The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) now reopening in Vienna may best be seen as the latest in a series of fumbling attempts by mankind to pick up the pieces in the wake of Hiroshima. A month after that first atomic bomb dropped, Einstein said what is still the last word of wisdom on the subject, though we are as far as ever from applying it. To a UPI reporter who tracked him down in a forest cabin near Lake Saranac, Einstein said “the only salvation for civilization and the human race” now lay in “the creation of a world government. As long as sovereign states continue to have separate armaments and armament secrets,” he warned, “new world wars will be inevitable.”
This idea, like so much else in the repetitive and frustrating history of the struggle against the arms race in the last hundred years, was not new. It appeared at least as early as 1913, in a novel by H. G. Wells, The World Set Free. Wells predicted the splitting of the atom—by some stroke of luck or intuitive genius placing the event in 1933, when it actually occurred. He also forecast the use of nuclear energy in a world war so catastrophic it shook men and nations out of their accustomed habits and led them to form a world government as their only assurance henceforth of survival.
For a fleeting moment since forgotten, the dropping of the first bomb did push the American government in the direction of world government. The horrors of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, the realization of what a third and nuclear world war would do to mankind, shocked American political leaders and scientists into a project whose novelty and magnitude began to be commensurate with the peril they foresaw. But the Baruch-Lilienthal-Acheson plan for the international control of atomic energy they then presented to the United Nations proved to be the first of four lost opportunities since the war to bring the nuclear monster under control; the SALT talks represent another chance, and I fear it too will be lost.
The Baruch plan, as put forward in 1946, would have set up a kind of world superstate for the nuclear age. Unfortunately the plan seems to have passed through three stages, in which the original idealistic impulse was successively revised to make it more “practical” politically. In the process it also grew less magnanimous. It ended up looking—from Moscow’s point of view—like a plan for domination of the world and the economy of the Soviet Union by the United States, as Acheson now admits in a section of his newly published memoirs which has escaped attention.
Dean Acheson, then Under Secretary of State, was chairman of a committee appointed by President Truman after the war to draw up a plan for the international control of atomic energy. This committee in turn set up a consultative group of scientists and big business executives under David E …