This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission, tasked with maintaining a global monopoly on nuclear weapons.
When the Soviet Union detonates an atomic bomb in January 1951, the leaders of the ACC find themselves facing a dilemma . . .
17 February 1951
Defense Commissar Marshal Vasili Gordov looked at his guest with undisguised suspicion. "Let me see if I understand you correctly," he said. "You say you are here to offer me control of the Atomic Control Commission." Gordov spoke in Russian, the only language he knew, and since his guest did not understand it, Gordov's words were translated into German by Foreign Commissar Andrei Gromyko.
"That is it precisely, Herr Commissar," Werner Heisenberg answered after he had heard Gromyko's translation. "I have conferred with the leaders of the five Atomic Powers. Last month's detonation of an atomic device by your country puts the world in a very precarious situation. We do not believe that you would be willing to yield control of your atomic power program to us, and we do not wish to become embroiled in a war with you. Thus, the only option remaining is for us to yield control of our own atomic power programs to you." (Three true statements followed by a false statement, Heisenberg thought to himself. I've become quite the skilled diplomat.)
"You would allow us to station Soviet troops in your atom bomb production facilities?" Gromyko eventually relayed to Heisenberg.
"We would," Heisenberg said.
"You would allow us to transport your entire stockpile of atomic weapons to the Soviet Union?"
"We would," Heisenberg said.
"You would allow me to replace you as Director of the ACC with a man of my own choosing?"
"I would," Heisenberg said. (He remembered an epigram he used to tell his students: only in mathematics will you find truth. And now he was trying to prove it.)
"Do you take me for a fool, Director Heisenberg?"
"As I have explained, Herr Commissar, this is the only alternative to an atomic war with your country, and the Commission's sole reason for being is to prevent the outbreak of an atomic war. That being the case, logic impels us to place ourselves under your control. I ask you, Herr Commissar, what would you do in our place?"
When Gromyko had finished translating Heisenberg's last question, Gordov burst into laughter. Gromyko eventually said, "I would fight, Director Heisenberg, and I would not stop fighting until I had crushed my enemy. If I were in your place, I would not think a war too high a price to pay for uncontested control of atomic power, especially when most of the people who would die would be the enemy."
"That is not our way, Herr Commissar," said Heisenberg. "The Great War taught us that nothing is worth the cost of total war. Now that total war must inevitably cost the lives of tens of millions, that lesson is clearer than ever. Even a world dominated by yourself would be preferable to such a war. And that is why I have come here, to offer you dominion over the world." (Three true statements followed by a false statement leading to a false inference. Perhaps he could write a paper on the mathematics of deception.)
Gordov remained silent after Gromyko translated Heisenberg's words. He stared down onto the top of his desk and drummed his fingers while Heisenberg and Gromyko stood and waited. Minutes passed. Finally Gordov slammed his fist into the desk and barked out a single short phrase. Gromyko translated, "It is a trick."
Now it was Heisenberg's turn to remain silent. Gordov glared at him for a time, then resumed speaking. "I see what you are trying to do," Gromyko relayed. "You hope to bring about my ouster. You know as well as I do that I could trust no one with the power that you offer. Inside of a week, any man I made Director in your place would use his control of the Commission's atomic arsenal to depose me. And if I made myself Director, I would become lost in a maze of technical matters I did not understand, and I would quickly become a slave to the scientists and bureaucrats I commanded. No, Director Heisenberg, you will not trick me into accepting control of your Commission."
"But Herr Commissar," said Heisenberg, "if you will not consent to command us, and you will not consent to obey us, then what is to be done?"
"It is clear what I must do," said Gordov, and if anything the look he now gave Heisenberg was even more suspicious than before. "I do not like it, but if we are to avert a war that will leave the world in ruins and my country in ashes, then my course is clear. There is only one man in all the world I know I can trust not to make himself a tsar with the power of the atom. That is the man who has held that power already for five years. You, Director Heisenberg."
"Me, Herr Commissar?"
Gordov did not wait for Gromyko to translate Heisenberg's reply. "You, and you alone. You must take personal charge of my country's atomic weapons program. You must give the Soviet Union an atomic arsenal that is second to none. You will report to me personally, and if I get even a hint that you are acting against the interests of the Soviet Union, then I will have you arrested, and the war you say you seek to avoid will begin. Is that all clear, Comrade Director?"
"All is clear, Herr Commissar," said Heisenberg.
Gromyko accompanied Heisenberg on his trip to the airport. The Director would fly to Geneva to set his affairs there in order, then return to the USSR to take charge of the atomic weapons facility in Nizhnevartovsk. Thereafter, he would alternate, two weeks in Geneva, two weeks in Nizhnevartovsk.
"It is an impossible situation," Gromyko said to him. "Having to faithfully serve Gordov on the one hand, and the Five Powers on the other. There will inevitably come a time when the two will come into conflict, and you will have to choose between them. When the chips are down, Director, whose side will you be on?"
"Herr Gromyko," said Heisenberg, "my job is to see to it that the chips stay up."