the UN, as well as the threat it posed to the U.S. atomic monopoly. But the idea reemerged in the Eisenhower Administration. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles sought to provide the UN with agency in nuclear decision-making, a pitch that inspired Stassen to revisit his earlier enthusiasm for a nuclear-armed UN. Stassen again touted its deterrent effects, but, unlike before, looked to use the proposal to consolidate an unequal nuclear order. After the Eisenhower Administration rebuffed Stassen’s “Atoms for Police” proposal, the idea transitioned to plans for general and complete disarmament and became a tenuous feature of an initiative put forth by the Kennedy Administration. Overall, the idea spoke to the struggle of the United States to achieve progress in disarmament while it clung to its nuclear arsenal. To highlight its core principles, this paper concludes with a brief comparison to the UN’s 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  

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The quest for nuclear abolition has been a constant for the United Nations (UN) since its earliest days. In its first-ever resolution, passed in January 1946, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) called for the elimination of nuclear weapons from national armaments.[1] The negotiations for the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has committed over 190 nations to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and taking steps towards nuclear disarmament, occurred under a UN committee, a UN-mandated committee, and through bilateral U.S.-Soviet discussions held at the UN headquarters in New York.[2] In 2017, a UN conference negotiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an agreement which seeks to ban the bomb worldwide.[3]

But what if the UN, instead of acting as a critical conduit in the pursuit of “global zero,” possessed a nuclear arsenal of its own? Three U.S. presidential administrations considered that possibility in the earliest decades of the Cold War. No individual did more to advance the idea than Harold Stassen, a former governor of Minnesota, naval captain, member of the U.S. delegation to the UN Charter conference, and the first and only special disarmament advisor to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1945, Stassen publicly called for the creation of a nuclear-armed UN air force as a way to assert total control over the bomb, ensure the nuclear disarmament of all nations, and strengthen the UN’s police powers to meet the challenges of the postwar world. The proposal reinforced Stassen’s political ambitions and vision for international order. It made him a leading figure in the robust public debate over global governance and disarmament in the nascent atomic age. Despite early rumors that foresaw acceptance of Stassen’s vision, the Truman Administration rejected the initiative, citing the questions it raised about force structure, atomic use, and the capabilities of the fledgling UN. The Truman Administration also wished to maintain the U.S. atomic monopoly. During the Korean War, it considered the less extreme measure of UN sanction for nuclear use but never took action.

In 1956, the Eisenhower Administration revived such ideas about a nuclear-armed UN. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, secretly proposed to pledge the use of nuclear weapons to the UN in order to lessen the stigma surrounding the bomb and enhance the image of U.S. leadership on the world stage. Their efforts caused Stassen to recapture his earlier enthusiasm for the more drastic proposition of a nuclear-armed UN air force as a deterrent against aggression and nuclear proliferation. Stassen’s initiative recognized an inherent imbalance between nuclear and non-nuclear states, but this time he made a more moderate pitch that would allow the world’s nuclear powers to maintaintheir arsenals while assuaging global public opinion. In other words, the proposal would consolidate an unequal global nuclear order, rather than redress it.

The Eisenhower Administration refused Stassen’s initiative for numerous political and military reasons, but Stassen clung to his scheme through the rest of the decade and even beyond his tenure in office. Meanwhile, the idea of a nuclear-armed UN transitioned to proposals for general and complete disarmament. Under Eisenhower, the United States rebuffed a proposal for a preeminent nuclear-armed UN body made by Great Britain’s Minister of Defense Duncan Sandys. In the early 1960s, the idea tenuously factored into U.S. policy under the Kennedy Administration until Soviet and public opposition forced its abandonment.

The idea of a nuclear-armed UN was connected to key questions surrounding security, sovereignty, and the pressure of global opinion at critical junctures of the nuclear arms race.[4] Did national nuclear arsenals enhance global security, or did nuclear weapons demand more robust measures for collective security and the need to shun national control? Would nuclear abolition ever be possible, or was the proverbial “genie” out of the bottle once and for all? To what extent would states have to sacrifice national sovereignty and military secrecy for security? What role would the UN play in the nuclear arms race? And how far could states go to meet the demands of global opinion without unduly weakening themselves? For the United States, the initiative for a nuclear-armed UN between 1945 and 1962 symbolized its struggle to reconcile a stated desire for arms control with a reliance upon nuclear weapons and the status quo

This paper offers the first in-depth history of the idea of a nuclear-armed UN. Most accounts of global governance and nuclear arms control ignore the topic in their coverage of the immediate post-World War II world.[5] Many works also brush by the initiative in their examination of the Eisenhower Administration. They especially overlook its genesis with Lodge and Dulles and the wide-ranging criteria the State Department used to discount Stassen’s scheme.[6] Finally, historians have missed that the idea persisted beyond Stassen’s career and survived into the early 1960s as a fleeting feature of U.S. disarmament policy.[7]

The idea of a nuclear-armed UN is no longer under serious consideration by the United States or any nation. But key components of its vision speak to a current UN effort to combat the nuclear arms race. To further illuminate the core principles behind the idea of a nuclear-armed UN, this paper concludes with a brief comparison to the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. While intrinsically opposed in their approach to “global zero,” the two initiatives seek a greater role for non-nuclear states in determining the world’s nuclear future.

The Initial Context

The idea of a nuclear-armed international police force predated both the atomic bomb and the UN. In May 1944, James B. Conant, the President of Harvard University and the Director of the National Defense Research Committee that oversaw the Manhattan Project, produced an informal handwritten document with his thoughts on the international control of atomic energy in the post-World War II world. In order to avoid “the destruction of civilization” from any war in the atomic age, Conant proposed that an international atomic energy commission become the “trustees and custodians” of a nuclear arsenal based in Canada. The arsenal would be accompanied by an air force and 10,000 men pledged to prevent its “seizure of supply.” Committee members would decide the arsenal’s use against an offending nation that interfered in the committee’s work or pursued a nuclear weapons program. They would be deterred from gaining unilateral control over the arsenal by the arsenal’s guards and “the use of bombs by arsenal guards” on their national territories, including the United States and Canada. Perhaps unsure of the prospect, though, Conant kept the idea to himself.[8]

A year later, the idea emerged that the UN should factor into any decision to use the atomic bomb. On 12 June 1945, with the atomic bomb and UN still in the works, Manhattan Project scientists from the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago sent a secret memorandum known as the “Franck Report” to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. The document warned that an unannounced and unilateral use of the atomic bomb against Japan could lead to a postwar nuclear arms race. To prevent that outcome, the scientists advocated a demonstration of the destructive power of the atomic bomb in a remote area, perhaps a desert or island, with UN members in attendance. Subsequently, the atomic bomb “could be used against Japan if a sanction of the United Nations (and of the public opinion at home) could be obtained.”[9]

Consideration of UN control over the bomb and a nuclear-armed international police force reemerged amidst the fraught debate over the fate of global peace in the nascent atomic age. To meet the unprecedented danger posed by nuclear weapons after the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan to help end World War II, statesmen and leading public figures clashed over the best means to achieve international control over atomic energy. Influential thinkers like editor Norman Cousins, retired Supreme Court justice Owen J. Roberts, and Albert Einstein advocated a total re-writing of the international order with the creation of a new world government.[10] The UN officially entered into existence on 24 October 1945, but it had been crafted while the atomic bomb remained a secret to most of the world and a physical uncertainty to all. It was also molded when the United States and Soviet Union were ostensible wartime allies, not Cold War adversaries. The UN Security Council, meant to allow the great powers to peacefully govern the world, appeared potentially paralyzed by the veto power of one superpower against the other. Thus, by the time it opened, many found the UN obsolete in the face of the nuclear threat.

Others, however, looked to the UN to meet the atomic danger. Senator Tom Connolly, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, proposed that the United States make available to the Security Council an air force armed with a “bucket full of atomic bombs” as a means to “preserve the peace of the world,” but also to perpetuate the U.S. atomic monopoly. “The secret of the atomic bomb ought to be retained by the United States,” Connolly told one reporter. “We found it first.”[11] In contrast, Harold Urey, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and member of the Manhattan Project, predicted that any attempt by the United States to keep the “secret” of the atomic bomb would result in an arms race and nuclear war.[12] Urey championed the creation of a UN atomic commission that would enforce a global prohibition on nuclear weapons. Any alternative, he warned, would lead to “dire disaster.”[13]   

As officials and public figures jostled over their visions for global governance and arms control, the idea of a nuclear-armed international police force increasingly came under consideration. In October, Conant pondered the matter in a private letter to Greenville Clark, a leader in the push for world government. Conant admitted that the atomic bomb was “obviously an ideal weapon” for any international armed force. “But by the same token,” he reasoned, “to place this weapon solely in the hands of a small group who might be captured by some ideology or some leader is placing the sword of Damocles over the heads of all industrialized nations. One would want to be sure that the international force only had enough bombs to destroy a few cities!” he exclaimed. Not wishing to go into further detail, Conant told Clark that any potential scheme could only “lie in the distant future.”[14]    

James T. Shotwell, a prominent historian who had served on the U.S. delegation to the UN Charter conference, expressed more enthusiasm for the idea. As chairman of a subcommittee on atomic energy under the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, Shotwell made clear his wish to give atomic bombs to an international air force to help deter aggression.[15] Writing for the magazine Survey Graphic, he declared that “the atomic age will need an international police force,” one with “control of all bombs and possible bombs in the world.” Shotwell argued that “having this single armament in its possession” would allow the force to “dominate the world for peace.”[16] Although vague in his appeal, it appeared that Shotwell envisioned such a force serving the UN Security Council.[17] It would be a former colleague from the UN Charter conference who would give that idea its greatest impetus.

