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December 2, 1958

Letter from Con Cremi to Frederick H. Boland (New York) (Personal and Confidential) (Copy), Dublin [Excerpt]

Aiken’s advocacy of consecutive “non-dissemination” resolutions on an annual basis was inspired by his affinity for the “art of the possible,” namely a belief that small, concrete steps would ameliorate international tensions.

April 24, 1968

Extracts from a Memorandum for the Information of the Government by the Department of External Affairs, ‘The General Assembly of the United Nations (Resumed Twenty-second Session’ (417/289), Dublin

The view of Frank Aiken throughout the 1960s was that once the United States and the Soviet Union had come to a basic agreement on the treaty, it was in the interests of all states to sign it on the basis of enlightened self-interest. He was not in favor of delay to finalize agreement on finer points as the will of the superpowers was of paramount importance.

November 13, 1964

Extract from Memo. for Govt. dated 13/11/1964, 19th Session of U.N. General Assembly: 'III. Non-Dissemination of Nuclear Weapons'

This memorandum for Cabinet succinctly summarizes Aiken’s approach after 1961. He supported the negotiations of the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) but recognized and held to the position that Resolution 1665 (XIV) provided the basic roadmap for an eventual agreement of a global non-proliferation treaty. More specifically, he maintained that 1665 provided the basis by which NATO nuclear sharing could be accommodated. Aiken was skeptical of Soviet contentions that a non-proliferation pact would prevent the proposed Multilateral Force (MLF). The Irish position was that it would not engage in the detailed ENDC discussions as it was for that body and the nuclear powers to broker the detailed provisions for an NPT owing to their knowledge of, and interests in, nuclear energy.

December 5, 1961

Report from Seán Ronan to Con Cremin (Dublin), ‘Irish Resolution on Preventing the Spread of Nuclear Weapons’ (Confidential), New York [Excerpt]

Aiken drafted in additional personnel to the Irish Mission to the UN in the run-in to the XVIth UN Session. Seán Ronan, the head of the political and information divisions at headquarters in Dublin, was sent as a delegate to the First Committee of the UN, involving him intensely in Aiken’s non-dissemination efforts. His insider account reveals some of the dynamics and calculations at play in the building, as Ireland managed a balancing act of engineering consensus between East and West. In large part, the Irish Mission crafted the resolution’s language to skirt the issue of alliance nuclear sharing in a bid to manufacture unanimity. The Irish had pondered co-sponsoring a Swedish draft resolution but anticipated that it would face resistance from NATO comparable to earlier iterations of the Irish resolution. Similarly, Ireland neglected to mention a proposed new disarmament committee in the draft resolution – there was no guarantee that it would form and report expeditiously. Finally, by drawing on the instrument of acclamation, the Irish sidestepped French objections and gained universal approval for Resolution 1665 (1961), wrapping the resolution in universal legitimacy. 

January 5, 1961

Seán MacEntee, 'Nuclear Weapons: Proposed Declaration. Statement from the Minister for Health'

Frank Aiken was primarily responsible for originating the non-proliferation concept in 1958. He propelled the campaign with a heavy personal investment of time and energy in it. Although a senior and longstanding member of the Fianna Fáil government, closely aligned with the party’s elder statesman Eamon de Valera, his non-proliferation initiative was not immune from senior internal criticism. Seán MacEntee was another Fianna Fáil veteran and occupied the position of Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) from 1959. He formulated a cogent critique of Aiken’s non-dissemination designs in January 1961 that foreshadowed later criticisms of the NPT. MacEntee’s observations were pertinent to the constitutionalization of nuclear non-proliferation, and posed fundamental questions about national sovereignty, inequality, real politik, and implementation as Aiken entered his fourth year of advocacy for a treaty based on the Irish resolutions. Aiken had encountered such criticisms already and was relatively unperturbed. He overcame this divergent voice in the Cabinet to continue his efforts and persuade the incoming John F Kennedy Administration to support the drive for an NPT later that year.

