Magazine article Arms Control Today

LOOKING BACK: Going for Baruch: The Nuclear Plan That Refused to Go Away

Magazine article Arms Control Today

LOOKING BACK: Going for Baruch: The Nuclear Plan That Refused to Go Away

Article excerpt

Sixty years ago, U.S. Ambassador Bernard Baruch addressed the new UN Atomic Energy Commission and outlined a bold and controversial plan for international control or ownership of all "dangerous" nuclear materials and related facilities.1 Six months later, the divided commission sent its report to the UN Security Council. Lacking a consensus, the plan appeared dead.

Yet, reports of its death were premature. It has been the subject of doctoral dissertations2 and at least one masters thesis.3 Hydrogen bomb pioneer Edward Teller urged its revival.4 In 2003, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei firmly placed multilateral nuclear controls back on the public agenda.5 In 2004 he stressed that the global spread of dangerous nuclear facilities "could be the Achilles heel of the nuclear non-proliferation regime."6

The end of the Cold War and growing public concerns about nuclear weapons in anybody's hands offer grounds for a second look at the Baruch Plan.


Early proposals for international nuclear cooperation predated the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Several scientists urged such cooperation to avert a post-war nuclear arms race and to promote disarmament. On November 15, 1945, President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King issued a joint declaration proposing that "a commission should be set up under the United Nations" to prepare recommendations on "entirely eliminating the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes" and promoting peaceful uses.7

The declaration stressed that "no system of safeguards that can be devised will of itself provide an effective guarantee against the production of atomic weapons by a nation bent on aggression." Yet, it also called for the new UN commission to devise "effective safeguards by way of inspection and other means to protect complying states against the hazards of violations and evasions" while cautioning against the "spreading of specialized information" before such safeguards were in place.

The proposal resurfaced in a communiqué issued from Moscow on December 27, 1945, following a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It contained a draft General Assembly resolution on establishing a UN commission "to consider problems" relating to atomic energy.8 On January 24, 1946, the General Assembly adopted a version of this text as its first official resolution (Resolution 1(I)).

The Department of State, meanwhile, continued its efforts to develop a specific proposal for international control. On January 7, 1946, Secretary of State James Byrnes appointed his undersecretary, Dean Acheson, to chair a Committee on Atomic Energy, which appointed a Board of Consultants chaired by David Lilienthal to draft an initial report. The result, known as the Acheson-Lilienthal report, was submitted to Byrnes on March 17 and publicly released a few days later.9 It became, with significant amendments, the heart of the Baruch Plan.

Acheson-Lilienthal Report

Intended merely as "a foundation on which to build," this report carried a lot of weight as its authors included some key participants in the Manhattan Project, most notably J. Robert Oppenheimer. Like the Truman-Attlee-King declaration, it stressed that "there is no prospect for security against atomic warfare in a system of international agreements to outlaw such weapons controlled only by a system which relies on inspection and similar police-like methods."

Instead, the report called for international ownership and operation of all "dangerous" nuclear activities, which covered virtually the entire nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium and thorium mines. The new Atomic Development Authority would also conduct research, even on atomic weapons per se. Less-dangerous activities would be exempted from its mandate, including the operation of reactors using safeguarded "denatured" fuels that could not be used directly in nuclear explosives. …

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