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Atomic Energy: Impasse

By William M. Simmons

Acting on a United Nations General Assembly resolution, the Big Five nations and Canada will reopen disenssion soon on international control of atomic energy. For, after almost four months of debate, the Assembly adjourned in December, unable to reach a satisfactory solution to the impasse on control existing between Eastern and Western blocs on the UN Atomic Energy Commission.

Although the Commission has worked out a plan which has been favorably voted on by the Assembly, that plan has not gone into effect because of Russia's adamant refusal to submit to the recommended control. The USSR holds that the UN plan is only a slight variation of the "unfair" U.S. proposal, presented at the first meeting of the Commission in 1946, and that the Russian system, outlined a few days later, is the only acceptable one. Soviet delegates claim that the UN plan is politically loaded in favor of the West, and is calculated to give the U.S. a strategic advantage.

This argument, and thus the entire discussion of international control, concerns three points in the UN plan: 1) control by the Commission with no veto on majority decisions; 2) establishment of control by "stages," with destruction of existing atomic weapons as the final "stage"; 3) management and operation of all atomic energy production facilities the world by the Commission. These points are basically those asked by Bernard Baruch, speaking for the U.S. in 1946, and originally requested by the Acheson-Lilienthal report earlier that year.

Russian Funnel

Russia, on the other hand, says that the Commission recommendations on possible action should be funneled through the Security Council--where the veto is in force. The Soviet plan calls for immediate destruction of all atomic bomb stockpiles, before international control goes into operation, and periodic inspection of production facilities, with punishments for violations to be administered by the country in which the violation occurs.

Arguing against the Soviet proposal, U.S. delegates point out that use of the veto would make the control system meaningless, since one of the Big Five could halt punishment of its own violation. Britain, speaking for the Commission majority, states that "periodic" inspection would mean no control at all: a country could easily cover up a violation before the UN inspectors made their visit.

The basis for the Russian position, however, is that since the Big Five countries are designated permanent members of the UNAEC, the West will probably always have a majority on the Commission. Thus, under the proposed plan, Russian industrial development of atomic energy, if only for peaceful purposes, would be controlled by nations favoring the U.S., Soviet delegates assert. As for the "stages" aspect, the USSR claims that it was placed there to preserve the U.S. monopoly of bombs--which existed in 1946--until the U.S. could be certain of its ability to control atomic production throughout the world.

Small Nations Wary

Many delegates from nations not represented on the Commission have come to think that the Russians may be right in accusing the U.S. of seeking a political advantage through the atomic control system. This opinion was strengthened when the U.S. turned down this fall a modified Soviet proposal which would have had all bombs destroyed simultaneously with the establishment of control. The U.S. again refused to accept anything other than the "stages" system.

In this spring's discussions, however, the U.S. may have to change its position, and accept modification of the U.N. plan. Russia now has the bomb; postponement of control merely allows the USSR to catch up with our bomb production. Also, there has been pressure from Western bloc nations, who fear atomic war with Russia, for some sort of control soon. Off the record, U.S. delegates in the UN have already stated that they may accept several modification: 1) allocation of production by bi-lateral treaties between the Commission and nations; 2) punishment to be left to the countries in which the violation occurs. The U.S. delegates may have decided that getting international control is more important than winning another hand in the perennial UN game of power politics.

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