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Atoms for Peace

President Eisenhower's December 8, 1953, "Atoms for Peace" speech at the United Nations was received throughout the world with hope and anticipation. Even before ascending to the presidency, America's only General/President of the twentieth century understood the risks inherent in the escalation of nuclear arsenals. These concerns were magnified after he become President-elect, and was secretly briefed on the destructive capabilities of a new class of thermonuclear weapons. However, the full magnitude of these new weapons was not appreciated until classified data was received on the dangers of radioactive fallout. While no doubt prepared to use these weapons if necessary, Eisenhower supported several policy initiatives designed to keep the "atomic genie" under control. In the first year of his Presidency, Eisenhower introduced "Operation Candor." He believed that a more open presentation of the increasingly catastrophic implications of nuclear conflict would yield a more sober attitude toward the importance of improved global relations. Progressing further along this path, Eisenhower advanced the cause of those who proposed the broadening of atomic development when he introduced his Atoms for Peace initiative before the United Nations and the world. Subsequent initiatives for nuclear disarmament and test bans, although unsuccessful, suggest Eisenhower's acceptance of a "moral imperative" to offset the terrible implications of this military technology with beneficial, peaceful applications.

Nevertheless, the complexity and inconsistency of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War prohibits a portrayal of the Eisenhower administration's policies as entirely conciliatory. At the same time the administration was proposing Operation Candor, Atoms for Peace, and nuclear test bans, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles espoused the government's hard line anti-communism rhetoric, and the defensive policy of "massive retaliation." Despite such incongruities, Eisenhower's commitment to Atoms for Peace was more than mere Cold War public relations. The specific goals outlined in his U.N. address included various forms of international cooperation. Most prominent among them was a call for the donation of "fissile" material from nuclear nations. This pool of material was to be administered by an international atomic energy agency under the auspices of the United Nations. They would make it available to non-nuclear nations for research, power generation, and medical purposes. As originally presented, the program could conceivably result in nuclear disarmament, whereby the world's nuclear capabilities would ultimately be diverted from national military stockpiles to an international energy pool. Former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman and Energy Department Secretary James R. Schlessinger described this program as "a Marshall Plan for atomic energy." On the domestic side, the first Republican administration in twenty years sought to reduce the monopoly of government sponsored development and ownership of this new technology. The demonstrated adaptation of nuclear power for commercial purposes, it was believed, would convince private industry to commit its own resources to further development. In addition to demonstration land-based nuclear power generating plants, the Eisenhower Administration approved the development of an experimental nuclear merchant ship.




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