126. Background Paper prepared by the National Security Council Chemical Weapons Working Group1



Should the Administration approve the DOD recommendation, enclosure 1,2 that the Army request for establishment of a binary production facility as outlined below be restored in the FY 1978 budget?

Specifics of the Army Request

The Army request for $15.3 million provides for establishment of a government-owned and operated facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, to produce initially binary chemical (GB nerve agent) artillery projectiles. This project will provide for the rehabilitation of an existing building and the purchase and installation of equipment necessary for:

—The manufacture of one of the two binary chemical components (the other to be obtained commercially).

—Filling and sealing the manufactured chemical component into a canister.

—Loading, assembling and packing the projectile by inserting the filled canister and explosive charge into the projectile and placing a fibre-board spacer in place of the second chemical component which is to be stored separately.

The request does not presume a commitment to produce binary munitions. Approximately two years would be required to prepare the facility for production.

Present U.S. Policy

The U.S. has a no first-use obligation for lethal and incapacitating chemical weapons by virtue of being a party to the Geneva Protocol of 1925.3 Current U.S. chemical warfare policy stems from NSDM 35, [Page 599] dated 25 November 1969. This NSDM states, in part, that “the objective of the U.S. [chemical warfare] program will be to deter the use of chemical weapons by other nations and to provide a retaliatory capability if deterrence falls.”4 The DOD maintains a stockpile of chemical weapons for the purpose of implementing this policy.

The United States is firmly committed to the objective of complete and effective prohibition of all chemical weapons. This commitment has been reiterated on many occasions by the President and other senior officials.

Under Article IX of the Biological Weapons Convention,5 the United States has an obligation “to continue negotiations in good faith with a view to reaching early agreement on effective measures” for the prohibition of chemical weapons. To this end, the United States has entered into both multilateral and bilateral U.S.–U.S.S.R. discussions of possible limitations.

Pending Policy Issues

The National Security Council has had under study two broad issues in the area of chemical warfare policy. NSSM 1576 addressed possible treaty alternatives for achieving restraints on the possession of chemical weapons, and NSSM 1927 examined alternatives for the U.S. chemical warfare posture, mainly aimed at the question of whether or not to proceed with the acquisition of binary CW munitions.

Two Senior Review Group meetings8 were held to consider the alternatives developed in these two NSSM studies, but no consensus emerged on the closely-linked issues of the military need for modernization of the U.S. CW stockpile and acceptable CW treaty restraints where the verification of compliance is incomplete. Rather than moving these issues to the President for resolution and decision, it was decided to wait the outcome of an internal DOD reassessment of its position on binary acquisition and acceptable arms control approaches. This reassessment has recently been concluded, and the results are reflected in [Page 600] the Secretary of Defense’s memorandum at enclosure 1. That memorandum proposes:

FY 78 funding of a standby binary production facility.

—Deferral for a reasonable time of binary production, pending the outcome of international negotiations on CW restraints.

—A specific approach for international CW restraints.

The first of these is the subject of the present SRG. The third would be the basis for another SRG in the near future, possibly leading to a consensus on a U.S. treaty proposal in our bilateral discussions with the Soviet Union as well as in the CCD.

Military Considerations

The Defense Department’s evaluation indicates that a serious asymmetry exists between the chemical warfare capabilities of the US/NATO and USSR/Warsaw Pact forces, and this imbalance poses a significant threat to NATO.

—Available intelligence reveals that the chemical warfare posture of the USSR far outranks that of any other nation and that they are actively engaged in maintaining their superior capabilities. Warsaw Pact forces are well equipped to operate in a toxic environment, particularly one of their own choosing and training for CW operations receives high priority. The Soviets are known to have a variety of chemical munitions in significant quantity and recent evidence indicates that some chemical weapons are deployed at forward air bases. Soviet forces include over 200 chemical units and about 100,000 dedicated CBR personnel. They have conducted some 18 open air tests of chemical weapons during the past two years.

