103. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1

Minutes of NSC Meeting on Chemical Warfare and Biological Warfare

    • The President
    • Vice President Agnew
    • Secretary of State Rogers
    • Secretary of Defense Laird
    • Attorney General Mitchell
    • General Earle Wheeler, Chairman, JCS
    • Director of Intelligence Helms
    • U.S. Representative to the U.N. Yost
    • Assistant to the President Kissinger
    • Under Secretary of State Richardson
    • Lee DuBridge, Science Advisor to the President
    • Philip J. Farley, Deputy Director, ACDA
    • Ronald J. Spiers, Director, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, Department of State
    • William Watts, NSC
    • Michael Guhin, NSC

RN—This is a difficult and unpleasant subject about which we have little real knowledge.

Helms—(Director Helms briefing is attached.)2

RN—I hope we know more about ours than about theirs.

Wheeler—At the end of World War II, we captured a great deal in the way of German shells and stockpiles.

There is an apocryphal story that the Germans planned to use (chemical warfare) against the Normandy landing. It is apocryphal because the German General Staff ignored orders.

[Page 361]

The main use to us of Chemical Warfare is as a deterrent. I am inclined to think that the Soviets’ capability is greater than ours, since ours is so small. They can resupply quickly by land to Europe or Asia.

They do show plans to use them. They have experimented with decontaminants.

If the enemy used chemical warfare and the U.S. lacked defenses, the advantage would accrue to the enemy.

Historically, the use of chemicals has never been initiated against a nation which had them. The Italians used them against Somalia, and the Egyptians used them in Yemen.

If we had no retaliatory equipment, we would have to be prepared all the way along the front. If both had such equipment than neither would have the advantage.

I therefore conclude that we should have a modest deterrent capability. Chemical warfare has many uses:

  • —Attrition
  • —in actions smaller than nuclear exchanges
  • —to give credibility
  • —for long-lasting effect

We must deploy our stocks forward; we can’t move them rapidly in time of crisis.

There are chemical incapacitants which we don’t have in large enough quantity. They have five too many.

With regard to our biological warfare program, its major value is deterrence. If this fails, then we have a modest ability to retaliate. Our stockpiles are in terms of pounds, not tons.

We don’t know what the Soviets have, but they are interested.

If the enemy uses BW, we must take a massive conventional or nuclear response. A nuclear response means the risk of nuclear escalation. The psychological impact would be high. Our BW program is the only free-world program. Eighty percent of our program is RDT&E. It costs $7 million a year for agents and delivery systems.

Our facility at Pine Bluff can go into production in 30 days. If it were closed, it would take two to three years to reactivate.

The JCS believes that, on balance, it has a low cost, that it would be a catastrophe if we can’t respond, and there is a difficulty in verifying enemy capabilities. Therefore, the JCS believes that we must retain our present stockpile and the options of production if needed.

With regard to riot control agents, these are primarily tear gas. They reduce casualties. They assist in withdrawal and breaking off contact. They can reduce the fire aimed at helicopters. They can be used to deny the enemy avenues of approach.

[Page 362]

Herbicides improve vertical and horizontal visibility and help reduce ambushes.

Kissinger—(Presented the issues and options as contained in his talking points in attached NSC book.)3

RNCharlie (Yost), any comment?

Yost—The only action to go to the UN on the subject has been the

Canadian procedural item which refers the subject back to Geneva.4 There is general concern at the UN with CBW and seabeds. If we can present a generally cooperative position, then there is no immediate problem. We can go with the Canadian resolution.

Farley—We need to decide the security requirements first. It is difficult to devise an inspection scheme. We would welcome limiting our own efforts to R&D. We would then be willing to look at the UK initiative.5 But we must look at verification, inspection and complaints procedures, and the question of aid to countries who claimed they were attacked.

DuBridge—There is great public interest in this subject. What is the military use? The value of a BW retaliatory capability is not clear. There is slow incubation, perhaps two weeks, and then 2 weeks to retaliate. We don’t know how it spreads and we are unsure about possible epidemics.

The military retaliatory value of BW is not great. I would think it was better to go to chemical warfare than nuclear. We could be in a better situation.

The whole issue is not clear from the scientific side.

RN—The UK proposal would allow R&D for defensive purposes?

Farley—It is hard to be sure.

[Page 363]

Rogers—The language is flexible. It could be done.

