Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Atoms for Peace Proposal (8 December 1953)

Atomic energy policy and nuclear arms control proposal presented by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a United Nations (UN) speech on 8 December 1953. Eisenhower's initiative was an effort to shape the international environment, create an opportunity for limiting the development and spread of nuclear weapons, and establish the potential for the peaceful use of nuclear science. He stressed the dangers of nuclear weapons to set the tone for his proposal and to create a general awareness of the realities of the international security situation. His warnings built on his already-established domestic public education program known as Operation Candor.

A key element of Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace proposal was the pooling of fissionable nuclear materials under a UN organization for atomic energy. This transfer of control would result in a reduction of scarce materials needed to produce nuclear weapons. The collaboration of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union in this material transfer would also provide an opportunity to open communications with the Soviets in the area of nuclear issues.

Eisenhower also proposed that the new UN atomic agency retain the responsibility of pursuing peaceful uses of the technology in areas such as agriculture, medicine, and especially electric power generation. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was created in 1957 as a direct result of the Atoms for Peace proposal. The development of peaceful uses of nuclear technology did indeed advance after the speech, but arms control and the reduction of available fissile materials did not meet expectations. Yet the initiative paved the way for subsequent discussions related to nuclear issues. The Atoms for Peace plan has been criticized as a cynical response to the Soviets' recently acquired thermonuclear bomb capability and an effort to place the Soviets in a situation in which they would likely reject the very public American initiative. The United States certainly expected to benefit politically regardless of the Soviet reaction. Eisenhower's intent seemed to include a sincere desire to encourage positive uses of nuclear technologies and to constrain the nuclear arms race.

Jerome V. Martin


Further Reading
Chernus, Ira. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002.; Ebinger, Charles K., Robert E. Pendley, and Joseph F. Pilat, eds. Atoms for Peace: An Analysis after Thirty Years. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1985.; Hewlett, Richard G., and Jack M. Holl. Atoms for Peace and War, 1953–1961: Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
 

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