102. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • NSC Meeting on CBW, November 18

The NSC meeting is intended to consider the basis U.S. policy issues relating to Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW).

The objective of the meeting is to establish a policy framework for future CBW programs which will be consistent with both national security and arms control objectives. Because the subject of CBW is highly complex, it will be possible during the meeting to address only the key issues. Your decisions on these issues, however, will provide the policy direction for the groups of sub-issues.

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There is consensus on a number of policy aspects of CBW. All agree that there is need for:

  • —Continuing research and development, with emphasis on defense.
  • —Refinement of controls and safety measures.
  • —Better intelligence on other nations’ CBW capabilities.
  • —Doctrinal reliance on a “no first-use” policy for lethal chemical and biological weapons.
  • —A closely coordinated public affairs policy.

Attached and tabbed are:

  • Your talking points, which will introduce the subject and structure the discussion. Briefings are called for by Mr. Helms and General Wheeler. I would propose to lead the discussion centering about the key issues. When I complete my outline of the issues, I suggest that you call on appropriate participants at the meeting for their views. Your talking points proceed in this way.2
  • An “Issues for Decision” paper which includes my recommendation on each of the issues.

You need to read only your talking points and the “Issues for Decision” paper. Additional background material is enclosed in a separate background book.3

Briefly summarized, the topics for discussion are:

1. Policy on Biological Weapons

Specific Issues for Decision

Should we retain a capability for combat use of lethal or incapacitating biological weapons? If not, what should be the extent of research and development on biological weapons?
Can we or should we support the UK Draft Convention which would prohibit development, production and use of biological weapons?

2. Policy on Chemical Weapons

Specific Issues for Decision

Should we retain a capability for use of lethal or incapacitating chemical weapons or should we confine our chemical programs to research and development?
If we wish to retain a lethal chemical capability should we maintain stockpiles overseas?
If we wish to retain an incapacitating chemical capability should the “no first-use” policy apply to them as well as to lethal chemicals?

3. Policy on Tear Gas and our Position Toward the Geneva Protocol

Specific Issues for Decision

Do we wish to continue unrestricted use of tear gas in Vietnam and to keep this option open for the future?
Do we wish to ratify the Geneva Protocol which bans first use of chemical and biological weapons?
If so, are we willing to include incapacitating agents and tear gas within the strictures of the protocol or can we interpret the protocol to exclude them?

4. Policy on Authorization for Use of Tear Gas and Herbicides

Specific Issues for Decision

a. Should Presidential authorization be required for the use of tear gas and herbicides outside of Vietnam as it is for all other chemical and biological weapons?

2. If not, to what level should the authority be delegated?



There are four principal policy issues for decision. Each major issue subsumes an additional number of specific questions.

Policy on Biological Warfare (BW)

There are two questions to be decided.

A. What should be the nature and scope of U.S. policy on biological warfare? There are four options:

Retain a Full Capability Including Both Lethal and Incapacitating Biological Weapons.
Retain a Capability for Incapacitating Weapons Only.
Research and Development Program Only, but for both Offensive and Defensive Purposes.
Research and Development Program for Defensive Purposes Only and to Protect against Technological surprise.

  • —Some argue that we should retain a full BW capability because (1) a lethal BW capability helps deter BW attack and gives us another [Page 357] strategic option; (2) because it would take considerable time to reconstitute stockpiles and delivery means; and (3) because biological incapacitants—the only effective incapacitating capability we maintain—could be useful in military operations such as amphibious invasion.
  • —Others argue that we should maintain a research and development program only because (1) our nuclear deterrent serves to deter strategic use of lethal BW; (2) the control and effectiveness of BW weapons are uncertain as are the deterrent or retaliatory value of incapacitants; (3) though they could possibly be useful in a “first-use” situation, such use could risk escalation and would be considered by most nations to be contrary to the international law; and (4) a research and development program would protect against technological surprise.

All agencies, except the Joint Chiefs, support Option 4.

Recommendation: That you approve Option 4, (research and development for defensive purposes) to include only enough offensive research and development to protect against technological surprise.

B. Should the U.S. support the U.K. Draft Convention for the Prohibition of Biological Warfare? There are three options:

Defer any decision.
Associate in principle only.
Do not support.

  • —If our BW policy is to concentrate on research and development for defensive purposes (Option 4) we can support the Convention. Under any other policy we would have to oppose it or seek major modifications. The Convention provides for no on-site verification, but relies on procedures for investigation of treaty violations by agencies under UN auspices. Also, its relation to other CBW arms control proposals is unclear. No one argues that we should agree to the Convention as it stands.
  • —Some argue that we should associate in principle (1) to evidence our willingness to consider limitations on biological warfare, particularly if we maintain a research and development program only, and (2) because we could gain political benefits without tying our hands until questions such as scope of the Convention and suitable verification procedures were resolved.
  • —Others contend that there is no urgency to consider the Convention and that any association with it might weaken our opposition to unverifiable provisions in other arms control proposals.