The Stassen Plan

On 8 November 1945, Stassen gave a speech at the sixty-fifth annual dinner for the American Academy of Political Science held at the Hotel Astor in New York. The 3,000 guests in attendance that evening witnessed a bold proposal from Stassen that would make front-page news: a plan to arm the UN with nuclear weapons.[18] Specifically, Stassen called for amendment of Article 43 of the UN Charter that allows states to contribute forces to the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace. The amendment would grant the Security Council “the right and duty” to establish a UN air force comprised of five bomber squadrons and 10 fighter squadrons. The UN air force would be manned by volunteers from the member states of the UN, with no more than one-fifth of personnel of a given nationality. It would be stationed at five bases around the world and, remarkably, financed by a tax on all international travel. Most importantly, the United States would furnish five atomic bombs to each bomber squadron at the five bases for a total of 25 nuclear weapons worldwide. Afterwards, the production of nuclear weapons would cease once and for all.[19]

Stassen believed his proposal would create a “world stabilization force for world order.” Along with its nuclear-armed air force, the UN would pass a resolution to ensure that “no nation shall manufacture an atomic bomb,” and that any nation caught in possession of such a device would be seen to have committed “a crime against mankind.” The UN Security Council would also create an Atomic Commission made up of scientists with “the power and duty to thoroughly inspect all nations,” including the United States, to ensure worldwide compliance. Subsequently, any nuclear research would have to be registered with the UN, but thereafter permitted and made public for global benefit. Stassen believed this final facet would help to ensure scientific freedom, which had come under threat in the atomic age.[20]

With his proposal, soon dubbed the “Stassen Plan” by the media, Stassen looked to place “the control of the atomic bomb on the world level.” As he declared, “it is the only basis that has real hope for future peace, stability and progress. To my mind, the splitting of the tiny atom, and the destructive release of its tremendous energy, urgently requires the uniting on this great earth of the constructive energy of all mankind.”[21]

While the specific idea of a nuclear-armed UN predated Stassen’s speech, Stassen had consolidated it into an actionable plan. The New York Herald Tribune called the Stassen Plan “thoughtful and courageous,” one that would provide much needed “life and strength” to the UN. It found the Stassen Plan to be a “clear call to action, and one which must be heeded.”[22] Clyde Eagleton, a former State Department legal expertwho had worked on the UN Charter, labeled the Stassen Plan “the most constructive contribution” to the strengthening of the Charter yet introduced.[23] Shotwell lauded Stassen’s “admirable presentation” and hailed the Plan as “the first definite attempt to deal with the mechanism of security of the UNO under the conditions of atomic energy.”[24] To cement Stassen’s place as a leading thinker on the atomic bomb in the fall of 1945, The New York Times published a graphic on “The World’s Major Challenge” and placed Stassen’s image alongside a mushroom cloud and five world statesmen who had been outspoken on the issue: Truman, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov.[25]     

No publication endorsed the Stassen Plan more than The Baltimore Sun. One editorial called it a “remarkable statement,” an initiative with “the great merit of being concrete” in an uncertain time. “A word for that kind of behavior is leadership,” the editorial declared.[26] Reporter Frank Kent found the Stassen Plan to offer “a clearer analysis” and “sounder idea” than any other.[27] Columnist John Owens claimed that Stassen had “saved the hour for the statesmen” by giving “the intelligent layman of this country…an affirmative idea which can be debated and reasoned into an affirmative policy on the bomb. No longer in our thinking are we left by political leaders of this nation with nothing more than generalities which come to a head in mere negatives.”[28]

The Stassen Plan resonated because it proposed working through an institution and technology that already existed and could be controlled. Urey claimed that it would be possible for the UN to prevent the manufacture and storage of nuclear weapons with proper verification, which made the Stassen Plan appear possible.[29] The Stassen Plan also tapped into the mounting belief that states must sacrifice sovereignty for security in the atomic age, a concept advocated by both world government and nuclear abolition enthusiasts. “The concept of absolute nationalistic sovereignty no longer serves the people of this world,” Stassen declared. Instead, it belonged “in the same historical discard as the theory of the divine right of kings.”[30] 

The Stassen Plan served two immediate purposes for the former governor. For one, it played to Stassen’s political ambitions. A week after his speech, Stassen’s discharge from the Navy came through, raising speculation about his political prospects. He had been a star of the U.S. delegation to the UN Charter conference earlier that year and long coveted the Republican nomination for the Presidency. His plan offered Stassen a way to capitalize on his UN experience and become a leader on an issue that dominated headlines in the fall of 1945.[31]The Baltimore Sun thought the tactic worked. In contrast to the “slush” and “silly ideas” written about atomic control that were “exceedingly sentimental, selfish and sloppy,” the newspaper labeled Stassen’s proposal “a genuinely statesmen like utterance. It stamped him unmistakably as a man of presidential size.”[32]

The proposal also reinforced Stassen’s long-standing belief in international governance and the need to secure it with a global armed force. During World War II, Stassen advocated for a “World Association of Free People” that would establish a global parliament with a world police force to patrol air and sea routes and enforce the rulings of a world court.[33] After the completion of the UN Charter, Stassen found the lack of UN police powers to be one its “weaknesses,” and looked forward to the institution’s “growth and adjustment and change under future world transitions and experiences.”[34] No doubt the birth of the atomic age constituted one such seismic shift. Stassen maintained for the rest of his life that the “number one objective” of the UN was to prevent a “third world war,” and in the fall of 1945 it appeared that arming the UN with nuclear weapons might ensure that outcome.[35]

The Stassen Plan met strong public criticism as well. The Washington Post thought Stassen may be placing too much faith in the potential for international cooperation and was “skeptical” about Stassen’s vision of arming it with atomic weapons only produced in the United States. “We see no reason to believe that other countries would be satisfied to have atom bombs made in this country only,” it observed.[36] More salient criticisms concerned operational use and force structure. One reporter for The Washington Post wondered how the UN air force could be employed over the veto power of the members of the Security Council.[37] The Los Angeles Times questioned whether the Security Council would actually employ such force. “Unless some aggressor nation first started using such a bomb, the Security Council would face a fearful decision in ordering the use of such a destructive weapon,” it noted. Furthermore, if war broke out between members of the Security Council, “then the constitution and the distribution of the atomic bomber force would be highly important. And so the headaches over what to do with this Frankenstein device continue to pile up,” it lamented.[38]

Others also sounded the alarm. The World Government News, a New York-based publication, warned that Stassen’s UN force would be “likely to grow into the most oppressive tyranny ever known to man.”[39] Writing in the New York Herald Tribune,U.S. Army Major General (ret.) George Fielding Eliot observed that the Stassen Plan would deliver “the power of life or death for all of us…into the hands of a small tightly-organized military force of approximately 5,000 men.” Eliot noted with trepidation that the commanding officers “would be the real masters of our future,” while the force’s personnel would require a “very high degree of training, an esprit de corps, a belief in itself and its commanders and its mission.” Was that assured? Furthermore, such an arrangement could undermine the U.S. tradition of civilian control over military forces.[40] Summarizing his concerns, Eliot wondered, “Who is to guard these guardians?”[41]

Stassen welcomed the debate over the specifics of his scheme. He explained that he presented the Stassen Plan “in order that men might differ from me and from the discussion of these differences we might find the way to the best answers.”[42] Pundits lauded the “engaging modesty” behind Stassen’s approach.[43] But one thing remained unnegotiable in Stassen’s mind: In the atomic age, nuclear weapons must form the pillar of global security. As such, Stassen clashed with Urey and like-minded thinkers who called for a total ban on the bomb.

Weeks before Stassen delivered his proposal, Urey gave a speech at the American-Scandinavian Foundation in New York in which he poked holes in the idea of a UN atomic force. Urey asked his audience where the force would be stationed and wondered about its control. He noted that the United States would oppose basing the force in Europe and Asia, while nations from those continents would oppose basing it in the United States. “What about Africa?” Urey inquired. “You can imagine that the United Nations would have an effective small policing army powered with atomic bombs at some isolated point. Would we not all be afraid of the United Nations Organization? Would we not fear that some Hitler might gain control of those weapons and subjugate the world in a very short time?”[44]

Urey also worried that, should the U.S. government illegally manufacture nuclear weapons in violation of a global ban, the UN atomic force could be employed against U.S. production facilities. The indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons “would kill a very large number of innocent people” in the United States and would “unite the entire country against the United Nations.” Urey concluded that, “Atomic bombs are good for nothing but wars and for the destruction of large cities and their populations.”[45] In a speech before the Senate after Stassen’s proposal, Urey explained of his push to ban the bomb, “I would rather police officers armed with sidearms able to arrest me for violating a law not to make atomic bombs, than to be threatened along with an entire city with destruction of atomic bombs from UNO planes for a similar violation.”[46] Urey’s position had the support of other prominent Manhattan Project scientists like Leo Szilard, who testified before the Senate that he was “somewhat disinclined to see a weapon, which is clearly a weapon primarily designed for the destruction of cities, used as a police weapon. It is not a police weapon.”[47]      

The clash between the two viewpoints climaxed in mid-December, when Urey and Stassen spoke at a gathering of the American Association for the United Nations, again at the Hotel Astor in New York. During a morning session, Urey reiterated his vision of total nuclear abolition to be enforced by a UN commission. Stassen spoke at dinner and used the occasion to blast Urey’s hopes for a nuclear-free world. “This course would have the effect of placing a high premium on lawlessness,” Stassen declared. Even if only a small nation violated the ban and acquired nuclear weapons, the transgressor “could demand submission to its aggressive requests by the major powers of the world.” The rogue state would know that it could “inflict injury without comparable risk” to itself. By contrast, the deployment of UN nuclear weapons around the world would “make it practically impossible for any outlaw to conduct a successful Pearl Harbor [surprise attack] against all of these international bases at the same time.” Overall, Stassen found advocates of total nuclear abolition like Urey to be “madmen.”[48]

Government Response

Speculation mounted in late 1945 that Stassen’s vision might get its chance with Western leaders. In mid-November, Truman, Attlee, and Canada’s Prime Minister Mackenzie King met in Washington to tackle the international control of atomic energy. Word leaked of an “Attlee Plan” that would turn the “secret of the atomic bomb” over to the Security Council to create an “international pool.” Reporters, beholden more to rumor than fact, blurred the line between vesting the “secret” of the atomic bomb in the Security Council and an actual “internationalization of the atomic bomb” under its control.[49] It vaguely seemed that Attlee sought to “share the atom bomb with the UN.”[50] One contemporary account acknowledged that the Attlee and Stassen plans possessed “strikingly different” features, such as Stassen’s push to ban the national production of atomic weapons, which Attlee thought unenforceable. But their joint call for freedom of scientific enquiry and the UN as the “controlling authority” of atomic weapons appeared to represent “two essential points…of agreement.”[51]           

On 15 November, Truman, Attlee, and King issued a joint declaration that called for the creation of a UN commission that would seek the “elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons” and other weapons capable of mass destruction. The Baltimore Sun speculated that Stassen’s proposal may have prompted Truman to action.[52] At the very least, it seemed the joint declaration could be a step towards Stassen’s vision. The joint declaration made the UN the body that would handle the international control of atomic energy.[53] Moreover, reporter Paul Ward shared that “The word ‘national’…is stressed by persons intimately connected with the agreement’s formulation. They imply that it envisages an eventual adaptation of the Stassen plan to vest possession and use of weapons like the atom bomb in an international air force responsible to no one nation but only the UNO.” Importantly, the three leaders had avoided any reference to “outlawing” the bomb, a blow to Urey’s vision.[54] 

But behind closed doors, both Attlee and the Truman Administration opposed the idea of a nuclear-armed UN. On 5 November, three days before Stassen issued his proposal, Attlee wrote a top-secret memorandum to his cabinet in which he highlighted “two grave objections” to providing nuclear weapons to the Security Council, both of which concerned the veto power inherent in that body. Attlee worried that the veto could be “brought into play” by one superpower to “protect a small aggressor” from atomic use. Moreover, a member could apply the veto to prevent action against itself. “The Security Council would in effect be broken up,” Attlee explained, “and there would be no power remaining which could constitutionally authorize the use of the bomb against the aggressor.”[55]

