128. Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • Binary Weapons Chemical Facility


  • Chairman
  • William G. Hyland
  • State
  • Charles Robinson
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Defense
  • Col. Don Mahlberg
  • Dr. James P. Wade
  • JCS
  • Gen. George S. Brown
  • CIA
  • Enno Knocke
  • Carl Weber
  • OMB
  • Don Ogilvie
  • Robert Howard
  • ACDA
  • Dr. Fred C. Ikle
  • Thomas D. Davies
  • NSC
  • William G. Hyland
  • Dr. David Elliott
  • Michael Hornblow

Hyland:2 The problem as I understand it is that the DOD proposal for $15 million in the budget for a binary CW production facility was turned down. Don Rumsfeld reclamed and it was agreed to have this meeting. I think we all know the DOD position. My question is: What is the relationship between the budget proposal and DOD’s draft CW treaty. What happens if you don’t get the funds?

Wade: We are trying to move to improve our CW posture. This is now more important and has a higher priority because we have taken no action in the last couple of years. The binary facility is a long-lead item and an important element in our CW posture.

Hyland: But how do you handle Congress. Is this just a bargaining chip?

Wade: If we brief Congress frankly about what we know regarding the Russian CW program, I think we could get Congressional support.

[Page 611]

Hyland: You wish to begin modernization and start preparing to produce binaries in two years, and at the same time we would begin to negotiate. We would also continue R&D in the CW area.

Wade: The possibility of an acceptable international agreement limiting CW is not high.

Brown: We are trying to keep the binary option open.

Hyland: Suppose we put the money in the budget. Then maybe Congress would say to hell with it. What does that do to our leverage at the negotiating table?

Wade: The two should be linked. Frank discussions with Congress would help bring them around. We can’t maintain a balance in Europe using only our mechanized forces. We have to increase the pressure against Soviet use of CW. We have been stalemated for the last couple of years and the problem needs to be faced up to.

Ikle: We don’t have a U.S. negotiating position on CW. In a year’s time we could probably get an agreement, but without verification.

Hyland: The U.S. could not accept an agreement without verification.

Robinson: There is some give on the Soviets’ part in that area.3

Dr. Ikle: Even if we started to produce binaries, it is doubtful that it would give us much leverage in verification negotiations. There would not be much leverage coming out of a small production facility. The leverage would have to result from political factors. The problem is that we have been sitting on the fence for so long. I don’t think we should go ahead at this time with a production facility. It does not require all that much lead time.

Dr. Wade: This is a long lead item which requires two years.

Dr. Ikle: But in a real emergency, it might not take that long.

Mr. Robinson: I am comparing the $15.8 million under question vs. the $8.8 million in the FY 76 budget for ordering long delivery items. Are we talking about two different things?

Dr. Wade: $2 million is for rehabilitation and $13 million is for equipment.

Mr. Robinson: So that figure includes the equipment and the installation.

Dr. Wade: It could be a significant half step forward and might be useful in the negotiations. I cannot say definitely what effect it might have.

Dr. Ikle: If there were an impasse, it might help.

[Page 612]

Mr. Davies: But we have never made a negotiating proposal.

Mr. Hyland: What is in the Soviet draft treaty, a total ban?

Mr. Davies: Yes, eventually.

Gen. Brown: It is for new production: They won’t destroy the facilities they have.

Dr. Ikle: It presents us with massive verification problems. We can, though, observe the destruction of facilities. Once the negotiations start, there may be some give on the Soviet side.

Mr. Robinson: I have some technical questions. One question is about the efficiency of the binary artillery shell vis-a-vis the present one.

Dr. Wade: There is no degradation. They are the same.

Mr. Davies: There is slight degradation on a per pound basis.

Gen. Brown: You don’t get something for nothing.

Col. Mahlberg: It is not militarily significant.

Mr. Robinson: My second question is that effective use of CW requires lots of shells concentrated in one area. Given the limitation on tubes, wouldn’t you have to cut back on some conventional artillery support?

Dr. Wade: It depends on your objectives. There are different scenarios.

Mr. Davies: We are short of artillery today.

Gen. Brown: Haig is more concerned now about a CW attack than a conventional attack.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: Are binaries the answer?

Gen. Brown: They would be [of] some use. We have none today.

Mr. Hyland: Why is our proposed response an offensive one? Why not have a substantial increase in our defensive capabilities?

Dr. Wade: If we go into a completely defensive posture that gives the Soviets the option to attack at a time and place of their choosing.

Gen. Brown: We are only talking about $15 million.

Mr. Hyland: But there is the possibility of much larger expenses in the future. Don’t the Soviets have an active program of protective measures?

