Atoms for Peace

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The Atoms for Peace program distributed nuclear technology, materials, and know-how to many countries with less advanced research.

"Atoms for Peace" was the title of a speech delivered by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the UN General Assembly in New York City on December 8, 1953.

I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new – one which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use.

That new language is the language of atomic warfare.[1]

The United States then launched an "Atoms for Peace" program that supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals, and research institutions within the U.S. and throughout the world. The first nuclear reactors in Iran, Israel[2] and Pakistan were built under the program by American Machine and Foundry (AMF, a company more commonly known as a major manufacturer of bowling equipment).

Philosophy of Atoms for Peace

The Atoms for Peace symbol mounted over the door to the American swimming pool reactor building during the 1955 International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, often called the Atoms for Peace conference.

The speech was part of a carefully orchestrated media campaign, called "Operation Candor", to enlighten the American public on the risks and hopes of a nuclear future. It was a propaganda component of the Cold War strategy of containment.[3] Eisenhower's speech opened a media campaign that would last for years and that aimed at "emotion management",[4] balancing fears of continuing nuclear armament with promises of peaceful use of uranium in future nuclear reactors.[5] The speech was a tipping point for international focus on peaceful uses of atomic energy, even during the early stages of the Cold War. It has been argued that Eisenhower, with some influence from J. Robert Oppenheimer, was attempting to convey a spirit of comfort to a terrified world after the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the nuclear tests of the early 1950s.[6]

It presents an ostensible antithesis to brinkmanship, the international intrigue that subsequently kept the world at the edge of war.

However recent historians have tended to see the speech as a cold war maneuver directed primarily at U.S. allies in Europe. Eisenhower wanted to make sure that the European allies would go along with the shift in NATO strategy from an emphasis on conventional weapons to cheaper nuclear weapons. Western Europeans wanted reassurance that the U.S. did not intend to provoke a nuclear war in Europe, and the speech was designed primarily to create that sense of reassurance. Eisenhower later said that he knew the Soviets would reject the specific proposal he offered in the speech.

Eisenhower's invoking of "...those same great concepts of universal peace and human dignity which are so clearly etched in..." the UN Charter, placed new emphasis upon the US's grave responsibility for its nuclear actions— past, present and future. In a large way, this address laid down the rules of engagement for the new kind of warfare: the cold war.

Two quotations from the speech follow:

  • "It is with the book of history, and not with isolated pages, that the United States will ever wish to be identified. My country wants to be constructive, not destructive. It wants agreement, not wars, among nations. It wants itself to live in freedom, and in the confidence that the people of every other nation enjoy equally the right of choosing their own way of life."
  • "To the making of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you--and therefore before the world--its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma--to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life."

Effects of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Speech Peaceful use of Atomic Energy

Prior to Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech the state of atomic development in the world was under the strictest of secrecies. The information and expertise needed for atomic development was bound by a pact of secrecy between allies (the secret Quebec Agreement of 1943[7]) and thus not devoted to peaceful processes but instead as a weapon to defend against other countries developing and using the same such weapons. With atomic development kept so far under wraps there were no safety protocols and no standards developed.

Eisenhower’s speech was an important moment in political history as it brought the atomic issue which had been kept quiet for “national security” into the public eye, asking the world to support his solution. The great part about his speech is the motive; how ingenious to take a horrible weapon and repurpose it to make the world a better place. “President Dwight D. Eisenhower was determined to solve “the fearful atomic dilemma” by finding some way by which “the miraculous inventiveness of man” would not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.” Unfortunately Eisenhower was not completely effective in his repurposing; Eisenhower himself approved the National Security Council (NSC) document which stated that only a massive atomic weapon base would deter violence from the Soviet Union. The belief that to avoid a nuclear war, the United States must stay on the offensive, ready to strike at any time, is the same reason that the Soviet Union would not give up their atomic weapons either. During his time in office the nuclear holdings of the US rose from 1,005 to 20,000 weapons.

Atoms for Peace opened up nuclear research to civilians and countries that had not previously possessed nuclear technology. This made it possible for some countries to develop weapons, however the Atoms for Peace program that came to be from Eisenhower’s speech had great impacts for the world. Eisenhower argued for a nonproliferation agreement throughout the world; he argued for a stop to the spread of military use of nuclear weapons. Although the nations that already had atomic weapons kept their weapons and grew their supplies, very few other countries have developed similar weapons – in this sense, it has been very much contained and Eisenhower was successful. The Atoms for Peace program also created regulations for the use of nuclear power and through these regulations stopped other countries from developing weapons while allowing the technology to be used for positive means.


Atoms for Peace created the ideological background for the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, but also gave political cover for the U.S. nuclear weapons build-up, and the backdrop to the Cold War arms race. Under Atoms for Peace related programs the U.S. exported over 25 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to 30 countries, mostly to fuel research reactors, which is now regarded as a proliferation and terrorism risk. The Soviet Union also exported over 11 tons of HEU under a similar program.[8]

See also


  1. Gerhard Peters, John T. Woolley; University of California, Santa Barbara (December 8, 1953). "Address Before the General Assembly of the United Nations on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, New York City".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Cohen, Avner; Burr, William (15 April 2015). "The Eisenhower Administration and the Discovery of Dimona: March 1958-January 1961". National Security Archive. Retrieved 17 April 2015. External link in |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Ira Chernus. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace. College Station TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2002.
  4. Chernus 2002, 51.
  5. Stephanie Cooke. In Mortal Hands. A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age. Bloomsbury USA, 2009,106-32.
  6. Chernus 2002, 53-65.
  7. "Quebec Agreement".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Jessica C. Varnum (23 January 2014). "60 Years of Atoms for Peace". Nuclear Engineering International. Retrieved 1 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links