Attlee and senior British officials thought atomic weapons should be “available to restrain aggression,” but that such police powers could not be achieved “by any special convention.” They concluded that states like the Soviet Union and France were determined to make the bomb and that no international agreement could successfully thwart their efforts. Attlee wanted Great Britain to develop nuclear weapons as well. Therefore, Great Britain could not leave the production of atomic weapons “confined to an international organization.”[56] Attlee also found it “better to make no specific provision about who can authorize the use of the bomb” than to give that power to the UN.[57] To assure peace, Attlee believed that states would need to be free to develop atomic energy and use nuclear weapons to back up the principles of the UN Charter on their own accord.[58]

In late 1945 and early 1946, the Truman Administration likewise resolved to reject a nuclear-armed UN. In secret reports dated to December, an interdepartmental working committee established by Secretary of State James Byrnes determined that the UN Security Council, not any UN atomic commission, would be responsible for making “‘plans’ for the application of armed force which would include atomic weapons.”[59] But the committee argued against the Security Council ever acquiring nuclear weapons. “The bomb is not suitable for use as a weapon of collective security,” it concluded. Since atomic weapons were “entirely too destructive,” they could not be used against small states or “even possess much value as a threat against them.” Moreover, like Attlee and his advisors, the Truman Administration determined that a nuclear-armed UN “would not solve the problem of safeguards” against atomic development elsewhere, while their use against the world’s powers appeared impossible. The five members of the Security Council would have to amend the UN Charter to abolish the right of veto, but that presented an obvious problem: “there is no likelihood that the great powers would agree to a change in order to make themselves liable to a bomb attack by the UNO.”[60]

More broadly, the working committee believed that making the UN a nuclear power would overwhelm the nascent organization. As one report noted, “giving bombs to the UNO would put an enormous responsibility upon it at a time when it had still to prove its worth as a means for maintaining international security. In the case of a threatened aggression, a decision either to use or not to use the bomb would arouse great emotional response and would subject the UNO to enormous pressures. Judicious action would be almost impossible in the circumstances.”[61]  

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reinforced State Department opposition. In January, the JCS advised the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC), which would decide U.S. force contributions to the UN, against providing nuclear weapons to the Security Council. The rejection boiled down to three familiar criteria: Location, stewardship, and use. The JCS noted that the “location and trusteeship” of the atomic force would be difficult to determine since the Security Council possessed “no inviolate territory of its own.” In turn, it seemed that “custodianship of all [UN] weapons by any one nation” would be “difficult to achieve,” while dividing the weapons amongst many states would simply give those stewards “ready-made surprise weapons.” The JCS particularly feared capture of the weapons by “by an unscrupulous power.” The veto power in the Security Council, though, proved to be the biggest impediment. The JCS admitted that the idea of a UN nuclear pool “might be of value” had it not been for this feature. But with the veto’s potential to paralyze the Security Council, “No legal means of using the pool against an aggressor” appeared likely. Overall, the JCS found the creation of a UN nuclear force to be “exceedingly difficult.”[62]

Beyond these challenges, the JCS simply did not wish to see the United States forego its atomic monopoly. In October, the Joint Strategic Survey Committee (JSSC) of the JCS concluded that the United States possessed a roughly five year “technological advantage” over any nation in the production of atomic bombs. The JSSC believed that “security in peace and victory in any future major conflict” required the United States to “maintain this advantage.” Therefore, it wanted the United States to refuse to give the secret of the atomic bomb “to any other nation or the United Nations Organization.”[63] Three months later, the JCS told the SWNCC that “the United States should not destroy its bombs,” and shared its hope that the United States could become the sole “trustee of the bomb” as a means to ensure the peaceful development of atomic energy and deter “any aggressor which might be considering embarking on an atomic war.”[64] In February, the JCS forwarded its official position to the SWNCC that, “At the present time the atomic bomb remains excluded from consideration as a weapon to be made available to the Security Council.”[65]

Word that the United States had rejected Stassen’s vision became public in March. Bill Lawrence of The New York Times reported that during preliminary discussions of the UN Military Staff Committee, the military advisory body to the Security Council, U.S. officials made it known that it would not include an “atomic bomb-carrying air group” in any contributions to UN peacekeeping forces. Lawrence relayed that operational control and secrecy did not appear to be the problem. It seemed that the United States could make nuclear weapons available to the UN “without jeopardizing the security of the secret weapon, since it could have been specified that such a group would operate only under American command with American crews flying American aircraft from American bases.” Moreover, actual use of a UN bomb would reveal no secrets about the weapon that had not already been divulged with the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan.[66]

Instead, Lawrence divulged that the Truman Administration took issue with the political implications of a UN atomic force. In January, in its first-ever resolution and with language taken directly from the joint Truman-Attlee-King declaration, the UNGA established the UN Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) “to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy.”[67] As a result, the United States did not think it wise to “offer to use the atomic bomb as an instrument to support peace while international discussions were in progress among members of the UNO Atomic Energy Commission to outlaw it use for war.” The United States also believed that “the force of the atom bomb and its effect on non-combatant civilians would be too great to employ it except in full-scale warfare.” Should total combat take place, officials assumed that “all resources” of the UN, meaning those of individual member nations and including the U.S. nuclear arsenal, would be made available.[68]

In private audiences, the Truman Administration referenced the political rationale against a UN nuclear force. On instructions from Truman, senior officials from the State Department’s Division of International Security Affairs, led by Alger Hiss, explained to a group of prominent Senators that U.S. force contributions to the UN would not include nuclear weapons because “it would be premature to take any definitive position regarding the use of the bomb” before the UNAEC had issued proposals for international control. Senator Arthur Vandenberg, who thought that “sooner or later the United Nations would acquire the bomb for its use,” concurred.[69]

Stassen’s vision encountered further trouble with the so-called Acheson-Lilienthal Plan, a report completed in March by prominent advisors for the Secretary of State’s Committee on Atomic Energy. Both the Stassen Plan and the Acheson-Lilienthal Plan called for the United States to end its atomic monopoly and thereby help avoid a global nuclear arms race. The Acheson-Lilienthal Plan called for the creation of a UN Atomic Development Authority that would promote the “beneficial possibilities” of atomic research and development after exercising total control over the nuclear fuel cycle worldwide. But it disavowed any police force in its push to ban the bomb. In a world of competitive nation-states, and with the development of atomic energy for peaceful and warlike purposes “interchangeable and interdependent,” the “international outlawry of atomic weapons” with “police-like methods” seemingly offered “no prospect of security against atomic warfare.”[70]

It soon became clear, though, that neither the Stassen Plan nor the Acheson-Lilienthal Plan would succeed because the push to maintain the U.S. atomic monopoly would prevail. In June 1946, the Truman Administration introduced the so-called Baruch Plan at the UNAEC. The Baruch Plan would require full inspections of all national territories before the United States provided any sensitive nuclear technology to the UNAEC. It would also repudiate veto power within the Security Council for military action against a nation building atomic bombs. Taken together, the United States would indefinitely maintain its atomic capability while ensuring others remained disarmed.[71]

In the end, the Truman Administration had no desire to give nuclear weapons to the UN or forego its nuclear arsenal. But during the Korean War, it considered what the Franck Report had recommended during World War II: UN approval for nuclear use.[72] Beginning in mid-1950, the United States led a broad UN coalition in defense of South Korea against its northern counterpart. Just weeks into the conflict, Truman sought a measure that would “let the world know we [the United States] mean business.” Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter proposed that the United States ask the UN to approve nuclear use as a means to encourage Soviet restraint of North Korea.[73] In other words, UN sanction could signal nuclear resolve.

Aside from posturing, officials in the State Department weighed UN approval for the actual use of nuclear weapons. Just five years removed from the atomic bombings of Japan, the Truman Administration understood that a repeat performance in Asia would damage the U.S. moral position worldwide. Officials from the Policy Planning Staff (PPS), including Director Paul Nitze, thought UN sanction would be “helpful” in that regard, but risked restrictions on future U.S. military activities. Moreover, public debate on nuclear use in the UN could be of military value to adversaries.[74]

The State Department revisited these arguments after the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a non-UN state, entered the conflict in defense of North Korea that fall.[75] John K. Emmerson, an official in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, favored UN approval for any nuclear use against the PRC. The atomic bomb possessed “the status of a peculiar monster conceived by American cunning,” he observed. Not only would unilateral nuclear use damage U.S. moral standing, it could destroy “the concept of UN maintenance of world security” and be “a shattering blow to the development of the UN.”[76]

With the conflict more or less at a stalemate by early 1951, the United States never used nuclear weapons nor sought UN approval for their use in the Korean War. But the desire for UN participation in nuclear decision-making resonated with two top officials in the next administration. Their interest would inspire Stassen to renew his vision for a nuclear-armed UN air force.

The Idea Reemerges

The Eisenhower Administration faced a dilemma with nuclear weapons. On the one hand, it relied upon a robust atomic stockpile as the lynchpin of its national security doctrine. On the other hand, Soviet “ban the bomb” propaganda and a growing global anti-nuclear movement alarmed by radioactive fallout from nuclear testing and the ever-present threat of annihilation from thermonuclear war demanded that the United States take steps towards disarmament in the mid-1950s. As a result, the Eisenhower Administration looked to maintain nuclear predominance while making ostensible progress in arms control and disarmament.[77]

In January 1956, Lodge thought he might have a partial solution to this challenge. In top-secret letters to Dulles and Eisenhower, Lodge proposed to “internationalize the use of atomic weapons under the aegis of the United Nations.” Specifically, Lodge wanted to give the UNGA final say over whether nuclear weapons could be used for “collective action against aggression.” He made clear that such an arrangement would in no way impair the U.S. ability to use nuclear weapons in self-defense or honor regional security agreements. But it would decide nuclear use in other scenarios where the world’s three nuclear powers (Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) looked to maintain international peace. Lodge recommended roughly three days deliberation by the UNGA after an aggression had occurred – anything less might shortchange due diligence, while anything more might mean that the UNGA (like the grim legend of Emperor Nero) “fiddled while Rome burned.”[78]

Lodge shared that the “prime purpose” of his proposal was “to enhance the security and national defense of the United States.” As Lodge saw it, Soviet anti-nuclear propaganda had “given the atomic bomb a bad name,” so much so that the United States felt inhibited from using nuclear weapons in a time of need. Lodge believed that his proposal would make it “easier” for the United States to employ nuclear weapons when necessary. Importantly, it would also leave the U.S. nuclear arsenal intact.[79] 

By maintaining the U.S. stockpile and reducing barriers to its use, Lodge claimed that his plan would “promote world peace.” Moreover, it would get the UNGA “into the blood and sand of the arena” of nuclear decision-making without ceding too much control for the “defense of the free world” to UN deadlock. Lodge looked upon his idea as a means to strengthen the UN Charter’s provisions for collective security and the 1950 Uniting for Peace resolution, which calls upon the UNGA to help restore international peace if the Security Council fails to reach a unanimous decision.[80] 

