ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Looking Back: Nonproliferation Before Nunn-Lugar: The Adams-Kelly Model
Share this

William T. Liimatainen

Former senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) are widely regarded as the fathers of U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs. Their legislation, passed by Congress in 1991 as the Soviet Union was collapsing, was responsible for the creation of a suite of nonproliferation programs to address the threat posed by unsecured weapons of mass destruction (WMD); associated research, development, and production facilities; and suddenly unemployed WMD scientists in former Soviet bloc countries. More than a decade later, the United States implemented similar nonproliferation programs in Libya and Iraq.

Nonproliferation officials have studied these CTR programs extensively in the hopes of deriving lessons for future programs. Yet, the relative youth and limited use of CTR programs leave only a modest sample for study. Missing from the growing number of analyses of CTR programs are two additional case studies, each of which predates the Nunn-Lugar programs.

The development of U.S. post-World War II policies on military science in Japan and Germany deserves further study. Such an analysis is likely to yield fresh insights useful for the next generation of programs designed to assist weapons manufacturing experts in making the transition to peaceful employment—a key component of the CTR programs.

In particular, the contributions that U.S. scientists Roger Adams and Harry Kelly made to contemporary nonproliferation programs at the conclusion of the war have so far gone unnoticed. After preliminary analysis, it would not be unfair to characterize Adams and Kelly as the grandfathers of U.S. nonproliferation programs.

Postwar German Science

The future of German science and industry after the conclusion of World War II was the subject of fierce debate within the cabinet of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in the months preceding the Allied victory in Europe. On one side, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau argued that Germany needed to be reduced to a primarily pastoral state.[1] He claimed that only by removing all heavy industry could the world guarantee future peace, free from German aggression.

On the other side, Secretary of State Cordell Hull argued for a “generous peace” in which heavy industry would be preserved to support reparations and the creation of a democratic society. Hull further argued that removing all of Germany’s heavy industry would cripple Western Europe’s economy and ability to rebuild.[2]

Although early postwar policies were closer to Morgenthau’s plan for Germany, over time it became clear that the revitalization of German industry was necessary to stave off communism. This eventually led to revisions of the Level of Industry Plans, which originally put severe restrictions on German production of strategic materials such as steel. The revisions allowed an increase in production of such items, contributing to rebuilding efforts and economic growth.[3]

Research, development, and production of military weapons remained forbidden; such a ban was part of all postwar plans for Germany.[4] The halt in military research and development left the United States and its allies with serious questions about the future shape of German science, in particular, what should be done about German scientists previously employed in such programs.

While some U.S. government officials contemplated such questions, two secret programs to capture German weapons research and expertise already were under way. One of the programs, Alsos, focused on gathering information on Germany’s nuclear weapons program, not just to help the U.S. Manhattan Project, but also to deny the information to the Soviet Union.[5] Under the second program, Project Paperclip, top German weapons scientists were brought to the United States, where U.S. scientists made use of their expertise to develop a new generation of weapons and weapons-related technologies.[6] Here, Werner von Braun is the most notable example. Taken by themselves, Alsos and Project Paperclip would seem to suggest that U.S. postwar policy for Germany’s military science consisted exclusively of a strategy to acquire it.

To a large extent, this was true. In February 1945, however, Roosevelt commissioned a study to provide recommendations on the postwar policy for German scientific research of an obviously military nature. High-ranking officials in Washington eventually asked the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to lend its assistance, and a panel of eight U.S. scientists, led by world-renowned organic chemist Adams, began to study the issue. The list of scientists joining Adams was equally impressive. It included Oliver Buckley, president of Bell Laboratories; George Curme Jr., a prominent industrial chemist; Hugh Dryden, an aeronautical scientist who later became the deputy administrator of NASA; Ross Harrison, a leading U.S. biologist and anatomist; Zay Jeffries, a ground-breaking materials scientist; R.W. King, a leading engineer with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company; Warren Lewis, who has been called the father of modern chemical engineering; and Isidor Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics.[7]

In its report, the panel presented three options for the future of German science. Of these three, they recommended the least restrictive. The panel argued that although Germany should not be allowed to resume any research with military applications, German scientific research should generally be allowed to expand at a pace commensurate with the country’s recovery.

The panel recognized that science had a huge role to play in economic recovery and reconstruction. At the same time, however, the panel advocated for registration of all German research facilities and associated personnel and suggested that all budgetary information associated with research programs be made available for future inspection. Strict penalties were to be implemented if a scientific institution deviated from peaceful research activity or failed to comply with registration requirements.[8]

After approval by Vannevar Bush of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and Jerome Hunsaker of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the report was delivered to Leo T. Crowley, the chief of the Foreign Economic Administration. It is unclear if the panel’s recommendations were widely disseminated; according to one account, the report was “quietly buried shortly after its appearance.”[9] It is clear, however, is that some 50 years prior to the passage of the Nunn-Lugar CTR legislation, Washington had wrestled with decisions over postwar policy for weapons scientists.

