154. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology (Hornig) to President Johnson 1
- Policy on the Use of Biological Weapons
After an extensive review of the subject, your Science Advisory Committee has recommended in the attached memorandum (Tab A) that the U.S. Government publicly state that it is our policy not to initiate the use of biological weapons.
This recommendation was made prior to the recent adoption by the U.N. General Assembly (91 in favor including the U.S., 0 against, and 4 abstaining) of a Resolution (Tab B)2 calling for the strict observance by all States of the principles and objectives of the Geneva Protocol of 17 June 1925 on the “Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous and Other Gases and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.”3 This Resolution implicitly associates us with the principle of “no first use” of biological and chemical warfare agents. However, in our statement on the Resolution to the U.N. General Assembly, which made clear that riot control agents and defoliating chemicals are not covered by the Geneva Protocol, we failed to state explicitly what our policy on biological weapons is.4
I believe that our support of the U.N. Resolution goes a long way toward answering the criticism that the U.S. is the only major power that has not signed the Geneva Protocol and the charge that our use of riot gas and defoliants in Vietnam might escalate into chemical and biological warfare. I am afraid, however, that this improved position could be undercut by our failure to be explicit in stating that it is our policy not to initiate the use of biological weapons.[Page 472]
I understand that you will receive in the next few weeks a petition signed by several thousand scientists relating to our position on chemical and biological warfare.5 This could be handled with the least fuss and controversy if a prior low-key statement of “no first use” for biological weapons were on the record.
I have discussed the problem with Secretary McNamara and Under Secretary Katzenbach, and they both agree that our public position would be much stronger if we clarified this point.
I recommend, therefore, that at a forthcoming press conference, probably in answer to a question, you make a brief statement (Tab C)6 on the U.N. Resolution that would set forth explicitly that it is the policy of the United States not to initiate the use of biological warfare weapons. If you concur, I will clear the statement with DOD and State.
- Source: Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 70 A 6648, 384 1966 Jan-. Secret. Copies were sent to Moyers and Rostow. An attached December 10 covering memorandum from Hornig to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara asked for their Departments’ views on the proposed “no first use” policy with respect to biological weapons. Also attached is a December 15 memorandum from Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Townsend Hoopes to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking for comments by the JCS on the PSAC recommendation no later than December 30.↩
- Not printed; for text of Part B of UN General Assembly Resolution 2162 (XXI), adopted December 5, see Documents on Disarmament, 1966, pp. 798–799.↩
- The United States did not ratify this treaty until 1975. For text, see 26 UST 571.↩
- Reference presumably is to the statement by U.S. Representative James M. Nabrit, Jr., on December 5; see Documents on Disarmament, 1966, pp. 800–802.↩
- See Document 170.↩
- Not printed.↩