March 14, 1961

Memorandum to All Missions by the Department of External Affairs, ‘Arms Control’ (Confidential) (408/264B), Dublin

The arrival of the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, in office in 1961 encouraged Aiken to redouble his efforts. He searched for signs of change in the Kennedy administration. He was nevertheless guarded,  appreciating that the arms control ambitions of the United States did not necessarily or completely align with Ireland’s disarmament aspirations. He understood that progress required educating public opinion to recognize that general and complete disarmament could, given the vested interests, take generations. A step-by-step, gradualist approach therefore had to be adopted. He reiterated his philosophy of expanding areas of law, adopting a regionalist approach, and assuming a preventive orientation in a commentary on the Kennedy’s article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in November 1960, which was itself based on Kennedy's campaign speech earlier that year.

July 7, 1959

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday 7 July 1959, Committee on Finance - Vote 59--External Affairs [Excerpt]

New Taoiseach Seán Lemass took the unusual step of intervening in a Foreign Affairs debate in July 1959 to defend Frank Aiken’s conduct at the United Nations. Trenchant critics on the opposition benches in the Fine Gael party had berated Aiken repeatedly since 1957. Critics inside and outside of the lower house of parliament (Dáil Éireann) asserted that Ireland, “a tiny country” with limited interests, had no right to voice an opinion on global matters which was more appropriately dealt with by the “Great Powers.” Worse, Aiken’s interventions would create enemies among Irish friends worldwide, most notably in the United Sstates. The tenor of the arguments was that Ireland had no nuclear energy industry and no nuclear weapons aspirations, so such matters should be left to the nuclear powers. It is difficult to avoid the sense that elements in Irish political life appreciated that American and NATO nuclear forces informally protected the anti-communist Republic of Ireland. Lemass ended speculation that he was less of a supporter of Aiken than his predecessor, de Valera. He affirmed that Ireland had a significant contribution to make to the global commons in terms of reinforcing peace and order. Aiken was empowered to continue.

July 14, 1959

Notice from First Secretary Eoin MacWhite To All Irish Diplomatic Missions (Except Washington)

First Secretary Eoin MacWhite informed all missions of Aiken’s concerns that U.S. nuclear information agreements with selected NATO partners could impede efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. He was nonetheless reticent when it came to lodging a formal protest, having been advised by Eoin MacWhite’s that a strong denunciation would be counterproductive. From MacWhite’s reading no actual nuclear information would be transferred to Allied personnel after all. The agreements related specifically to information necessary for the training of Allied personnel in the employment of U.S. atomic weapons in their hosts’ territories, so Aiken recoiled from further diplomatic protests. He appreciated the need to maintain some nuance on nuclear sharing as he pursued an East-West consensus. 

The strength of NATO's feelings in favor of enhanced alliance nuclear defense and cooperation in the aftermath of the Sputnik shock was well known. The Irish were aware of the Eastern bloc’s objections to NATO nuclear sharing as a dangerous precedent that strengthened NATO’s political and security position. Moscow was especially exercised by any prospect of West German access to nuclear weapons as part of the normalization of German rearmament and progress toward reunification. Moscow opposed any semblance of Bonn’s finger on the nuclear trigger, or its troops gaining proficiency with nuclear weaponry. 

June 26, 1959

Letter from Frederick H. Boland to Con Cremin (Dublin)

Boland gauged opinion at the UN and assisted in preparing the ground for Aiken’s campaign in the XIVth Session in the fall of 1959. Ireland cultivated the UN Secretariat, notably Dr. Protitch, who evaluated the Irish proposal as helpful. Likewise, intimations from the Eastern bloc were positive. The Irish Permanent Representative consolidated links with the second-in-command of the U.S. mission to the UN, James W. Barco, to enable a constructive dialogue with the Americans to fashion a resolution they could tolerate

November 20, 1958

Letter from Frederick H. Boland to Con Cremin (Dublin) (Private and Confidential), New York

The report of Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations to his superior, the secretary of the Department of External Affairs, delivers his account of Aiken’s first (failed) attempt to generate support for a resolution in the Thirteenth UN Session. Recognizing the breadth and depth of opposition, he withdrew his draft resolution and instead requested a simple roll call vote in favor of the second paragraph on 31 October – a modest statement acknowledging that an expansion in the number of nuclear weapons states would be harmful to peace and increase obstacles to disarmament. The measure passed with 37 votes and no opposition, although 44 abstentions were recorded. The Soviet bloc supported the maneuver, while Western-aligned countries abstained.