Revitalization of Science in Japan

As in Germany, Washington could ill afford to ignore military science in Japan. Early postwar policies on Japanese science consisted of intelligence gathering, with little thought given to the governing of postwar Japanese scientific research. On January 2, 1946, Harry C. Kelly, a U.S. physicist who had worked on the development of air defense radar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Radiation Laboratory during the war, arrived in Japan. Despite receiving little guidance from Washington, over the next four years Kelly “facilitated the reentry of the Japanese scientific community into the international arena, and helped reorganize Japan’s scientific and technological base.”[10] He would later be awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class—the highest award given by the Japanese to foreigners.[11]

There has not been a full analysis of why Kelly was successful in “engaging” or “redirecting” (the terms used today in reference to efforts to help shift foreign weapons scientists to peaceful employment) Japanese scientists. Yet, Washington’s inexperience at the time in scientist redirection might have been a positive factor. One benefit was that it gave Kelly great flexibility in working with his counterparts. In fact, it was later said that Kelly believed science policy was the responsibility of scientists and should be free of government interference.

Kelly provided broad guidance to Japanese scientists, encouraging them to resume basic and applied scientific research in all fields unrelated to war. (Restrictions were placed on aeronautics and nuclear physics.) Kelly also made it clear that Japan was counting on them. As one account noted,

Kelly recognized that only changes that responded to needs identified by the Japanese and were suitable to the Japanese situation could be expected to succeed. “Now is the time to develop an ideal system,” he said. “You must not miss this chance. Don’t take too long doing this, but on the other hand, don’t rush things to a hasty conclusion. And remember, this is your own problem; it must be solved by you for yourselves.”[12]

A key point that emerges from this passage and all the literature about Kelly is that he made Japanese scientists take responsibility for the seemingly insurmountable problems the country faced after the war. In some ways, he served as a source of inspiration. At the same time, Kelly sought assistance from his colleagues in the United States. He contacted NAS President Frank Jewett to organize a visit to Japan by prestigious U.S. scientists, including Adams.

In response to this request, Jewett assembled a high-level committee of U.S. scientists that spent six weeks in Japan, sending a message that the revitalization of Japanese science was something that the U.S. scientific community strongly supported. The group also endorsed Kelly’s position “that the primary task before Japan’s scientists was to help meet the immediate needs of the Japanese people.”[13] When Kelly left Japan, the Japanese regarded him as a hero. He was so successful that when he returned to the United States, he was placed in charge of the scientific section of the Office of Naval Research in Chicago. One of his primary missions became redirecting naval research from its wartime focus to basic science.[14] Apparently, if Kelly was good enough to accomplish redirection activities abroad, Washington was comfortable with his ability to do it at home.

The Adams-Kelly Model

The history of U.S. postwar policies toward German and Japanese scientists provides noteworthy lessons for the present day in several respects.

Policy role of scientists. A striking aspect of the German and Japanese cases is the level of participation by U.S. scientists in developing policy in addition to implementing it. Although U.S. scientists have played a major role in implementing CTR programs in the former Soviet Union, Libya, and Iraq, they typically have not been involved in efforts to determine policy. Moreover, government officials located in Washington have shown little willingness to defer to U.S. scientists tasked with implementing programs in the host country. Washington typically wants to have a hand in all decisions made by U.S. scientists operating in other countries. U.S. officials presumably will be apprehensive about relinquishing control over engagement policy to scientists. Tensions between scientists and statesmen date back several decades:

As the Cold War began, debate over science and technology in American foreign policy split along familiar lines. The most well-known of these involved efforts to maintain the deeply eroded traditions of scientific internationalism…. Many American scientists recognized that post-1945 national security concerns required pragmatic compromise of the unfettered exchange of information that had long been the ideal of science…. But most American scientists resented increasingly tight security restrictions, demands for secrecy, loyalty oaths and mandatory debriefings by federal officials following overseas trips.[15]

Close examination of the Adams-Kelly model suggests that giving additional flexibility to scientists involved in implementing engagement programs could be successful. Adams and Kelly recognized the role that scientists had to play in the future of Germany and Japan. Both men supported a revival in basic science, as well as applied science directed toward peaceful endeavors. It does not matter whether the NAS report on postwar treatment of German scientists was “quietly buried.” The crucial point is that the recommendation was made. Adams and Kelly recognized the importance of using indigenous science to support reconstruction, develop the economy, and promote democratic principles. Washington did not impose major constraints on Adams and Kelly, but rather provided broad guidance and gave them a great deal of flexibility in determining policy.

Nonproliferation versus economic recovery. Recent scientist redirection programs in the former Soviet Union, Iraq, and Libya have placed greater emphasis on nonproliferation than on leveraging the expertise of scientists to support economic development and recovery. This has almost certainly not been lost on the scientists. They recognize that the primary U.S. objective has been preventing proliferation of expertise and that ensuring the future success of their country ranks a distant second. In contrast, the main objective of the Adams-Kelly approach was to utilize the scientists to support economic recovery and reconstruction efforts, with nonproliferation being a by-product. Kelly frequently reminded his Japanese counterparts that the future of their country was largely up to them. These were not just hollow words, spoken to make Japanese scientists feel good. As a scientist, Kelly believed this to be true.