Wheeler—We don’t feel as strongly about BW as about CW. We would like to see a minimal RDT&E program pointed to defense, guarding against offensive actions by the enemy.

Kissinger—On incapacitants, what we have is lethal to anyone without two nurses.

It would be unlikely that we would use lethal chemical weapons in a strategic attack. Nuclear weapons would be more cost-effective. We should therefore use chemical weapons for tactical purposes.

The tear gas question concerns ratification of the Geneva Protocol. It would ban the first use of CW and BW. It is not clear about tear gas and herbicides.

Rogers—Australia has ratified without making an interpretive statement.

Wasn’t the Protocol withdrawn in 1948? Would we have to resubmit it? There is Congressional pressure to resubmit it, and we could say we comply.

Yost—In 1966, the Administration called for support of the Protocol.

Kissinger—If we ratify, we must fill in the gap about the first use of incapacitants. It would be another unverifiable arms control agreement.

Rogers—It we exclude tear gas, we wouldn’t have really changed our position.

Laird—This was a good study.6 We should go beyond it. I must defend these programs.7

[Page 364]

We are falling into a bad trap. CW and BW should not be put together. People who are against biological warfare also go against chemical warfare. But the latter is necessary for deterrence. These are two entirely different subjects. We need to clarify what CW and BW really mean.

BW does not have a deterrent quality.

We need a strategy for CW. We need a simple and understandable policy statement on it. We need a legislative and public relations game plan. This paper doesn’t do that.

I believe we should renounce biological warfare, but go forward with an immunization program and research. There are communicable disease programs in Atlanta and under HEW. The scientists there can do good work.

From the standpoint of deterrence, the deterrent program is good. We are on the verge of losing our CW capability. In the transport of phosgene gas, we do one percent and private industry does 99 percent.

RN—It is not a good paper.

Laird—Two points are particularly important: CW and BW should be separated, and a public relations and legislative game plan is not set forth.

Mitchell—There should be no prohibition of tear gas. This would be hard on our law enforcement. We need tear gas. And it makes your sinuses clearer.

Laird—It helps with the reduction of casualties in Vietnam. And not only necessarily in preparation for attack. It gets the enemy out so you can see who they are.

DuBridge—I agree with General Wheeler and Secretary Laird. CW has a deterrent effect. There is the danger of transportation. This can be lessened with binary weapons.

Laird—We are close to this.

RN—It is important to distinguish these. Also, you should move some programs to HEW and still get all the information you need. That relaxes the scientists.

Rogers—There is not really much disagreement.8 We need decisions, and we can work out a scenario. We should not delay.

[Page 365]

Laird—We shouldn’t leak this around town.

RN—The public relations aspect is very important.

Kissinger—You should reflect for a day. We can then issue an NSDM and work out the public relations and game plan.

RN—We could take a forthcoming position.

Yost—And ratify the Geneva Protocol.

RN—Does this bother you?

Rogers—We should do it with no reservation.

RN—We should approve it without reservation, but make a statement of understanding. We need tear gas and will use it.

Kissinger—We can show this in the NSDM.

RN—We should clear this with Sato.9 We have mixed CW and BW together and should get them separated.

Richardson—There is no significant international pressure for getting rid of CW stockpiles. The Protocol applied to its use.

Farley—It will go to Geneva, and then you can get it passed back to me.

RN—We can fuzz up the language. We should develop a simple statement within 48 hours. Then I want a positive public statement.10

It should emphasize that this is an example of the right leadership, but which has the national security in mind.

Wheeler—The last time this was before a National Security defense panel was during President Eisenhower’s Administration.

Rogers—We shouldn’t do this while Sato is here.

Laird—That is no problem.

RN—I want a well thought-out statement. It should be released Sunday for the Monday papers, Bill.

DuBridge—It should say we will destroy dangerous chemicals and are moving to binaries.

Laird—We would need three years to burn them.

[Page 366]

RNBryce Harlow thinks it is imperative to brief the legislature on Okinawa. Phil Farley and Henry Kissinger did this on SALT. We should do it on Okinawa.

Rogers—Yes. Alex Johnson and Henry should do it at first, and then you should come in.