Gen. Brown: Yes, at present they could fight in an environment they create.

Dr. Wade: Both sides would be affected and would have to wear masks.

Mr. Davies: Both sides would be slowed down.

Mr. Hyland: Don’t we have some capability in West Germany?

[Page 613]

Dr. Ikle: Yes, but it is all in one place. In case of a war you could ship more over if there were time. Binaries would give you some advantage.

Gen. Brown: We can easily sit here and quick-talk ourselves out of this decision.

Dr. Ikle: I was explaining your side of the story and saying that one of the reasons for going to binaries is that it would be easier to ship.

Gen. Brown: I misunderstood you.

Mr. Robinson: My understanding is that if a decision is made to go ahead that in ten years the cost would add up to $1 billion. A long lead time of two years is required. The State Department feeling generally is that we haven’t really explored the possibility of an agreement with the Soviets. We have not made a counter offer. If we fail in an effort to get the Congress to spend the $15 million, it would weaken our bargaining position. Then there is the problem of West Germany. They would not be impressed by our assurances on safety. For the Germans there are more important psychological and political concerns. We would have a problem in determining what we could store in a forward position. State feels we should not go ahead at the present time.

Dr. Ikle: The German position is fundamental. Perhaps we should see if we can get the Germans to agree to store binaries.

Dr. Wade: We are talking about FY–78 money.

Mr. Hyland: Congress has turned it down the last two years. The two main problems are how to get it in the budget and how to get it through Congress.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: We need to make some sort of answer to the Russians. It has been a year and a half.

Mr. Hyland: I am worried about a full blown proposal being killed in Congress. Many of the people up there say lets try first to negotiate. We should have talks with the Russians about verification. These could be technical talks about how to verify without saying to them what we propose. We could tell Congress that on the basis of these technical talks we plan to develop a negotiating position next fall.

Dr. Wade: It might be a viable way to start. Congress might ac-cept it.

Mr. Hyland: We could put it in the budget and tell Congress that we are going ahead to have serious talks with the Russians.

Dr. Ikle: We should have a larger reexamination of our position in light of verification problems. The present stockpile in the Soviet Union is a key problem. We could probably agree to cut down on new production and verify that. We can verify the visible things but there is no way to verify the stockpiles. There is some disingenuousness in our position.

[Page 614]

Mr. Robinson: (to Mr. Hyland) Your compromise seems palatable to me personally but I don’t know about the Department. If you could give me a draft of your proposal I could take it back so that we could reconsider our position. Basically we are opposed to the $15 million expenditure. However your suggestion might cause us to reconsider.

Mr. Hyland: My proposal is that we would put the $15 million in the budget. Simultaneously we would propose to the Russians and also inform Congress that we are prepared to hold technical talks with the Russians on verification and the limitation of chemical weapons and on the basis of these talks we could make a proposal. We would use that decision with Congress and go along on a parallel track. If the arms control discussions succeed then the binaries are irrelevant. If they don’t work then we will have to face up to a major threat.

Mr. Ogilvie: You are talking about a bargaining chip?

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: It’s keeping your options open.

Gen. Brown: The Hill might react that way—that it is a bargaining chip—but we should stand behind it.

Mr. Ogilvie: Look. It is a long time before FY ’78 starts. Not until September 1977. No commitment could be made for at least a year. We have the option of telling the Soviets of our intentions and to start negotiating with them now. We would so advise Congress. We could use this as a bargaining chip with the Soviets and see if we can or cannot get an agreement.

Dr. Ikle: That is illusory. You could not get an agreement in that time providing for verification.

Mr. Ogilvie: There is a year to find out.

Dr. Ikle: There are two ways of having an agreement. One would be without verification. The second would be a partial agreement limiting new production.

Mr. Ogilvie: I have real worries about the Hill. If the Hill says no for a fourth time then we have lost a lot of leverage.

Dr. Ikle: The USSR would be willing to sign an agreement without verification. Maybe after one or two years there could be some progress on the verification issue.

Mr. Ogilvie: With regard to the budget there is a technical problem. Even if we acted today it would be extremely difficult to get the numbers changed. We could do it today or possibly as late as Monday. The budget is in page proof now and we expect to lock it in final very shortly. In order to get a change in the budget we would have to go to the President and we would need a memo for the President. This would be very difficult in such a short time. The other option is to keep the budget as is and have the President submit a supplemental.

[Page 615]

Mr. Hyland: Would there have to be a Presidential determination that it is in the national interest?

Dr. Wade: Only for actual binary production.