Lodge viewed his proposal less as a way to cooperate with the Soviets than as a way to stick it to them. In his letter to Eisenhower, Lodge included a covering note in which he explained that the Soviets would be vulnerable on the issue. “If we ‘worry’ this thought like a dog with a bone, they will either eventually give in, or the world will know whom to suspect,” he advised. “This would put us in a position to rally world opinion against them in the United Nations with a good chance of broad support.” Any nation that failed to accept the plan, Lodge emphasized, would “lay itself open to grave suspicion.”[81]     

Historian Caroline Pruden finds that Lodge’s initiative fit with “similarly bizarre proposals” he had made in the past to “enhance the status of the UN.”[82] The idea also spoke to the Eisenhower Administration’s need, as historian Amy Sayward describes, to “play a more positive role” in the UN at that juncture. In 1955 and 1956, the UN admitted 20 new members, many of which were newly decolonized states from the global south.[83] The influx diluted Western influence and furthered neutralist tendencies. Lodge’s proposal could burnish the U.S. image at the UN, especially after missteps at the UNGA in late 1955. One State Department report summarized the “unusual degree of generalized criticism of [the] American performance,” noting that most observers believed that the United States “had lost ground at the last Assembly.” A more conciliatory Soviet posture, cohesiveness amongst non-aligned states, and “unusually weak and wavering [U.S.] leadership” congealed into “generally negative” views of U.S. policy.[84] Lodge, who by 1956 found the UN to be “the greatest single engine for mobilizing public opinion,” sought a fresh scheme to reset the narrative.[85]

Lodge’s proposal intrigued Dulles. On the side of the letter he received from Lodge, Dulles scribbled “Candor,” a reference to an Administration initiative for transparency on nuclear weapons as a means to foster public support for their continued existence and potential use. Dulles believed that “the United States was doing itself a great disservice by surrounding atomic weapons with a cloak of silence and mystery. This…only adds to the tendency to place these weapons in a category apart from all other weapons and to reinforce the idea that their use was immoral. We tie our own hands with this taboo.”[86] It seemed that Lodge’s proposal could allow the global community to take ownership of nuclear weapons and thereby lessen the stigma that surrounded them.  

Within a few days of receiving Lodge’s letter, Dulles sketched a disarmament plan known as “Draft No. 11.” In explaining the plan, Dulles lamented that the U.S. nuclear arsenal had undermined U.S. moral leadership around the world. The United States found itself in a “vulnerable position,” since it had “virtually the sole responsibility in the free world with respect to the use of nuclear weapons…a responsibility which is not governed by any clearly enunciated principles reflecting ‘decent respect to the opinions of mankind.’” U.S. proposals for arms control had “largely lost their popular influence” by 1956 to create a “vacuum” that the Soviet Union looked to fill with its “ban the bomb” propaganda. “Thus, ironically, our moral leadership in the world could be stolen from us by those whose creed denies moral principles,” Dulles warned. “This development could have a profound, adverse consequence upon the outcome of the ‘cold war.’”[87]

Dulles believed that the United States could make the greatest progress in the “political field” of disarmament, which included ensuring greater nuclear responsibility for the UN. As a long-term goal, Dulles sought to ban national control over nuclear weapons and grant control to a veto-less Security Council “of sufficient atomic weapons, and means of delivery, as to overbalance any atomic or other weapons as might be surreptitiously retained by any nation.” Until that vision could become reality, though, Dulles backed Lodge’s suggestion to pledge national nuclear arsenals to serve only “the interests of the world” in conformance with the Uniting for Peace Resolution and a two-thirds vote in the UNGA. Dulles thought his plan “would enable President Eisenhower to put his tremendous worldwide influence into bringing about a significant and concrete development of world order. This could, and I think would, mark a turning point in history.”[88]  

Dulles pushed his idea on the person most responsible for arms control within the Administration: Stassen. A year earlier, Eisenhower had created the cabinet-level position of Special Assistant to the President for Disarmament, and tapped Stassen to concoct fresh ideas and overcome the pervasive deadlock in arms control negotiations. Since the birth of the atomic age, no arms control agreement had been reached between the United States and the Soviet Union save a cursory one for the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an inspections body.[89] Stassen believed that the United States must move past its futile calls for general and complete disarmament made under both Truman and Eisenhower to find partial measures for arms control. In 1955, Stassen helped Eisenhower to devise his “Open Skies” proposal for aerial inspections. Now, he sought a more robust arms control initiative that would not unduly weaken the United States.[90]   

When Dulles met with Stassen in late January to discuss Draft No. 11, Dulles pitched an “organic and organizational control of atomic weapons on an international basis.” Dulles did not believe that the world would indefinitely accept the United States as a “benevolent dictator” wielding unbridled nuclear power. Instead, he found Eisenhower to have “a unique authority and that it would be a tragedy if it were not used to move the world ahead by climbing up at least one more rung in the ladder that led toward community control of this vast destructive power.” While Dulles understood the “idea of power in the United Nations” to be “quite academic” at the time, he nevertheless projected that “non-communist members of the United Nations” and collective security groups like the UN and regional alliances would need to play a more active role in nuclear decision-making in the future.[91]

Dulles must have believed that Stassen would be sympathetic to his vision. Both men had served together on the U.S. delegation to the UN Charter conference in 1945, and Dulles had attended the gathering of the American Association for the United Nations when Stassen had expanded upon his vision of a nuclear-armed UN force in December of that year.[92] But Stassen initially “seemed unconvinced” by Draft No. 11, especially its ultimate pitch to create “an international body with weapons power greater than that of the United States.” Stassen “doubted very much whether it would ever be possible” to create such a powerful international organization and believed that “the idea would be strongly opposed throughout” the United States. Nevertheless, Stassen promised to work on an arms control program that would account for the UN.[93]    

It did not take long for Stassen to recapture his earlier enthusiasm for the idea of a nuclear-armed UN. Four days later, Stassen, on instructions from Eisenhower, forwarded a new disarmament agenda to senior members of the Administration, including Dulles, Lodge, Vice President Richard Nixon, and Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson. He did so in the form of three drafts to be delivered by Eisenhower: An address before Congress, an address before the American people, and a letter to be sent to Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin. In these documents, Stassen proposed the creation of an Armament Regulation Council (ARC) that would be “open to all states who will themselves make the necessary agreements and open their skies and their armed forces and their armaments to essential inspection and observation.” If so desired by the ARC, Stassen added, the United States and Soviet Union would “assist in providing from stockpiles a modest quantity of tactical nuclear weapons for the enforcement units of the Council.”[94]

Stassen explained that the nuclear powers must use their “great armed strength, not for narrow national purposes, but for the broad objectives of security and stability for the world.” They should be “willing to make a portion of this most modern armed strength available for international police and enforcement purposes.” Stassen summed up his thinking with a memorable line he hoped Eisenhower would deliver to conclude his speech to Congress: “It is my conviction and my prayer that the use of atoms for peace and atoms for police will make it extremely unlikely that atoms will ever be used for war.”[95]      

Stassen solicited comments on his secret draft statements, particularly “with regard to the persuasiveness toward public opinion in other nations and in the U.S.”[96] But the proposal did not make it past Eisenhower or Dulles. Eisenhower complained that Stassen’s broad proposals for arms control needed more “meat,” and refused to deliver any of the drafts suggested by Stassen.[97] Meanwhile, Dulles found Stassen’s pitch for the ARC to be “so vague” that the State Department could not “comment upon it usefully.” He also saw Stassen’s plan for a nuclear-armed UN as exceeding his own. Although “an ultimate goal should be to create some world organization with preponderant power to enforce peace,” Dulles explained, the State Department was only prepared at the moment to “earmark a quantity of such [nuclear] weapons to be used by us, in conformity with our constitutional processes, at the call of the United Nations in pursuance of the Charter and the ‘Uniting for Peace’ Resolution.” In other words, at the present time the United States could not propose the transfer of nuclear weapons to UN control. Overall, Dulles did not think that Stassen’s ideas went “as far as our national interest requires or as necessary to command wide support.” He recommended that the “whole subject” of arms control “continue to receive urgent study.”[98]

Atoms for Police

For Stassen, that continued study led to a concerted push for a nuclear-armed UN. At a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) in May 1956, followed by meetings with senior State Department officials over the next few months, Stassen recaptured his desire from a decade earlier for a nuclear-armed UN air force. Specifically, Stassen proposed “an air wing with nuclear weapons at the disposal of the United Nations under the Security Council.”[99] Each nuclear nation would provide a squadron that would operate under the UN flag from UN bases. The UN nuclear force would be “small in relation to those of the three major powers,” equipped only with “elementary small size nuclear weapons, and not with the more modern megaton thermonuclear weapons.”[100] Nevertheless, the force would be “large in proportion to the military power” of non-nuclear states.[101]

The U.S. contribution, Stassen explained, would be housed at “A small air base within the United States,” ostensibly under a “UN air commander from one of the uncommitted countries, such as Sweden or Austria.” This commander would run “a small air staff,” which “would have nominal command” over the force and access to the base. But Stassen promised that in practice all personnel at the base would actually be “U.S. nationals,” and that Great Britain and the Soviet Union would adopt “parallel” measures for their contributions on their soil.[102] “Otherwise,” Stassen worried, “people might fear that whoever commanded the UN force may become too powerful.”[103]   

In memos to Eisenhower and Dulles, Stassen emphasized that his proposal would do nothing to impair U.S. nuclear capabilities. The United States would make clear that the UN nuclear force would “not in any way restrict the U.S. rights and authority to use” its nuclear arsenal.[104] Stassen assured them that, “It would be specified that the force allotted by each of the three countries could not be used by the UN except with the affirmative vote of the country providing the force.”[105] In this way, Stassen hoped to answer Dulles’ earlier concern over supplying an independent nuclear capability to the UN.   