RN—We must brief the Armed Services Committee. They will be against it.11

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meetings Minutes, 1969. Top Secret. The meeting was held from 3:44 to 5:27 p.m. in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. According to a talking paper prepared one day in advance of the NSC meeting, Helms planned to begin his briefing by announcing, “Our knowledge of Soviet capabilities and intentions regarding biological and chemical warfare is very limited.” Moreover, he acknowledged “a considerable controversy at present in the intelligence community over the size of the Soviet stockpile of chemical warfare weapons.” The intelligence community did know a bit more about two things: Soviet defenses, which were “active,” and Soviet doctrine, which regarded chemical and biological weapons as “weapons of mass destruction” to be used in retaliation within the context of general nuclear warfare. (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–25, NSC Meeting, November 18, 1969)
  3. According to Kissinger’s undated talking points, he was advised to assert that the following was required: “Continuing research and development, with emphasis on defense, refinement of controls and safety measures, better intelligence on other nation’s CBW capabilities, continuation of our declaratory ‘no first-use’ policy for lethal chemical and biological weapons,” and “a tightly controlled public affairs policy.” Kissinger was also advised to focus the NSC’s attention on four basic issues for decision: policy on biological warfare, chemical warfare, the use of tear gas and herbicides, and ratification of the 1925 Geneva Protocol. For biological weapons, the issue was retaining “full capability including lethal agents,” “capability for incapacitating agents only,” or “only R&D capability for both offense and defense or for defense along.” For chemical weapons, the two basic policy issues were: 1) “Should we maintain a lethal chemical capability for retaliation or deterrence, and, if so, what should we do about our stockpiles in the U.S. and overseas?” 2) “Should we preserve a ‘first-use’ option for incapacitating chemicals?” (Ibid.)
  4. The Canadian Delegation to the United Nations submitted a draft resolution on August 26 calling for strict observance by all member states of the principles and objectives of the Geneva Protocol.
  5. See footnote 7, Document 97.
  6. Laird was referring to the NSSM 59 response, Document 99. At 7 p.m. on November 17, Laird told Kissinger: “the public affairs part of these discussions had been completely overlooked in the paper. He [Laird] said biological research is something that can be supported but biological warfare cannot be supported by anyone.” Kissinger and Laird discussed the issue again at 11:55 a.m. on November 18: “Laird said the thing about it is that this paper deals with some important issues down the line—it doesn’t address the basic question—what kind of weapons, strategic, or [word omitted in transcript] that have conversion capability. Laird didn’t think biological warfare is a strategic weapon.” Kissinger agreed, stating his view “that we should keep R&D for” defensive purposes. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  7. According to Laird’s talking points, Laird was advised to make numerous recommendations that, while the United States should forego offensive biological weapons, it must conduct a biological RDT&E program only for defensive purposes, retain the capability to retaliate with chemical weapons, and keep its European stockpiles of chemical munitions. (Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 3, Chemical Weapons and Biological Research) Laird explained his supporting rationale for such forward deployments during a meeting with his staff on July 28. “The quantities overseas are very small,” he said. “When we compare these quantities to the Soviet capability, it is frightening.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–0028, June–August, 1969)
  8. In a November 17 memorandum to Rogers and Richardson, Spiers urged them to support Laird’s positions on biological and chemical weapons, including the maintenance of biological and chemical research and testing programs “for defensive purposes and to safeguard against technological surprise.” Spiers also recommended that Rogers and Richardson “take the position that the US should not maintain an option for first-use of incapacitating chemicals.” (National Archives, RG 59, S/S–NSC Meeting Files, 1969–1970: Lot 71 D 175, Box 6, NSC Meeting, November 18, 1969)
  9. Eisaku Sato, Prime Minister of Japan, held meetings with Nixon in Washington from November 19 to 21.
  10. Nixon released a statement on Tuesday, November 25, announcing his decisions on chemical and biological warfare. The United States, he stated, reaffirmed its renunciation of the first use of lethal or incapacitating chemical weapons and renounced the use of “all methods of biological warfare.” Nixon announced that he had directed the Department of Defense to make plans for the disposal of existing stocks of U.S. biological weapons and that the United States henceforth would “confine its biological research to defense measures such as immunization and safety measures.” Finally, he stated that his administration would submit the Geneva Protocol of 1925 to the Senate for ratification. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 968–969)
  11. Nixon hosted a breakfast meeting in the White House on November 25 for select members of Congress during which he, Agnew, Rogers, Laird, Moorer, and Kissinger explained the administration’s decisions on chemical and biological weapons. (National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Records of the Chairman, General Wheeler, 337, Meetings with President, April 1968–May 1970) After the meeting Nixon spoke to the press about his decisions. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 969–970)