Nonproliferation officials have almost completely replaced the term scientist “redirection” with scientist “engagement” in the past decade. This shift in language more closely comports with the Adams-Kelly model and suggests a growing awareness that the United States should provide only general guidance and should work to help former weapons scientists contribute to the future of their country in a peaceful capacity.

Recruitment of top U.S. scientists. In the German and Japanese cases, the United States enlisted the support of some of its top scientists to develop and implement foreign policy on science. Adams was widely considered to be one of the world’s top organic chemists. The other members of the NAS panel represented some of the best scientists the United States had to offer. Although Kelly might not have been as well known as Adams, he was a physicist who had worked at MIT during World War II. Moreover, as noted above, he was successful in contacting the NAS president and bringing a leading U.S. delegation of scientists to Japan.

In the future, if the United States is serious about working on scientist engagement, nonproliferation officials should recruit top U.S. scientists to work directly with host-country scientists. This is not to say that scientists who have worked in recent programs have been ineffective. Rather, sending top U.S. scientists sends a strong message to the intended audience that the U.S. government is serious and committed and that it does not regard the former weapons specialists as inferior in their overall scientific abilities.

U.S. government agencies involved in work on scientist engagement should establish a reserve team, a cadre of respected U.S. scientists. The United States should recruit these scientists and make sure that their knowledge of U.S. nonproliferation programs is up to date.[16] They should be briefed on the rich history of the support that U.S. scientists have provided to nonproliferation and scientist-engagement programs. Although these scientists would remain fully employed in industry, academia, or elsewhere, they should be ready to take temporary leave when needed to support scientist-engagement programs.

Looking Ahead

It is not difficult to imagine the eventual need for scientist-engagement programs in countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan, where there are active weapons research and development programs on nonconventional weapons and a potential for conflict, revolution, or state collapse—conditions that could require rapid implementation of engagement programs. More difficult to imagine is the success of such programs if the United States emphasizes its nonproliferation goals rather than the host country’s economic recovery and future development.

Strong scientific leadership by a delegation of top U.S. or international scientists, along with their direct participation in scientist-engagement planning and implementation, would send a clear message of concern for the host country’s future. Such a delegation should emphasize that the host-country scientists are expected to take a leading role in the future of their country and that the international community will do everything necessary to ensure their success.

This was noticeably missing in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, when the Coalition Provisional Authority failed to fully engage employees from Iraq’s Military Industrialization Commission and Atomic Energy Commission in the reconstruction process, even though both commissions were instrumental in reconstructing the country after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.[17] To ensure the readiness of future delegations, a core cadre of leading U.S. scientists, sensitive to nonproliferation issues, should be recruited and trained and should remain on call, ready to address the next requirement for scientific engagement. In doing so, these scientists would be walking in the shoes of giants such as Adams and Kelly.



William T. Liimatainen is a Department of Defense employee with experience studying foreign production of conventional weapons. He currently is enrolled as an interagency student at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government or any of its agencies.




1. Henry Morgenthau Jr., Germany Is Our Problem: A Plan for Germany (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1945).

2. Michael R. Beschloss, The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941-1945 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002).

3. German History in Documents and Images, “Volume 8. Occupation and the Emergence of Two States, 1945-1961; Revised Plan for Level of Industry in the Anglo-American Zones (August 29, 1947),” n.d., http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/pdf/eng/Econ%20WZFR%206%20ENG.pdf.

4. John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972).

5. The Manhattan Project Heritage Preservation Association Inc., “The ALSOS Missions,” August 3, 2005, http://www.mphpa.org/classic/HISTORY/H-06f.htm.

6. Clarence G. Lasby, Project Paperclip: German Scientists and the Cold War (New York: Atheneum, 1971).

7. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), “German Scientific Research and Engineering From the Standpoint of International Security,” 1945.

8. Ibid.

9. Rexmond C. Cochrane, The National Academy of Sciences: The First Hundred Years, 1863-1963 (Washington, DC: NAS, 1978).

10. Hideo Yoshikawa and Joanne Kauffman, Science Has No National Borders: Harry C. Kelly and the Reconstruction of Science and Technology in Postwar Japan (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1994), p. 17.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 37.

13. Ibid., p. 52.

14. Ibid., p. 96.

15. Ronald E. Doel and Zuoyue Wang, “Science and Technology in American Foreign Policy,” in Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, ed. Alexander DeConde, Richard Dean Burns, and Fredrik Logevall (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001), pp. 443-459.

16. For an earlier version of this proposal, see Peter D. Smallwood and William T. Liimatainen, “Securing WMD Expertise: Lessons Learned From Iraq,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2011.

17. Ibid.

Posted: September 4, 2013