—In contrast U.S. and other NATO forces are deficient in both defensive and retaliatory (offensive) capabilities, particularly the latter. Some members of the Alliance possess the ability to conduct operations for a limited time on a chemical battlefield, others patently do not. With the exception of a limited French stockpile, only the U.S. has any chemical munitions in Europe and these are in short supply and consist only of artillery ammunition. Further, U.S. stocks in theater are all located in one supply facility and vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike. Resupply to the theater is a tenuous proposition. Early warning of impending need would be required to mount an effective resupply mission without seriously crippling other logistic operations. Even given the ability to move efficiently the CW presently in CONUS, deficiencies in the retaliatory stockpile would still remain, e.g., limited variety, volume, and appropriate type of munitions. A status of the current U.S. CW retaliatory stockpile is shown in enclosure 2.9

Although Soviet intentions concerning the first use of CW munitions are not clear, the fact that they are able to attack NATO targets in depth with CW presents a risk which causes serious concern. Cur[Page 601]rently, the funding priority for chemical warfare is devoted to improving our CW protective posture (see enclosure 3).10 This is consistent with expressed Congressional desires.

The proponents of the Army’s FY 78 request take the position that these improvements in U.S. CW defensive posture are not sufficient to offset the growing obsolescence and possible deterioration in the effectiveness of our current CW stockpile. If the U.S. is to have a credible deterrent consistent with our present national policy, it must demonstrate both a capability to protect itself against CW attack and to retaliate in kind. At the very least we must be prepared to modernize our retaliatory capability by constructing a binary munition facility. The request for funds to purchase long lead-time items required for a binary CW production facility does not presume a decision to produce, but it is necessary to our maintaining a credible CW deterrence since it would protect our options regarding possible modernization of the retaliatory stockpile. As indicated above, the proposed program requires two years to complete. Thus, even if funds are provided to begin the program in FY 1978, it will be 1979–80 before production could begin. Continued delay in starting the program will further aggravate an already serious readiness deficiency.

Those opposing the Army’s proposal to construct a binary production facility argue that it is unnecessary, at least at this time. The military CW situation is a relatively stable one. Whatever deficiencies are thought to exist in the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile—for example, virtually no deployment in Europe and a small fraction of total agent in a readily deliverable form—have been present for many years. This situation was considered sufficiently tolerable that no request for the binary facility was included in the budget request last year. A lack of urgency is also indicated by the fact that the Army’s testing program on possible lethality deterioration in filled munitions is scheduled to take four years. Since this information would be an important factor in deciding to produce binaries, the commitment to a production facility now would appear to be premature. Meanwhile, the overall military situation seems to be improving since major improvements are already under way in CW defense readiness, which provides an important deterrent to chemical attack.

The opponents also question whether the threat of retaliation in kind is the most effective or credible deterrent to a chemical attack. Approval of the production facility is not necessary to keep open the option of improving the U.S. CW stockpile until that basic issue is resolved. The option will continue to exist.

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It should be noted that modernization of the CW stockpile could also be accomplished by filling new munitions from present bulk stocks of nerve agent. This method has severe shortcomings, however, when compared to the binary concept. Binaries provide significant advantages in manufacturing, storage, surveillance, transportation, and eventual disposal of chemical munitions. Thus, they not only serve to satisfy environmental concerns, but also allow flexibility in deployment. It is estimated that the time necessary to ready a facility for production and the over-all costs involved in the manufacture of sufficient munitions to satisfy stockpile deficiencies are roughly the same regardless of the method use.

Arms Control Considerations

Review of Negotiations

As noted above, the United States is engaged in bilateral U.S.-Soviet as well as multilateral discussions of possible chemical weapons limitations.

Since the U.S. has not yet reached a decision on the basic CW policy issues, U.S. participation in these discussions has been limited to examination of alternative approaches to CW arms control. The U.S. has not yet taken a definitive position on what would constitute an acceptable agreement.

Present U.S.-Soviet discussions of CW restraints stem from the July 1974 Summit in Moscow. In the communique, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. “agreed to consider a joint initiative in the conference of the Committee on Disarmament with respect to the conclusion . . . of an international convention dealing with the most dangerous, lethal means of chemical warfare.”11 Shortly thereafter, the Soviets presented a draft treaty which is deficient in that it limits only the most toxic chemicals and lacks effective verification measures.

The U.S. did not respond to the Soviet draft before the Vladivostok summit in November 1974. (Although no definitive response has been provided, the U.S. forwarded request for clarification on April 29, 1975.) That November 1974 meeting’s final statement “noted that in accordance with previous agreements, initial contacts were established between representatives of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. on . . . measures dealing with the most dangerous, lethal means of chemical warfare.”12

On a number of occasions since the Vladivostok summit, the Soviets proposed that bilateral consultations begin, but the U.S. did not [Page 603] accept until mid-1976. The first round of consultations was held in Geneva, in late August 1976. This session dealt with a variety of technical issues related to CW limitations, particularly in the areas of scope and verification. It was agreed that the consultations had been useful and that they would be continued at a time to be determined.