Stassen viewed his proposal as a way to prevent aggression and assuage international opinion. He envisioned a UN nuclear force as an “atomic shield” in support of the UN Charter and UN resolutions, especially Article 43 and the Uniting for Peace resolution. In line with the motivation of Lodge and Dulles, Stassen also believed that a UN nuclear force could “change the attitude of the world toward nuclear weapons” and “lessen the resentment of ‘have not’ powers.”[106]

Deterrence of non-nuclear powers most inspired Stassen, and it took multiple forms. Stassen mused that a UN nuclear force would allow non-nuclear states to reduce their military expenditures and focus on economic development, and he singled out Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, as one potential beneficiary. Broadly, he believed this feature would help counter “the Soviet economic offensive aimed at the underdeveloped nations of the world.”[107]

A second consideration concerned deterrence against aggression, a factor of “prime importance” for Stassen.[108] He explained that “the object of this program would be to make use of nuclear power to prevent the occurrence of aggression anywhere in the world.”[109] While the small UN nuclear force would be “of no significance” to the three nuclear powers, which would continue to deter each other through their robust national nuclear arsenals, the same could not be said for non-nuclear powers. In Stassen’s opinion, non-nuclear states would come to believe that “there would be a greater probability of these allocated forces backing up UN decisions, than there would be of the use of national forces for UN purposes. Thus,” thought Stassen, “the deterrent effect would be increased.”[110]

Most importantly, Stassen viewed his proposal as a deterrent against nuclear proliferation. Stassen shared that his plan was “motivated primarily by his concern with the ‘fourth country’ problem,” meaning the expansion of the nuclear club beyond Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Stassen calculated that almost any nation could develop nuclear weapons within three years if it devoted $100 million to the task. It seemed that within three to ten years, 15 to 20 nations might possess nuclear weapons. With nuclear proliferation, Stassen worried that “the capability of touching off a major war would be decentralized,” as would “responsibility for launching nuclear weapons.” But a UN nuclear force could convince states to remain non-nuclear. “Efforts by the nuclear ‘haves’ to persuade the atomic ‘have nots’ to desist from development of these weapons might be aided by giving fourth countries a means for direct participation in atomic security forces through the UN,” he reasoned.[111] 

Overall, Stassen admitted that his proposal may be “largely symbolic,” but he believed that “this symbolism would be important.” Even if the proposal never came to pass, Stassen thought that just “the announced willingness of the United States” to pursue such a plan “would have a favorable effect on world opinion towards the United States and would increase the prestige of the UN.”[112] He dubbed his proposal “atoms for police” in homage to Eisenhower’s famous 1953 “Atoms for Peace” speech at the UNGA that proposed sharing nuclear technology and fuel for peaceful purposes. Seeking to capitalize on the popularity of Eisenhower’s initiative, Stassen explained, “The slogan and program of atoms-for-police was a device for packaging an idea so that it would penetrate throughout the world.”[113]

When Stassen first presented his idea to Eisenhower, the President remarked that it was “an interesting one,” but also thought it would have to be “very carefully defined and developed.” Eisenhower questioned how nuclear weapons would be earmarked for use against aggression, where exactly the arsenals would be stationed, and how such an arrangement could be inspected. Without foolproof controls, Eisenhower observed, the United States would be forced to rely upon “reasonable assurance of Soviet good faith,” something in short supply.[114] This rather tepid response contrasted with Eisenhower’s usual effusive support of Stassen and intimated dislike for the idea.[115] 

Other members of the NSC were split over Stassen’s proposal. Admiral Arthur Radford, Chairman of the JCS, liked that the plan seemingly condoned the use of nuclear weapons against local aggression, and hoped to use it to wrest a categorical pledge from the Administration in support of that principle. Conversely, Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, thought that Stassen’s proposal would imply that the United States had thus far been “thoroughly selfish” with its nuclear arsenal.[116] Dulles captured the ambiguity over the proposal in a private meeting with Stassen. The Secretary of State replied that he was “sympathetic to most of the ideas behind” Stassen’s “very far-reaching” proposals for arms control, but he remained unsure whether they could “practicably be worked out at the present time.” Dulles wanted “to give the matter further study and get the benefit of further staff work.”[117]   

Over the summer of 1956, the primary responsibility for assessing Stassen’s proposal fell to the State Department. Led by Robert Murphy, Deputy Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and Francis O. Wilcox, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, the State Department conceded that there “may be some propaganda value” in Stassen’s proposal. If the United States suggested that the nuclear powers maintain nuclear forces ready to serve at the recommendation of the Security Council or the General Assembly, it would not commit U.S. forces to “anything more” than it had agreed to under the UN Charter.[118]

But the State Department found overwhelming reasons to oppose “atoms for police.” The nuclear force would seemingly operate under the UN’s Military Staff Committee, which posed problems of security. The Committee served under the Security Council, which meant that there would be a veto on the use of nuclear forces, a principle the United States had opposed since Stassen’s first initiative in 1945. Moreover, the Committee’s chairmanship rotated monthly, which meant that U.S. nuclear forces could be placed “under Russian, French, British, or Chinese direction.”[119] The State Department foresaw a “security loss involved through the access of foreign nationals to such weapons.”[120] The proposal would also raise the thorny question of U.S. and UN recognition of the PRC in “acute form.”[121] 

The State Department worried about various reactions to the proposal. It thought that “Article 43 had been a dead letter for so long that the proposal would not be taken seriously.” Moreover, the Soviet Union had boycotted the Uniting for Peace resolution when it came into existence during the Korean War, and any further association with it might be viewed as an “empty propaganda gesture.” The State Department also foresaw an “unfavorable reaction in Congress,” as the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 still placed tight restrictions on sharing atomic secrets with foreign governments.[122]

Furthermore, it appeared that other members of the UN might oppose the proposal. Perhaps they would regard the UN nuclear force as “a club held over less powerful states by the nuclear powers, or else a somewhat empty gesture since it did not involve a large allocation of nuclear strength to the United Nations.”[123] The plan could also be “attacked by some states as an attempt to obtain the moral sanction of the UN in support of the use of atomic weapons.”[124] The State Department foresaw “strong Arab opposition,” as Stassen’s proposal might be “thought of as addressed to the Arab-Israeli conflict or other problems of the Near East,” a fraught subject for the Eisenhower Administration.[125] With the “growth of neutralism” around the world in the mid-1950s, it seemed that many states would be reluctant to “earmark forces for UN use without knowing in advance the aggressors or the circumstances surrounding aggression.” Most importantly, the State Department questioned whether Stassen’s proposal would convince states to remain non-nuclear and whether the three nuclear powers would be able to reach such an agreement.[126]   

Despite its overwhelming misgivings, the State Department did not officially reject Stassen’s proposal in the summer of 1956 – instead, it asked that the matter be deferred for the time being. Stassen’s staff chaffed at some of the State Department’s conclusions. One member doubted any potential “security loss” from Stassen’s scheme since the weapons used would “presumably be older and ‘smaller’ types.” But Stassen’s staff ultimately respected the decision for deferral because the State Department better understood the “current diplomatic situation.” Moreover, the staff did not wish to jeopardize the support the State Department had expressed for other arms control proposals made by Stassen.[127]

Stassen still tried to sneak the idea into Eisenhower’s disarmament agenda in October. In a draft speech Stassen composed for Eisenhower ahead of the November elections, Stassen craftily inserted the following line: “Nor will the most significant improvements in the outlook for peace be realized until a manner is found under which the extreme power of the military atom begins to take on in some measure the characteristics of a United Nations police power for peace within the Charter of that organization.”[128] Preoccupied with a health scare, the Suez Crisis, and the pressure of reelection, though, Eisenhower never made the pitch.

When an acquaintance of Eisenhower’s close advisor Sherman Adams wrote in November with the same general idea as Stassen, the State Department shot it down with some of the criteria it had used to block Stassen’s initiative. Only “At some future time when the international situation in general is favorable” would the United States give “serious consideration” to a UN nuclear force, Acting Secretary of State Herbert Hoover, Jr. replied.[129] In other words, not in the foreseeable future.

Stassen though refused to give up. He revisited the idea of a nuclear-armed UN in early 1958 as the state of the nuclear arms race appeared particularly precarious. Over the prior months, the Soviet Union had developed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities and NATO had agreed in principle to nuclear sharing agreements. Both developments raised dangerous questions about the nuclear trajectory of the Cold War. In a secret letter to Eisenhower in January, Stassen shared his view that it was “extremely important for the United States to take and maintain a sound, imaginative initiative for peace, and equally important to take and maintain a similar initiative for the wellbeing and freedom of the people of the world.” With this mission in mind, Stassen once more proposed that the President “offer to assist the United Nations in establishing a police force equipped with tactical atomic weapons,” which Stassen thought “would help to take away the smaller nations’ sense of being excluded from our atomic weapons position.”[130] Stassen conceded that “it may be years before such a police force could be worked out,” but he believed that “the psychological impact of an offer would be good” and that it would keep the United States involved in “an initiative [for peace] month after month.”[131] Again, the Eisenhower Administration refused to act upon Stassen’s idea, and a month later, frustrated with the deadlock in arms control and his own deteriorating position within the Eisenhower Administration, Stassen resigned.

As a private citizen, Stassen clung to the idea of a nuclear-armed UN force. He pegged it to an initiative he thought offered the best chance of success: A nuclear test ban. In March 1958, Stassen proposed a UN police force with “atomic weapons of limited number and size” alongside a two-year moratorium on nuclear tests.[132] A year later, he explained that a UN nuclear force could be an important “parallel step” to a nuclear test ban treaty, the negotiations for which were underway in Geneva. As Stassen saw it, the offer of a nuclear-armed UN could be “the key to obtaining the agreement” of non-nuclear states to join a nuclear test ban negotiated by the three nuclear powers.[133] Out of office and with little political clout, though, Stassen failed to advance his latest push beyond such preliminary sketches.

The Final Stage

Outside of Stassen, the idea of a nuclear-armed UN became a feature of lofty plans for general and complete disarmament in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In that way, the initiative came to mimic Stassen’s original push to make the UN the world’s lone nuclear power. In June 1958, the United States learned of a secret scheme concocted by Great Britain’s Minister of Defense Duncan Sandys. Fearful that the Western nuclear deterrent might disappear as the Soviet Union perfected ICBM technology to put the U.S. population in direct danger and return it to isolationist tendencies, Sandys secretly proposed that the UN set up a “World Peace Authority.” This body would possess an international police force that would act as the predominant military power after all states had disarmed down to the level of internal security forces. Sandys believed the police force “would have to possess unquestioned military superiority over any of the disarmed nations,” and therefore would wield “kiloton nuclear weapons” to hedge against potential violations. These weapons, Sandys speculated, might have to be “produced in factories owned by the Authority” to ensure that no nation gained undue access to them.[134]

U.S. officials failed to discern whether the body sketched by Sandys would operate under the UN or simply be UN-mandated. Nevertheless, the UN appeared to be an impediment. State Department arms control experts Phillip J. Farley and Gerard C. Smith wrote to Dulles that “the United Nations had not yet developed to the point” where Sandys’ plan could be considered “feasible,” and they lamented that even modest proposals made by Eisenhower to strengthen the UN had met with Soviet disapproval.[135] In the end, the Eisenhower Administration refused to act upon the idea of a UN nuclear force.