Recommendation: That you approve Option 2 (Association in Principle) subject to the satisfactory resolution of such questions as verification procedures and the relation of the U.K. Draft Convention to other arms control measures.

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II. Chemical Warfare (CW) Policy Issues

There are three basic issues.

A. Should we maintain a lethal chemical capability and if so where and at what level should we maintain stocks? There are two options:

Maintain lethal chemical stockpiles for deterrence or retaliation:
In the U.S. only.
In the U.S. and overseas.
Rely on Research and Development only.

  • —Some argue that we need lethal chemicals (1) to deter chemical attack, and (2) as a retaliatory option between a conventional response (which might be inadequate) and escalation to nuclear response. They also argue (1) that unilateral elimination of this capability would give up a valuable bargaining counter in arms control discussions and, (2) that so long as we maintain our declaratory policy of “no-first-use” the international political costs of retaining the capability are not excessive. They contend that stocks should be maintained overseas (particularly in Germany) to assure the capability for timely response and because, were they to be removed, attempts to replace them in a crisis could be both difficult and provocative. The JCS also believe that existing stocks of mustard gas should be retained until improved agents are developed because they represent a large portion of existing casualty producing chemical stocks.
  • —Others argue that (1) our tactical nuclear capability makes lethal chemicals unnecessary as a deterrent, and (2) that existence of the chemical capability may encourage chemical attack because the threshold of response appears lower to the enemy. They believe that an offensive and defensive research and development program would guard against technological surprise and the improvement of defensive measures could lessen the likelihood of chemical attack because of inevitable enemy uncertainty about the true extent of our CW capabilities. They contend that, in any event, we should not retain stocks overseas because (1) existing stocks are too small for an adequate response and to increase them would cause political problems with our allies; (2) needed chemical support to theaters of operation can be provided from the United States quickly; and (3) continued presence of these stocks, particularly in Germany, could become a source of friction. They argue further that mustard gas is far less effective than our other chemical weapons and that its destruction would yield political benefit. The Secretary of Defense favors destruction of mustard gas.

Recommendation: That you approve retention of a lethal chemical capability and retention of the stocks in Germany (Option 1–b). That you also approve the Secretary of Defense’s recommendation to destroy or detoxify the stocks of mustard gas, but in a phased manner to [Page 359] assure an adequate capability while the development of safer weapons is in progress.

B. Should the U.S. “no first-use” policy on lethal chemicals apply also to incapacitating chemicals? Two options:

Affirm that the U.S. policy of “no first-use” applies also to incapacitants.
Exclude incapacitants from a “no first-use” policy.

  • —All agencies support our declaratory policy of “no first-use” for lethal chemicals but there are differing views as to whether it should apply to incapacitants. The incapacitant we now have is not an operationally effective agent because of its uncertain effects, but research is continuing with some promise of development.
  • —The proponents of including incapacitants in the policy argue that (1) their deterrent or retaliatory value is questionable, and their principal utility would be in a “first-use” situation against an unprotected enemy; and (2) that most nations would see such use contrary to the Geneva Protocol, international law and past expressions of U.S. policy. They argue also that first-use could lead to escalation to lethal chemicals, and loosen international constraints on chemical warfare.
  • —The opponents argue that an effective agent, if developed, could give military advantage in a variety of situations with fewer casualties and might be accepted internationally as more “humane” than other weapons.
  • —The JCS position is uncertain but they probably favor retaining a “first-use” option. The Secretary of Defense may, and all other agencies will, support including incapacitants in our no “first-use” policy.

Recommendation: That you approve a “no first-use” policy for incapacitants with the understanding that this does not preclude continued research and development toward an effective agent.

[Omitted here are Sections III and IV, which discuss the use of tear gas and/or herbicides in Vietnam and the Geneva Protocol. On agreements to control the development and use of chemical and biological weapons, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 1969–1972.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–25, NSC Meeting, November 18, 1969. Top Secret.
  2. Nixon’s talking points, prepared by the NSC Staff, are attached but not printed.
  3. In addition to the President’s talking points and “Issues for Decision,” the enclosed additional background materials included such documents as NIE 11–11–69, NSSM 59, and the final version of the IPMG’s response to that NSSM dated November 10. See Documents 94, 95, and 99.