52. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Shipment of Chemical Munitions from Okinawa

Defense is preparing to make an initial “token” shipment of chemical weapons from Okinawa to Johnston Island in the Pacific around September 23. The remainder of the stocks would be shipped sometime in January of 1971, after necessary storage facilities have been constructed. The September shipment would comprise a little over 1% of the 13,000 tons of chemical weapons stored on Okinawa.

On June 8, 1970, recognizing our commitment to the Japanese and Okinawans, I suggested to Secretary Laird that some shipments of chemical weapons from Okinawa should begin as soon as feasible after the Surgeon General’s recommendations are implemented and Congress notified as required by law.2 The Secretary’s assessment of the military significance of these particular stocks also was requested and is expected within about a week.

On August 28, General Haig suggested to Defense that the situation had changed and it would be preferable to delay shipment of chemical weapons from Okinawa until such a move could be accomplished in a single operation early next year.3

Secretary Laird, however, intends to go ahead with the initial shipment and to notify Congress on September 9 of this plan.

The principal arguments favoring a “token” shipment in September are:

—A shipment now would be a gesture of good faith regarding our intention to move these weapons as we promised the Japanese and Okinawans.

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—A “token” shipment would signal to Congress our intention (a) to relocate these weapons to Johnston Island but not to any of the 50 States and (b) to retain chemical weapons in our stockpile.

—The shipment would demonstrate our ability to move these weapons safely (overland on Okinawa and then by sea to Johnston Island).

—If this “token” shipment is uncontested by Congress, it could facilitate authorization and funding for construction of storage facilities and for the major shipments in January.

The main arguments against a September shipment are:

—Shipment in two parts (September and January) could stir up debate over the necessity for these weapons and their storage on both occasions. A “token” shipment now could highlight the issue once again in Japan, Okinawa and the US before we are prepared to move the entire stock.

—The Gravel Amendment to the Foreign Military Sales Act is still in conference after having passed the Senate (51 to 40). This Amendment would (1) prohibit the shipment of these weapons from Okinawa to the US and (2) authorize funds for the destruction of the weapons outside the US. Senator Gravel has defined the term “US” in his Amendment to include the 50 States and US possessions and territories, including Johnston Island. The intent of the Amendment as it now stands is clearly to have the weapons detoxified on site.

We are now attempting to have the conference reinterpret the Amendment to eliminate the restriction against shipment to possessions and territories. A “token” shipment while this bill is in conference could be considered discourteous to the Senate, particularly by the 51 Senators who voted for the Amendment and who would have ample time to build their case against the shipments planned for January, thus diminishing our chances of having the restriction reinterpreted.

—An environmental impact statement has not been submitted to the Council on Environmental Quality. Though technically not required for such shipments, we should have the Council’s approval in hand before moving ahead to reassure the public when the shipment is announced.

—The issue is relatively quiet in Japan and Okinawa. A “token” shipment now could bring the issue to the fore and prompt questions as to when the bulk of the weapons will be removed.

I believe it would be preferable to move all the weapons in a single operation in January, rather than begin with a “token” shipment now. I see no benefit in stirring up debate twice and highlighting the issue once again in Japan, Okinawa and the US before we are prepared to move the entire stock.

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Movement in one operation will avoid the problems associated with an “on again, off again” operation. Moreover, this will give us time to get the Environmental Quality Council’s approval. There is no significant difference in costs whether there is a “token” shipment now or whether all the stocks are moved later.

The proposed memorandum at Tab A directs that this “token” shipment not be made but that the shipments take place when we are prepared to move all the stockpile and the storage facilities are available.

John D. Ehrlichman concurs.


That you sign the memorandum for Secretary Laird at Tab A.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 554, Country Files, Far East, Okinawa, Vol. I, 1969 and 1970. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. Printed from an uninitialed copy. On September 4, Michael Guhin of the NSC staff sent Kissinger a memorandum on this subject with a recommendation that he forward it to the President. An attached note indicates that it was sent to San Clemente that same day at 4:30 p.m.
  2. Kissinger’s June 8 memorandum is ibid. and discussed in Document 43 to which it was attached. See footnotes 7 and 8 to Document 43.
  3. In a memorandum from Haig to General Pursley, August 28. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 554, Country Files, Far East, Okinawa, Vol. I, 1969 and 1970)
  4. See Document 54.