127. Memorandum From David Elliott of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Hyland)1


  • SRG on Wednesday, December 29, 1976, at 3:00 p.m.

An SRG has been scheduled for Wednesday, December 29, 1976, at 3:00 p.m. to consider a DOD proposal to restore $15.3 million in the FY 78 budget for the purpose of establishing a facility in which binary chemical munitions can be produced. This proposal, according to DOD, is not intended to imply a decision to produce binaries, or to prejudge that future decision, but rather is to reduce the time between a possible affirmative decision to produce binaries and the actual production, by acquiring the pacing item—the production facility—in advance. DOD has also proposed the elements of an approach to international restraints on CW, and links the establishment of the binary production facility with the tabling of a U.S. position on restraints.

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The President decided against including the binary production facility in the FY 78 budget. DOD was prepared to reclama that decision as part of its overall budget appeal. Brent [Scowcroft] advised Rumsfeld that inasmuch as the binary issue was still under active interagency consideration within the NSC process, it would be appropriate for the SRG to address the production facility question rather than handling it strictly as a budget matter. Rumsfeld accepted this recommendation and followed up with a memorandum to Brent outlining the DOD proposal for the binary facility and also describing a new DOD position for our international discussions on CW arms control (Tab A).2

DOD believes it is [a] prudent military step to have a standby binary chemical weapons production facility, and that our action to acquire such a facility may also be useful in overcoming Soviet reluctance to negotiate a CW treaty having acceptable verification provisions.

The staff positions at State and ACDA are that the need for a binary production facility at this time has not been demonstrated; that it has been our inability to formulate our own position on CW treaty limitations which has impeded meaningful U.S.–USSR negotiations, and not Soviet recalcitrance; and that the signal implied in proceeding now with a binary production facility may be destructive to our bilateral and multilateral (CCD) discussions on possible CW restraints.

The CW working group prepared a background paper for the SRG (Tab B),3 which was circulated to the members on December 23. Because of the shortness of time, official agency views—other than DOD’s as expressed in their memorandum to Scowcroft—were not obtained in advance of the SRG.

Purpose of the SRG Meeting

In addition to State, Defense, ACDA, CIA, and the JCS, the SRG will include OMB since the issue involves an FY 78 budget item.

The purposes of the SRG are:

—To see if DOD wants to press for Presidential approval of a binary production facility in the face of the likely opposition from State, ACDA, and OMB, and in view of the awkwardness of obtaining Congressional support for a controversial proposal from an outgoing Administration.

—To give Robinson and Ikle an opportunity to express their views (which at least as far as Ikle is concerned, may not be as doctrinaire as the staff views).

—To see if there is any acceptable compromise (though none is apparent).

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—To decide how to move the question to the President for resolution in time for inclusion in the budget. A somewhat expanded version of the paper at Tab B, plus agency views, could be forwarded to the President jointly by OMB and NSC during the week January 3–7. Rumsfeld, however, may want to have an NSC meeting to address the question.

Brief Background

The U.S. manufactured and stockpiled nerve agent munitions and bulk nerve agent to fill future munitions. This manufacturing ended in 1968. Since then, our offensive CW capability has gradually degraded as certain munitions became obsolescent and some chemical deterioration occurred inside filled munitions (extent of this deterioration is being assessed by the Army, but the results will not be fully known until 1980). Our munition filling facilities have not been maintained, and it would be expensive, time consuming, and objectionable to many in Congress to rebuild these facilities to permit replacement of obsolescent and deteriorated stocks. Public concern over the safety of chemical weapons has led to restriction that nearly preclude transporting these munitions unless a war crisis exists. Our prepositioned forward deployment of chemical weapons for NATO is limited to one German site. The Germans have not been willing to increase deployment, mainly for domestic political reasons.

The Army has developed another form of nerve agent chemical munition, the binary. Two non-lethal substances, maintained separately inside the munition, are mixed to form nerve agent only as the munition is in flight to the target. The Army wants to produce these new munitions to replace the older ones that are the wrong type for newer weapons, to replace those suffering agent deterioration, to overcome transportation restriction, and possibly to overcome German resistance to further deployment. Also, the Army hopes that a modernized CW offensive capability would be a greater deterrent to Soviet introduction of CW in a conventional European war.

For several years, the Army has requested funds to build a facility to produce binaries. Each year Congress has knocked the funds out because some Congressmen are not convinced (1) that the military need has been sufficiently demonstrated and (2) that the possibility of arms control initiatives have been adequately explored. Congressional language in the FY 76 DOD authorization made it clear that the President would have to certify a strong national interest exists before there would be any chance of obtaining Congressional approval for binary production. (Stennis made the same point privately.)

DOD wants to make another effort as part of the FY 78 budget to establish a standby binary production facility to permit production to proceed immediately if a decision were made in two years that our of[Page 609]fensive CW capability must be modernized. (DOD already has underway a major program to upgrade our defensive CW posture.) To overcome Congressional objections, DOD would propose that the President certify the need for a production decision and also commit the U.S. to vigorous international negotiations on CW restraints.

Over the past several years, the U.S. has had desultory discussions in the CCD, and even more limited talks with the Soviets, about possible treaty restraints on the possession and production of CW (first use of CW is already prohibited by the Geneva Protocol). Attempts to define internally our position on acceptable CW restraints (NSSM 157, 192, and short follow-on papers) have faltered over the problem of verification, and the perception that the Soviets would not accept on-site inspection on challenge. Recently, however, the Soviets have given some indication that they may be prepared to accept some on-site inspection—such as verification of the destruction of declared stocks. This factor, plus DOD’s new proposal for a possible treaty regime, opens the possibility for more productive CW talks than before. In DOD’s view, construction of a binary production facility could pressure the Soviets to be forthcoming in CW negotiations, and would also permit us to proceed with the necessary modernization of our CW capability if the talks fail.

The contrary views, as developed in the NSSM studies, hold that:

—Real upgrading of NATO’s offensive CW capability is a remote possibility, given our Allies’ lack of that capability and no discernible inclination to acquire such, and German objection to greater forward deployment in the regions where chemical munitions would be needed quickly to retaliate against Soviet use.

—Retaliation in kind to a CW attack is unlikely to be effective. Tactical nuclear weapons would probably be required to redress the military advantage the Soviets would obtain by introducing CW.

—Our best hope to neutralize the Soviet CW offensive capability is to improve greatly NATO’s CW defensive capacity, and to achieve the maximum possible CW treaty restraints. Soviet cheating on any CW treaty cannot be ruled out, but given their political concern over being exposed, any illegal retention of chemical weapons or production facilities would give them a capability that would be considerably reduced and constrained in comparison to the situation today.

—It is doubtful that proceeding with a binary production facility will help in our negotiations, and could, in fact, send the wrong signal. The obstacle to negotiations has been the lack of our own position.

[Omitted here is a list of the tabs containing Scowcroft’s briefing materials.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 18, Senior Review Group Meeting, 12/29/76—Chemical Munitions (1). Secret.
  2. Rumsfeld’s December 15 memorandum to Scowcroft ( Document 121) is attached.
  3. The paper ( Document 126) is attached.