Mr. Ogilvie: There are legal differences of interpretation. It would be interpreted as a production decision and would require a Presidential determination.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: It is not a production decision, it is just a decision to keep our options open.

Mr. Ogilvie: That would not reflect the intent of Congress. They would view this as a production decision requiring a determination.

Gen. Brown: Well if the President approves the $15 million, there should not be any problem in getting a determination.

Mr. Hyland: So there is no consensus in this group.

Mr. Robinson: Right. We would like to reserve our vote until we can review the paper to the President outlining the alternatives.

Dr. Ikle: Our view is that it should not be put in the budget. Although the $15 million is a small amount it would be a red flag and cause a great deal of commotion on the Hill and among the public. It is already flagged as an important issue in the Defense Posture statement. A new negotiating position is not for us to develop but for the new Administration. We should become more honest in our position.

Gen. Brown: What could really be done in negotiations?

Dr. Ikle: We could have an agreement in a year without verification provisions and some progress toward verifying stockpile destruction.

Dr. Wade: But as long as our posture is zero the possibility of an accord is zero.

Gen. Brown: Why would the Russians want to negotiate?

Dr. Ikle: We still have our old stock.

Gen. Brown: We could get a telegram out to Vail4 tonight.

Mr. Hyland: All we could say is that we had a meeting and there was no agreement.

Dr. Ikle: There should be some explanation in it as to why we have not made a counter proposal in Geneva. The reason is verification problems.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: If the President were to advocate this, he could say that we have been unable to make a responsible statement on the subject because of verification problems, and, secondly, he could men [Page 616] tion the cumulative effect of Soviet forces in the area. The other possibility is that we need to use more imagination to see if there is some way to negotiate. There is nothing lost by waiting another year to update the facility and resolve our problems with our Allies. We could make one more major effort.

Mr. Ogilvie: That is up to the next Administration.

Mr. Hyland: If it is not in the budget then it is not an issue.

Mr. Ogilvie: If it is not in then we have until September to ask for a supplement.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: In the memo to the President it should be pointed out that if we put the money in and Congress then takes it out, we loose leverage.

Mr. Hyland: The variable is to what extent the Russians will let us inspect. If they agree to inspection it is a new ball game. We should explore that and see how they feel about it. We could make a proposal that both sides destroy X tons and no more. Something like that could be verified.

Mr. Davies: Is the remainder of military consequence?

Mr. Robinson: $15.3 does not bother me. I am concerned with the rationale. What can be achieved is the important thing.

Gen. Brown: What if you assume that Congress will go along with having the $15 million. Would that give you leverage?

Dr. Ikle: It might give you some leverage.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: We would loose leverage if it squeaks by Congress. The opposition would then become more vociferous. There could be an outcry and controversy and Congress might then reverse itself.

Dr. Wade: The timing of the presentation is important. We could advise Congress we are starting technical talks but that we would not spend money for a year.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: That would get you leverage but it is risky.

Dr. Ikle: If this scenario leads you to residual stocks, then it is better to have these stocks in binaries.

Gen. Brown: Your worry about Congress might be true. But on the other hand there is growing concern in the country regarding the fundamental imbalance of power between us and the Russians. I have just been going through our posture statement. It is depressing. It is awful. I think we are going to start getting a reaction in this country. In the next year the new team, the general public and Congress will all be educated.

Dr. Ikle: First we should have a position on negotiations. In light of that perhaps a production facility would be in order.

[Page 617]

Mr. Hyland: You are still opposed to the $15 million now?

Dr. Ikle: Yes, it is putting things in reverse order.

Mr. Ogilvie: If you take this to the President it is important that Jack Marsh have some input. He was involved originally when the President expressed his concern about the public reaction. This is more than a meeting of the SRG. It is a budget decision that Marsh was originally involved with.

Mr. Hyland: There is no agreement to recommend that the budget be reversed. That split should be reported to the President. DOD through Don Rumsfeld has the right to reclama. I will report to Brent Scowcroft that there was no agreement. It was 2 vs. 2. DOD will reclama through James T. Lynn.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 307, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Senior Review Group, Nov. 1976–Jan. 1977. Secret. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. The copy of the minutes located in the Kissinger Papers (see footnote 1 above) is missing the first page. This portion of the published conversation is based upon a transcription, prepared by the editor, of a draft version of the minutes found in the Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 24, Meeting Minutes—Senior Review Group, November–December 1976.
  3. The remainder of the minutes is in the Kissinger Papers.
  4. Ford vacationed in Vail, Colorado from December 19 to January 2, 1977. (Ibid., Staff Secretary’s Office, President’s Daily Diary)