The idea received more official sanction from the Kennedy Administration. President John F. Kennedy entered office in January 1961 personally and publicly committed to nuclear arms control.[136] He prioritized partial steps such as a nuclear test ban agreement to help stop proliferation and pioneer inspections. But Soviet propaganda, allied pressure, and global opinion pushed the United States to advance a plan for general and complete disarmament.[137] In the summer of 1961, Kennedy’s disarmament advisor John McCloy drafted a proposal for “Total Universal Disarmament in a Peaceful World” that would form the basis of a joint declaration with the Soviet Union at the UNGA that fall. The plan proposed a three-staged approach that included the creation of a UN peace force “sufficiently strong” to “assure peace and the just settlement of differences in a disarmed world.” In the final stage of the plan, McCloy explained that “the U.N. Peace Force and remaining national forces [for internal security] would be armed with agreed types and quantities of armaments.” Meanwhile, “all other armaments, including weapons of mass destruction and means for their delivery, would be destroyed or converted to peaceful purposes.”[138]

When Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, received a draft of McCloy’s plan, he proposed deletion of reference to “weapons of mass destruction” because of the potential needs of the UN peace force. “If, as I assume, there is some thought that such weapons might be retained for the UN peace force, this [stipulation] would appear to be in conflict,” Stevenson wrote to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy.[139] Secretary of State Dean Rusk wrote to Bundy in support of Stevenson’s interpretation, since he believed that the issue would have to be determined “in the course of negotiations.”[140] That same day, the Committee of Principals met to discuss the plan, and “No objections were raised” to Stevenson’s idea.[141]

In the course of bilateral disarmament negotiations that summer, the Soviet Union opposed the U.S. implication that nuclear weapons could feature in the arsenal of a UN peace force. “It is obvious that the creation of international armed forces on this basis could provide no guarantee that such forces would be used in the interests of peace and would not prove a weapon in the expansionist policy of some State or group of States,” Moscow criticized. As partial evidence, the Soviet Union pointed to the “eloquent warning” provided by the recent use of UN forces in the Congo, which it claimed had led to the overthrow and assassination of Congolese President Patrice Lumumba. By contrast, the Soviet disarmament plan proposed the definitive abolishment of all nuclear weapons.[142]

Despite the difference, McCloy and the Soviet representative to the UN Valerian Zorin agreed to a joint resolution on principles of general and complete disarmament at the UNGA in September that included provisions for a UN peace force but left its armaments undefined.[143] Building upon the joint statement, Kennedy gave a speech at the UNGA in which he presented the U.S. disarmament plan. The scheme called for a UN peace force to be “progressively strengthened” to the “point where no state would have the military power to challenge it.”[144]

The issue possessed an overtly propagandist feel, and it did not rest long. In the spring of 1962, during the first session of the newly formed Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) in Geneva, Moscow accused the United States of seeking to equip its proposed UN peace force with nuclear weapons. Quite simply, the U.S. plan failed to ban nuclear weapons and the status of a UN peace force as the world’s predominant military power implied it could possess them. Zorin made clear that Moscow would never accept this arrangement, which it viewed as a ploy to indefinitely prolong the “nuclear threat” and “dominate the peoples of the world.”[145]

Arthur Dean, the U.S. representative to the ENDC, hyperbolically labeled the issue the only “real difference” between the Soviet and U.S. disarmament plans in the early days of the ENDC. Dean explained that the United States did not believe the UN peace force “should necessarily be armed with nuclear weapons,” but it also opposed “stating flatly” that the force could not “under any circumstances” possess such devices. What if the entire world destroyed its nuclear arsenals, but “some wholly irresponsible force” either retained or clandestinely produced nuclear weapons, he wondered. Would the world want the UN peace force to “never under any circumstances employ nuclear weapons?” To Dean, it appeared that the non-nuclear UN peace force envisioned by the Soviet Union would simply “keep the mice in their cages while the lions went roaming freely throughout the jungle.”[146] In other words, it would not be strong enough to deter the world’s great powers.

Dean assured the other delegations that the United States had not developed “any preconceived ideas on this subject” of a nuclear-armed UN, but simply wanted to pose “the question for discussion.”[147] Privately, the Kennedy Administration vaguely resolved to “leave the question open,” as “to do otherwise would affect our position in other areas.”[148] Other delegations split over the issue. India, for example, took the Soviet side to argue that the UN peace force should only be equipped with “light arms,” while Great Britain defended the U.S. position.[149] The British delegation asserted that the world would need an effective “fire brigade” once all nations had disarmed, and that it was “no good creating a world safe for bandits.”[150] Out of the ENDC proceedings, though, U.S. allies urged clarification. Canada admitted that “the West was open to the criticism that it desired to keep the nuclear threat indefinitely,” while Great Britain agreed that it would be “most useful” if the United States could further elaborate on its position.[151]

In the end, the issue stalled once again. A nuclear-armed UN peace force represented the last step of an improbable plan for general and complete disarmament. In addition to Soviet objections, the Kennedy Administration faced domestic pressure. The Cincinnati Enquirer, for example, found it “not difficult to foresee the possibility of a United Nations Peace Force swinging into action against the United States.” Other outlets, like the Chicago Tribune and Fort Worth Star-Telegram,took issue with the implied path to world government, which the former labeled “the most serious threat this nation has ever faced.”[152] A year later, an op-ed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists found that the “major obstacle to the creation and maintenance of such a force would probably be the lack of consensus on trustworthy ‘universal’ men for command, technical staff, and operational positions,” a critique reminiscent of the debate over Stassen’s initial proposal in 1945. In its final lines, the article labeled the idea “a utopian inquiry,” and urged its readers to return “to the real world.”[153]


This paper examined the criteria used to promote and reject the idea of a nuclear-armed UN in the earliest decades of the Cold War. The issue reflected the U.S. struggle to reconcile its position as the world’s predominant nuclear power with its stated desire for arms control and disarmament. Stassen intended for his 1945 initiative to strengthen the fledgling UN, control the bomb, and ensure national nuclear disarmament worldwide. The Truman Administration ostensibly rejected Stassen’s proposal for its political implications, but questions surrounding the force’s location, stewardship, and use, along with the veto power and inexperience of the UN, played a greater role. So too did a desire to maintain an atomic monopoly. During the Korean War, the Truman Administration briefly considered UN approval for nuclear use but never took action.  

In 1956, the Eisenhower Administration revisited some of the ideas earlier raised by Stassen. Proposals sketched by Lodge and Dulles for UN approval for nuclear use sought to popularize nuclear weapons and enhance the image of U.S. leadership. They inspired Stassen to recapture his earlier enthusiasm for a nuclear-armed UN. Like before, Stassen saw its potential to strengthen the UN, stop nuclear proliferation, and deter aggression. He recognized that non-nuclear states needed to play a greater role in the future of the nuclear arms race. But by the mid-1950s, Stassen understood his idea more as a means to keep non-nuclear states disarmed with a UN nuclear force subservient to the arsenals of the superpowers. As such, his proposal looked to consolidate an unequal global nuclear order rather than purge it.

The Eisenhower Administration punted on Stassen’s proposal for numerous military and political reasons, but the idea persisted. Stassen continued to push the scheme through the end of his tenure as disarmament advisor and beyond. Outside of Stassen, the idea transitioned to proposals for general and complete disarmament in the late 1950s and early 1960s. U.S. officials rebuffed a plan touted by Sandys, but the idea became a tenuous feature of U.S. policy under the Kennedy Administration. Top officials kept open possibility of a nuclear-armed UN peace force as the guarantor of an otherwise disarmed world. Faced with Soviet and domestic opposition, though, the Kennedy Administration let the idea recede from an improbable scheme.  

In the twenty-first century, the idea of a nuclear-armed UN has been relegated to the pages of the renowned satirical outlet The Onion.[154] But its vision speaks to current debates that surround the UN’s latest disarmament initiative: The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The so-called Ban Treaty seeks to stigmatize the bomb and force its elimination. As of September 2020, it is opposed by all of the world’s nuclear powers but remains only a handful of ratifications away from entry into force.[155]   

The idea of a nuclear-armed UN implicitly rejects the nuclear prohibition sought by the Ban Treaty. Stassen believed that the nuclear genie was out of the bottle once and for all, and the Kennedy Administration agreed that nuclear weapons might still have to exist amidst broader disarmament. This skepticism of a nuclear-free future aligns with the Trump Administration’s opposition to the Ban Treaty. Much as Stassen and the Kennedy Administration looked to a nuclear-armed UN to guard against rogue nuclear states, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley commented on the Ban Treaty, “We can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them [nuclear weapons] and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety, not to have them.”[156]

The two initiatives further differ over the role of nuclear weapons in international security. With a nuclear-armed UN, Stassen sought a constabulary force that would deter aggression and proliferation worldwide. By the mid-1950s, he believed that a nuclear-armed UN would allow the United States greater freedom to help ensure that outcome. A similar justification exists for the preservation of the U.S. nuclear arsenal today. In a recent feature for The Washington Post, columnist David Von Drehle wrote, “If the world can’t trust the United States, with its overwhelming nuclear advantage, to stand guard and enforce a degree of peace, other nations will feel obligated, or emboldened, to create their own nuclear umbrellas.”[157] By contrast, those in favor of “global zero” cite widespread support for the Ban Treaty as a reason to reject the view that nuclear weapons offer an effective tool for policing.[158]

And yet, the idea of a nuclear-armed UN and the Ban Treaty share similarities. At their core, both initiatives reject the nuclear status quo. They call for states to make greater sacrifices of national security and sovereignty for a collective and common security that would help stop the spread of nuclear weapons and multilateralize control over the bomb.[159] To varying degrees, they also recognize the imbalance behind what historian Shane Maddock calls “nuclear apartheid,” a global hierarchy based on power inequalities between nuclear and non-nuclear states.[160] Stassen, although increasingly beholden to perception over substance with his proposal, believed that non-nuclear states needed greater participation in determining the trajectory of the nuclear arms race. Much more so, the Ban Treaty seeks to democratize the world’s nuclear fate.  

Both initiatives maintain a belief in the rule of international law and seek to bestow power and prestige upon the UN in the fight against what Kennedy famously labeled (in a speech before the UNGA) “the nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads.”[161] While the two initiatives present sweeping visions of a global nuclear order, they do not pretend to be the last word on the subject. Stassen understood the symbolism behind his proposal and welcomed debate over its specifics. So too do supporters of the Ban Treaty. As nuclear expert Rebecca Davis Gibbons writes of the initiative’s mission to stigmatize the bomb, “The ban is an interim step, a means to an end. The members of the movement plan to use the treaty as a tool to pressure nuclear states and their allies.”[162]

Today, nuclear arms control faces its greatest challenge since the end of the Cold War. The past year-and-a-half has seen the dissolution of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, while the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is set to expire in early 2021. Ineffective nuclear diplomacy waged by the Trump Administration has also left Iran’s nuclear program unbridled and done nothing to quell the advance of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.[163] The idea of a nuclear-armed UN, retrieved from the proverbial ash heap of history, highlights hurdles and incentives in the on-going quest to combat the nuclear arms race. Perhaps the Ban Treaty is the UN’s best weapon yet.


[1] A/RES/1(I), 24 Jan. 1946. URL: (accessed 13 Feb. 2020). 

[2] See, for example, Jonathan Hunt, “The Birth of an International Community,” in Robert Hutchings and Jeremi Suri (eds.) Foreign Policy Breakthroughs: Cases in Successful Diplomacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 72–101.

[3] Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “The humanitarian turn in nuclear disarmament and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” The Nonproliferation Review 25, No. 1-2 (2018), 11–36.

[4] These critical junctures include the birth of the atomic age in the mid-1940s and the onset of the thermonuclear age.

