Bernard M. Baruch was 75 years old in 1946 when President Harry S. Truman asked him to take the American proposal concerning atomic energy to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. The basis for the proposal was the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, which had been made public in March. Baruch decided to make some changes, which resulted in what became known as the Baruch Plan. He presented his plan to the first meeting of the UNAEC on June 14, 1946.
Born on August 19, 1870, in Camden, South Carolina, Bernard Mannes Baruch graduated from the City College of New York and eventually became a partner in the financial firm of A. Housman and Company where he later managed to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Baruch amassed his fortune before he was 30, started his own company, and by 1910 had become one of Wall Street’s financial leaders. He became an advisor to presidents, serving as the chairman for President Woodrow Wilson’s War Industries Board and as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust."
The Acheson-Lilienthal Report had been developed by a committee headed by Dean Acheson, with advice from a board of consultants headed by David Lilienthal. Its intent was to bring atomic energy under the ownership of an international agency, with the secrets of atomic weapons being revealed, but with all countries renouncing any intention of developing more bombs.
Known as the “Park Bench Statesman" for his work giving counsel to congressional politicians on a bench across from the White House, Baruch made it clear that he intended to put his own stamp on the report before proposing it to the U.N. He delivered his message to the opening session of the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission at Hunter College in New York City on June 14, 1946. It specified swift and sure consequences for anyone breaking the rules, and placed the decision to impose those consequences beyond anyone`s veto in the Security Council. It also laid out stages through which the United States would decommission its own nuclear weapons, but postponed the start of that reduction until after there were clear, worldwide guarantees that no one else would build such devices.
Baruch`s speech began with words designed for impact, "We are here today to make a choice between the quick and the dead." Unfortunately, something was already dead and it was the Baruch Plan. The Soviet Union was firmly opposed on several counts. The purpose of vetoes in the Security Council was to ensure that the U.N. would not take action against any of the great powers. Baruch`s plan would have abrogated that protection.
In addition, the delay envisioned that before the United States would begin dismantling its own weapons, it would give a probable several-year period in which the United States would have an advantage in any negotiations. This situation was intolerable to the Soviet Union.
Acheson had vehemently opposed allowing Baruch, a diplomatic amateur, to make changes to the Acheson-Lilienthal Report. His pessimism was justified. A desultory debate on the proposal continued into 1948, but there was no movement on either side. Before the end of the decade, the atomic arms race came into the open with the testing of the Soviet Union`s first atomic bomb. Denied any real purpose, the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission lasted until 1951, when it was merged with the Commission for Conventional Armaments.
It was not until Eisenhower`s Atoms for Peace speech in 1953 that serious proposals for international control of atomic weapons re-emerged. In it, Eisenhower proposed that both parties draw on their stockpiles of fissile materials to make contributions to an International Atomic Energy Agency, which would be connected to the United Nations. This material would be used by the agency to promote the peaceful pursuits of mankind, applying it to the needs of agriculture, medicine, and other peaceful activities. Nuclear power would bring electricity to power starved areas of the world. By finding peaceful uses for the atom, the inventiveness of man would be dedicated to life rather than death.
On Baruch’s 90th birthday, a commemorative plaque was placed on his “office" bench in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. He continued to give counsel on international affairs until his death in New York City on June 20, 1965, at the ripe old age of 94.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Bernard Baruch.
Regarding Cold War Let us not be deceived — we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. Speech to the South Carolina legislature, 1947 Regarding Freedom of Opinion Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.
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