Since the August 1976 consultations, there has been no further substantive discussion of CW restraints with the Soviets. The Soviets submitted a memorandum to the UNGA suggesting that they may be willing to discuss provisions for limited forms of on-site inspection. This appears to some to be a reflection of a basic Soviet decision on on-site inspection made in connection with negotiation of the PNE Treaty.13 However, until further talks are held it will be difficult to judge how significant these statements actually are.

The multilateral discussions, which take place at the Geneva-based Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD), began in earnest in 1972. The United States has participated actively in the CCD’s discussions, which have focused on the study of technical issues related to scope and verification of various types of limitations. Draft conventions to prohibit chemical weapons have been proposed by the U.S.S.R., Japan, and the UK.

During the summer 1976 session of the CCD, discussions of CW issues were more active and constructive than previously. We believe that these discussions are likely to remain at least as active during the spring 1977 session and that they will focus on the proposal presented by the British in August 1976 for a phased prohibition of chemical weapons. Among other members of the CCD, including our Allies, there is a general expectation, in fact, that the CCD’s discussion of CW limitations will intensify during 1977.

The Arms Control Impact of Proceeding with a U.S. Binary CW Facility

Proponents of the Army’s request believe that early approval is necessary in order to provide a strong, but by no means provocative, signal to the Soviets of U.S. resolve to counter their CW superiority and thus provide a realistic basis for arms control negotiations. U.S.–U.S.S.R. discussions concerning a CW limitation have been under way for several years, although formal discussion has only taken place recently. The Soviets have consistently maintained that on-site verification of CW limitation is unacceptable. Recent Soviet statements on this [Page 604] matter do not indicate any significant change in their position. Soviet offers to “consider” on-site inspection have been limited to agent destruction only and, even here, they have been purposely vague concerning their intent. As the situation stands now, the prospect for an effective agreement appears dim. The Soviets cannot help but be aware of their advantages in CW and there is no reason to expect them to give them up. If we seriously expect the Soviets to negotiate away their warfighting capability, we may first have to convince them that we are willing to improve our stockpile should arms control efforts fall.

Those opposing the Army’s request believe that:

—Given the attitudes in Congress and among some of our NATO Allies, it is unrealistic to expect that the U.S. can remedy whatever offensive CW deficiencies exist in NATO. German opposition to increased peacetime forward deployment of CW is a critical factor, and one that is not based on environmental and safety concerns, and hence one that will not be overcome by U.S. production of the safer binary munitions. Our most promising strategy in attempting to moderate the Warsaw Pact CW capabilities is to seek treaty restraints on CW, even though the restraints may not be fully verifiable. Thus to the extent that the Army’s request would be perceived, both in the U.S. and abroad, as contrary to the U.S. commitment to attempt to achieve further limitations, it could work against our interest.

—Progress has been made recently, during a period in which the U.S. exercised restraint on the question of preparations for the production of binary chemical weapons. For example, U.S. views on the need to find solutions to verification issues have won increased support. At the same time the U.S.S.R. appears to be approaching the remaining problems involved in negotiation of effective CW restraints in a more serious and flexible manner than previously. A decision to construct a binary facility at this time might well send the wrong signal to the Soviet government, leading them to conclude that the U.S. is not serious about seeking CW limitations.

—A budget request for the binary chemical weapon production facility should not be viewed as a way to facilitate negotiations by increasing pressure on the U.S.S.R. Failure to reach agreement on CW limitations so far cannot be attributed to Soviet intransigence, since the U.S. has not yet presented a proposal. In fact, the U.S. representative at the August 1976 bilateral consultations reported that the Soviets appeared to be prepared to go farther once the U.S. put forward a concrete proposal.

—U.S. commitment to a binary CW facility may tend to encourage CW proliferation. It may well be taken by some smaller countries to indicate renewed importance for chemical weapons, leading them to consider acquiring CW stockpiles of their own.

Congressional Considerations

In the FY 1975 budget, $5.8 million was requested to procure the long lead time equipment items necessary to develop a production loading, assembling, and packaging (LAP) facility for the 155mm artillery projectile at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas. After considerable de[Page 605]bate in the Congress, this budget item was deleted by a vote of 214–186 on the House floor.