[5] For literature on global governance, see, for example, Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (New York: Penguin Press, 2012), 191–244; Or Rosenboim, The Emergence of Globalism: Visions of World Order in Britain and the United States, 1939–1950 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017); For more specific accounts of arms control, see, for example, Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994); Fritz Bartel, “Surviving the Years of Grace: The Atomic Bomb and the Specter of World Government, 1945–1950, Diplomatic History 39, No. 2 (April 2015), 275–302; Lawrence S. Wittner, One World Or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953, Vol. I, The Struggle Against the Bomb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993); Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko, The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008); McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988), 130-97; Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr. A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, Vol. I: The New World, 1939/1946 (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962), 428-82; Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945-1950 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); Dimitris Bourantonis and Edward Johnson, “Anglo-American Diplomacy and the Atomic Energy Issue in the United Nations: Discord and Cooperation in 1945,” Contemporary British History 18, No. 4 (Winter 2004), 1-21; James L. Gormly, “The Washington Declaration and the ‘Poor Relation’: Anglo-American Atomic Diplomacy, 1945–46,” Diplomatic History 8, No. 2 (Spring 1984), 125-43. Select Stassen scholars have also missed the initiative. See, for example, Alec Kirby, David G. Dalin, and John F. Rothmann, Harold E. Stassen: The Life and Perennial Candidacy of the Progressive Republic (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2013); For an exception, see, Lawrence S. Kaplan, Harold Stassen: Eisenhower, the Cold War, and the Pursuit of Nuclear Disarmament (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2018), 37–40.

[6] See, for example, Kaplan, Stassen, 141–2; Shane J. Maddock, Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 109; David Tal, “The Secretary of State versus the Secretary of Peace: The Dulles-Stassen Controversy and US Disarmament Policy, 1955–1958,” Journal of Contemporary History 41, No. 4 (October 2006), 721–40; Luke A. Nichter, The Last Brahmin: Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and the Making of the Cold War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020); For an exception, see, Caroline Pruden, Conditional Partners: Eisenhower, the United Nations, and the Search for a Permanent Peace (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998), 159–60.    

[7] See, for example, Maddock, Apartheid, 145-81; David Tal, The American Nuclear Disarmament Dilemma, 1945-1963 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008), 165-235.

[8] James G. Hershberg, James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Atomic Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 198-9, 757-8. 

[9] Compton to Stimson, 12 Jun. 1945, in Alex Wellerstein, “Weekly Document #9: The Uncensored Franck Report (1945–1946),” Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog. URL: (accessed 7 Jun. 2020).

[10] See, for example, Lawrence S. Wittner, One World, 66–7; William M. Blair, “World Government is Urged to Bar Ruin in Atomic War,” The New York Times, 17 Oct. 1945, 1; “Einstein Urges World Government For Atomic Control to Avoid War,” The New York Times, 27 Oct. 1945, 15.

[11] “Atomic Bomb Force Urged,” The Baltimore Sun, 9 Sep. 1945, 3; Luke P. Carroll, “Connally Urges U.S. to Retain Atomic Secret,” New York Herald Tribune,2Oct. 1945, 11A.

[12] Harold C. Urey, “The Atom and Humanity,” International Conciliation 23 (December 1945), 790–800.

[13] Anthony Leviero, “Urey for Sacrifice to Ban Atom Bomb,” The New York Times,30 Nov. 1945, 5.

[14] Conant to Clark, 8 Oct. 1945, Cambridge, Harvard University Archives, Records of the President of Harvard University, James B. Conant, UAI 5.168, Box 273, Atomic Bomb, 1945-1946 (3 of 3).

[15] Harold Josephson, James T. Shotwell and the Rise of Internationalism in America (Rutherford: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1975), 265.

[16] James T. Shotwell, “Control of Atomic Energy,” Survey Graphic 34 (October 1945), 408.

[17] Josephson, Shotwell,265.

[18] “Outlawing of Atomic Bombs Advocated by Capt. Stassen,” The New York Times, 9 Nov. 1945, 1; “Stassen Asks World Pool of Atomic Planes,” New York Herald Tribune, 9 Nov. 1945, 1.

[19] “Capt. Stassen’s Speech Urging Atomic Bomb Be Outlawed to Solve Differences,” The New York Times, 9 Nov. 1945, 4.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] “A Clear Call to Action,” New York Herald Tribune, 10 Nov. 1945, 14.

[23] Letter to the Editor (Eagleton), “UNO Needs Strength: Bomb Control Sets Problem for Us to Solve,” The New York Times, 2 Dec. 1945, E8.

[24] James T. Shotwell, “The Control of Atomic Energy under the Charter,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 90, No. 1 (January 1946), 62.

[25] “The News of the Week in Review: Six Views On ‘The World’s Major Challenge,’” The New York Times, 11 Nov. 1945, E1.

[26] “Captain Stassen Makes It Specific,” The Baltimore Sun, 10 Nov. 1945, 6.

[27] Frank R. Kent, “The Great Game of Politics,” The Baltimore Sun, 14 Nov. 1945, 15.

[28] John W. Owens, “Stassen Leads The Statesmen,” The Baltimore Sun, 11 Nov. 1945, 14.

[29] John W. Owens, “Answering the Question,” The Baltimore Sun, 21 Nov. 1945, 14.

[30] Harold E. Stassen, “From War to Peace,” International Conciliation 23 (December 1945),806.

[31] Kaplan, Stassen, 37.

[32] Frank R. Kent, “The Great Game of Politics,” The Baltimore Sun, 14 Nov. 1945, 15.

[33] Frederick George Alexander, Jr., “Harold E. Stassen: Proponent of World Peace” (M.S. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1947), 75–7.

[34] “World Is One Now, Stassen Asserts,” The New York Times, 6 Jul. 1945, 1, 11.

[35] Kirby, Dalin, and Rothmann, Stassen, 29.

[36] “Stassen Plan,” The Washington Post, 11 Nov. 1945, B4.

[37] Barnet Nover, “UNO and Atom Bomb,” The Washington Post, 10 Nov. 1945, 4.

[38] “Another Proposal for Atomic Bomb Control,” Los Angeles Times, 11 Nov. 1945, A4.

[39] “Captain Stassen – World Federalist?” The World Government News 3, No. 34 (Dec. 1945), St. Paul, Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), Harold Stassen Papers, 142.A.19.1B, Box 124, 6–7.

[40] George Fielding Eliot, “Danger of World Tyranny Seen in Stassen Atom-Control Plan,” New York Herald Tribune, 11 Nov. 1945, A1.

[41] George Fielding Eliot, “Inspection of All Atom Plants Held Core of Security Problem,” New York Herald Tribune, 12 Nov. 1945, 17A.

[42] “Stassen’s Speech on Atom-Bomb Air Force,” New York Herald Tribune, 9 Nov. 1945, 10.

[43] Frank R. Kent, “The Great Game of Politics,” The Baltimore Sun, 14 Nov. 1945, 15.

[44] Urey, “Atom,” 798.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Marshall Andrews, “U.S. Must Lead in World Rule of Atomic Energy, Dr. Urey Says,” The Washington Post, 30 Nov. 1945, 1.

[47] Statement of Dr. Leo Szilard, 10 Dec. 1945, Hearings Before the Special Committee on Atomic Energy, U.S. Senate, Seventy-Ninth Congress, First Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1945), 278–9.

[48] “Stassen Calls Atom Curb Aid to Lawlessness,” New York Herald Tribune, 15 Dec. 1945, 3.

[49] See, for example, Herbert L. Matthews, “New Big 3 Parley Reported, Denied,” The New York Times, 9 Nov. 1945, 1; Herbert L. Matthews, “Attlee to Propose Vesting Atom Data in Security Council,” The New York Times, 1 Nov. 1945, 1; “Attlee Urges Pool of All War Secrets,” Los Angeles Times, 12 Nov. 1945, 1. 

[50] Herken, Winning Weapon, 63; Hewlett and Anderson, Jr., New World,462.

[51] “Mr. Attlee’s Plan, and Mr. Stassen’s,” The Baltimore Sun, 13 Nov. 1945, 12.

[52] “One of the Bomb-Makers Outlines A Control Plan,” The Baltimore Sun, 20 Nov. 1945, 14.

[53] Bundy, Danger, 147-8.

[54] Paul W. Ward, “U.S., Britain and Canada Propose UNO Establish Group To Design Guards,” The Baltimore Sun, 16 Nov. 1945, 1.

[55] Attlee to Cabinet, 5 Nov. 1945, Kew, The National Archives (TNA), Cabinet Memoranda (CAB) 129/4. URL: (accessed 28 Feb. 2020).

[56] Bundy, Danger, 153-5.

[57] Attlee to Cabinet, 5 Nov. 1945, Kew, The National Archives (TNA), Cabinet Memoranda (CAB) 129/4. URL: (accessed 28 Feb. 2020).

[58] Bundy, Danger, 153-5; Scholars have misunderstood Attlee’s position on a nuclear-armed UN. For an example, see, Sussana Schrafstetter and Stephen Twigge, Avoiding Armageddon: Europe, the United States, and the Struggle for Nuclear Nonproliferation, 1945 – 1970 (Westport: Praeger, 2004),20; It should be noted that Canada initially took a more measured approach. Lester Pearson, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States who helped to negotiate the joint Truman-Attlee-King declaration, recalls that Ottawa wanted all nations to renounce the production and use of nuclear weapons “except, possibly, on orders from the United Nations.” See, Lester B. Pearson, Mike: The Memoirs of the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, Vol. I: 1897 – 1948 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972),261.

[59] Position Paper: Legal Basis for the Establishment of an Atomic Energy Commission Under the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Sphere of Influence of Such a Commission, 11 Dec. 1945, United States National Archives, Record Group (RG) 59, State Department Central Decimal File (hereafter CDF) 811.2423/12-1145.

[60] Position Paper: Safeguards as a Political Problem in Atomic Energy Control, 11 Dec. 1945, USNA, CDF 811.2423/12-1145.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Joint Chiefs of Staff to State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC), 23 Jan. 1946, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1946, General; The United Nations, Vol. I, doc. 410, 748. 

[63] J.C.S. 1477/1, 30 Oct. 1945, Digital National Security Archive (DNSA), Washington, DC. 

[64] Joint Chiefs of Staff to State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee, 23 Jan. 1946, FRUS, 1946, General; The United Nations, Vol. I, doc. 410, 748. 

[65] McFarland to SWNCC, 1 Feb. 1946, USNA, RG 353, JCS Memoranda for SWNCC, January 1946–May 1947, Box 117, JCS Memos, Book 1.

[66] W.H. Lawrence, “Atom Units Barred: Big Five Would Provide Half of Police Total Favored by U.S.,” The New York Times, 24 Mar. 1946, 1, 36.

[67] A/RES/1(I), 24 Jan. 1946. URL: (accessed 13 Feb. 2020).

[68] W.H. Lawrence, “Atom Units Barred: Big Five Would Provide Half of Police Total Favored by U.S.,” The New York Times, 24 Mar. 1946, 1, 36.

[69] Memorandum of Conversation, 1 Apr. 1946, FRUS, 1946, General; The United Nations, Vol. I, doc. 422, 773.

[70] A Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy, 16 Mar. 1946, Department of State. Reproduced by the Atomic Heritage Foundation. URL: (accessed 27 Feb. 2020).

[71] Craig and Radchenko, Atomic Bomb,122-30.

[72] It is interesting to note that Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal suggested in the fall of 1945 that, in exchange for a U.S. atomic monopoly, the United States agree to only use nuclear weapons in accordance with orders from the UN Security Council. See, Forrestal to Truman, 1 Oct. 1945, DNSA.     

[73] Roger Dingman, “Atomic Diplomacy during the Korean War,” International Security 13, No. 3 (Winter, 1988-89), 56.

[74] Matthew Jones, After Hiroshima: The United States, Race and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945–1965 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 66-7. 

[75] Memorandum by Nitze, 4 Nov. 1950, FRUS, 1950, Korea, Vol. II, doc. 745, 1042.

[76] Emmerson to Rusk, 8 Nov. 1950, FRUS, 1950, Korea, Vol. VII, doc. 787, 1099.

[77] See, for example, Maddock, Apartheid, 81-145; Tal, Dilemma, 52-165; Bundy, Danger, 236-358; Campbell Craig, Destroying the Village: Eisenhower and Thermonuclear War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

[78] Lodge to Dulles and Eisenhower, 24 Jan. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 97, 273-75.  

[79] Ibid.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Pruden, Partners,159

[83] Amy L. Sayward, The United Nations in International History (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 39-40.

[84] Draft Report, 9 Feb. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, United Nations and General International Matters, Vol. XI, doc. 22, 40-3.  

[85] Nichter, Brahmin, 149.

[86] Maddock, Apartheid,84-90.

[87] Draft No. 11, 28 Jan. 1956, Abilene, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, John Foster Dulles Papers, Subject Series, Box 4, Paper on Nuclear Weapons - 1/56 (1) Chron. of Events 2/9/59 - Dulles' Illness and Death.

[88] Ibid.

[89] David Holloway, “The Soviet Union and the Creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Cold War History 16, No. 2 (2016), 177-93.

[90] Maddock, Apartheid, 105-15; Tal, “Secretary”; Tal, Dilemma, 73-91.

[91] Memorandum of a Conversation, 29 Jan. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 104, 305-6.

[92] “Atom Curb Urged on World Level,” The New York Times, 15 Dec. 1945, 4.

[93] Memorandum of Conversation, 29 Jan. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 104, 305-6.

[94] Stassen to Nixon et. Al., 2 Feb. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/2-256. 

[95] Ibid.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Diary Entry by Ann Whitman, 6 Feb. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 109, 317; Record of Actions, 7 Feb. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 112, 329.

[98] Dulles to Stassen, 7 Feb. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 113, 333. 

[99] Memorandum of Conversation, 7 Jun. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/6-756; Memorandum of Discussion, 10 May 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 141, 396.

[100] Bond to Wilcox, 21 Jun. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/6-2156; Stassen to Eisenhower, 16 Jul. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57. 

[101] Bond to Wilcox, 21 Jun. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/6-2156.

[102] Stassen to Eisenhower, 16 Jul. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57. 

[103] Stassen to Eisenhower, 20 Jul. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 147, 412.   

[104] Ibid., 411.

[105] Stassen to Eisenhower, 17 Jul. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57.

[106] Memorandum of Discussion, 10 May 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 141, 396; Bond to Wilcox, 21 Jun. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/6-2156.

[107] Memorandum of Discussion, 10 May 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 141, 396.  

[108] Stassen to Eisenhower, 16 Jul. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57. 

[109] Memorandum of Discussion, 10 May 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 141, 396.  

[110] Stassen to Eisenhower, 16 Jul. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57.  

[111] Bond to Wilcox, 21 June 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/6-2156.

[112] Stassen to Eisenhower, 16 Jul. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57.  

[113] Memorandum of Discussion, 10 May 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 141, 396.  

[114] Ibid.

[115] Kaplan, Stassen, 142.

[116] Memorandum of Discussion, 10 May 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 141, 397.  

[117] Memorandum of Conversation, 7 Jun. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/6-756.

[118] Wilcox to Dulles, 17 Jul. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/7-1756. 

[119] Ibid.

[120] Murphy to Peaslee, 15 Aug. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/8-1556.

[121] Murphy to Peaslee, 16 Aug. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 150, 417.  

[122] Murphy to Peaslee, 15 Aug. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/8-1556.

[123] Wilcox to Dulles, 17 Jul. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/7-1756. 

[124] Murphy to Peaslee, 15 Aug. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/8-1556.

[125] Murphy to Peaslee, 16 Aug. 1956, FRUS, 1955–1957, Regulation of Armaments; Atomic Energy, Vol. XX, doc. 150, 417.  

[126] Firehock to Stassen, 24 Aug. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57.  

[127] Lippmann to Firehock, 22 Aug. 1956, USNA, RG 59, General Records Relating to Disarmament, 1942-1962, Office of the Secretary, Special Assistant to Sec. of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, Box 161, United Nations Police Force, 1956-57.   

[128] Stassen to Eisenhower, 20 Oct. 1956, MNHS 142.B.10.5B, Box 160. URL: (accessed 13 Feb. 2020).

[129] Hoover, Jr. to Adams, 12 Nov. 1956, USNA, CDF 600.0012/11-1256.

[130] Stassen’s reversion to tactical nuclear weapons seemingly emphasized that the UN force would be subordinate to the three nuclear states. It also revealed that the proposal remained a work in progress.

[131] Stassen to Eisenhower, 14 Jan. 1958, Washington, The National Security Archive, Nuclear History Project, Box 2.

[132] Dana Adams Schmidt, “Stassen Favors a U.N. Space Unit,” The New York Times, 10 Mar. 1958, 3.

[133] Harold Stassen and Edgar Snow, “Abatement of the Arms Race,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 234 (July 1959), 89-95.   

[134] Smith to Farley and Dulles, 10 Jun. 1958, USNA CDF 600.0012/6-1058.

[135] Ibid.

[136] Maddock, Apartheid, 146.

[137] Tal, Dilemma, 191-2.

[138] Draft Joint Declaration, 28 Jul. 1961, Boston, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (JFKL), Papers of President John F. Kennedy, National Security Files, Box 267, ACDA Disarmament Committee of Principals, 7/16/61 – 7/31/61.

[139] Stevenson to Bundy, 11 Aug. 1961, FRUS, 1961 – 1963, Vols. VII, VIII, and IX, Arms Control; National Security Policy; Foreign Economic Policy, Microfiche Supplement, Doc. 31, 116.  

[140] Rusk to Bundy, 17 Aug. 1961, FRUS, 1961 – 1963, Vols. VII, VIII, and IX, Arms Control; National Security Policy; Foreign Economic Policy, Microfiche Supplement, Doc. 35, 124–25.  

[141] Minutes of Meeting, 17 Aug. 1961, FRUS, 1961 – 1963, Vol. VII, Arms Control and Disarmament, doc. 56, 146.

[142] Statement by the Soviet Government on the Bilateral Talks, Documents on Disarmament, 1961 (Washington: United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1961), 453.

[143] Agreed Statement of Principles, 20 Sept. 1961, Ibid.,441.

[144] Address by President Kennedy to the General Assembly, 25 Sept. 1961, Ibid.,468; United States Declaration, Ibid., 481–2.

[145] “Russian Raps Peace Plan,” The Baltimore Sun,31 May 1962, 1; “Risk of Secret Atom Arming is Cited at Geneva,” The New York Times, 13 Jun. 1962, 19.

[146] Final Verbatim Report of the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) [Meeting 54], 12 Jun. 1962, 43-4. 

[147] Ibid.

[148] Memorandum of Conversation, 23 May 1962, USNA, CDF 600.0012/5-2362; Memorandum of Conversation, 31 May 1962, USNA CDF 600.0012/5-3162.

[149] Seyom Brown, “A Universal Nuclear Deterrent Force,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 19, No. 4 (Apr. 1963), 21.

[150] “Urges Nuclear Armed Peace Force For U.N.,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 13 Jun. 1962, B3.

[151] Memorandum of Conversation, 10 Jul. 1962, USNA, CDF 600.0012/7-1062; Geneva to Rusk, 14 Jun. 1962, JFKL, Papers of President John F. Kennedy, National Security Files, ACDA Disarmament Subjects, Box 261, Geneva Eighteen Nation Conference, 3/62, 5/62-6/62.

[152] American Opinion Series Report on The United Nations and on Disarmament, 16 Apr.– 15 May 1962, JFKL, Papers of President John F. Kennedy, National Security Files, ACDA Disarmament Subjects, Box 261, Geneva Eighteen Nation Conference, 3/62, 5/62-6/62. 

[153] Brown, “Universal,” 24.

[154] “U.N. Acquires Nuclear Weapon,” The Onion, 13 Jan. 2009. URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020); It is interesting to note that in the 1990s, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory physicist and defense analyst Roger Speed proposed a nuclear-armed UN as a means to stop nuclear proliferation. See, Roger D. Speed, “International Control of Nuclear Weapons,” The Washington Quarterly 20, No. 3 (Summer 1997), 179–84.  


[155] The Ban Treaty enters into force after fifty ratifications. See, Signature and Ratification Status, The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020).

[156] Michelle Nichols, “U.S., Britain, France, others skip nuclear weapons ban treaty talks,” Reuters, 27 Mar. 2017. URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020).

[157] David Von Drehle, “Living in the shadow of the Bomb,” The Washington Post, 5 Aug. 2020. URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020).

[158] Jessica Sleight, Ward Wilson, and Derek Johnson, “There is Nothing Magical About Nuclear Weapons,” Inkstick Media, 24 Aug. 2020. URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020).

[159] Collective security is referenced in the text of the Ban Treaty. West German official Egon Bahr defined common security as “security together with, and not against, a potential enemy.” See, Richard Rhodes, “The atomic bomb and common security,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6 Aug. 2020. URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020). 

[160] Maddock, Nuclear Apartheid.

[161] Address Before the General Assembly of the United Nations, 25 Sep. 1961. JFKL. URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020).

[162] Gibbons, “Humanitarian” 35.

[163] Alex Ward, “‘The end of arms control as we know it,” Vox, 3 Aug. 2020. URL: (accessed 3 Sep. 2020); Julia Masterson, “UN Experts See North Korean Nuclear Gains,” Arms Control Today 50 (September 2020). URL: (accessed 5 Sep. 2020); “Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile ‘10 times limit,’” BBC News, 4 Sep. 2020. URL: (accessed 5 Sep. 2020).  

About the Author

Ryan Alexander Musto

Ryan Alexander Musto

MacArthur Nuclear Security Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Stanford University   
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