In the FY 1976 budget $8.8 million for the same equipment was again requested, and Congress again deleted this request, because, in part, of concern over arms control implications. In recommending deletion, the House Appropriations Committee expressed its hope that genuine progress could be made during 1976 at the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament on a realistic and workable treaty to ban all means of chemical warfare, but noted that:

“If no real progress is made in negotiations at the time we are to consider the FY 1977 Defense budget, the Committee may have to reappraise its position on the overall matter.”

The only additional FY 1976 budgetary request related to production was $562,000 in Military Construction Authorization (MCA) for alterations to an existing facility to contain this (LAP) equipment. The House of Representatives deleted this MCA project on July 28, 1975.

Also in 1975 in response to a Congressional inquiry, the White House clarified its position on budget requests for binary chemical munitions: On July 17, Mr. Max Friedersdorf, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, wrote Representative Melvin Price and Senator John Stennis:14

“. . . The President would recommend approval of the R and D funds for binary chemical munitions and the modification of the building at Pine Bluff, Arkansas. With the approval of the foregoing items, the other budgetary request for this program for procurement production could be deferred to a later point in time.”

It was the sense of both the Senate and House Appropriation Committees that priority of effort should be given to improving U.S. CW defenses. Further, the House conferees agreed to provide statutory language prohibiting the production of lethal binary chemical munitions unless the President certifies that it would be in the national interest. This was codified in Section 818, Public Law 94–106, October 6, 1975, as follows:

“(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds authorized by this or any other Act shall be used for the purpose of production of lethal binary chemical munitions unless the President certifies to Congress that the production of such munitions is essential to the national interest to do so and submits a full report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives as far in advance of the production of such munitions as possible.

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“(b) For the purpose of this section the terms ‘lethal binary chemical munitions’ means (1) any toxic chemical (solid, liquid, or gas) which, through its chemical properties, is intended to be used to produce injury or death to human beings, and (2) any unique device, instrument, apparatus, or contrivance, including any components or accessories thereof, intended to be used to disperse or otherwise disseminate any such toxic chemical.”

(Note: Although the above law is concerned specifically with production and, therefore, does not apply to the proposed FY 78 Army request, DOD believes that a practical consideration of past Congressional concerns dictates that the White House endorse that request in some manner if approval is to be obtained. If the President approves the inclusion of the binary production facility in the FY 78 budget, he would indicate to Congress that while pursuing vigorously international treaty restraints on CW, it would serve our national security purposes to have such a standby facility.)

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 18, Senior Review Group Meeting, 12/29/76—Chemical Munitions (NSSM 192) (1). Secret. All brackets are in the original. No drafting information appears on the paper, but Elliott’s December 28 memorandum to Hyland (Document 127) indicates that it was drafted by the group. Davis forwarded the paper to Ingersoll, Clements, James T. Lynn, Ikle, General Brown, and Bush under a covering memorandum, December 23, for review prior to the SRG meeting scheduled for December 29. (Ibid.)
  2. Document 121, Rumsfeld’s December 15 memorandum to Scowcroft, is attached.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 50.
  4. NSDM 35 is printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. E–2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 1969–1972, Document 165.
  5. The international Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction was signed on April 10, 1972 and ratified by the U.S. Senate on March 26, 1975. On December 26, 1975, the United States declared that it had destroyed all of its biological weapons. (Historical Dictionary of Arms Control and Disarmament, ed. Jeffrey A. Larsen and James M. Smith (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2005), pp. 32–33)
  6. See footnote 2, Document 33.
  7. See Documents 39 and 51.
  8. For the March 5, 1973 SRG meeting, see footnote 15, Document 50. The record of the January 27, 1975 SRG meeting is Document 51.
  9. A DOD paper, “DOD CW Stockpile Data,” is enclosed, but not printed.
  10. A DOD paper, “U.S. Protective Capabilities,” is enclosed, but not printed.
  11. See footnote 3, Document 50.
  12. For the joint communiqué issued at the close of the Vladivostok Summit, November 23–24, 1974, see footnote 13, Document 50.
  13. The Treaty on Underground Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on May 28, 1976. The treaty, which did not enter into force until 1990, allows PNEs within certain prescribed limits. It also requires prior notification of explosions and on-site inspections. (Historical Dictionary of Arms Control and Disarmament, p. 169)
  14. Friedersdorf’s letter to Charles Melvin Price (D–Illinois) and Stennis was not found.